Madam Minister,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to the annual conference on the socioeconomic and industrial development of the High North. First of all, I would like to express our gratitude to the conference organisers for holding this important international event in Kirkenes despite the complicated epidemiological situation.

During the past years, the conference has become a respected regional platform for discussing the Barents process. Its success rests on the active contribution of politicians, business people, academic circles and civil society.

The importance of multilateral cooperation in the Arctic can hardly be overestimated. The Barents Cooperation is generally acknowledged as the most successful dialogue format in Northern Europe that has demonstrated stable resilience to political fluctuations.

A reason for this is a well-developed regional tradition of mutual assistance and good-neighbourliness, as well as an unprecedentedly high level of cross-border ties. A unique two-tier structure of the Barents Cooperation helps to identify promising projects and to combine in the best possible manner the priorities of individual states with the interests and requirements of certain regions.

I am delighted to say that despite the coronavirus hurdles our cooperation continues developing in practically all the main spheres, including healthcare, transportation, environmental protection and the forest sector, as well as dialogues with our youth and with indigenous peoples. Proof of this is the large number of events held via videoconference during the past few months.

Thanks to the efforts of Norway and Sweden’s Västerbotten (West Bothnia) County, a high-level meeting of the Barents countries was held in October 2020 to discuss the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on multilateral cooperation in this part of Europe and ways to overcome its negative consequences. We have a positive view on the meeting’s results, primarily when it comes to the maintenance of a regular political dialogue in the Barents region.

The conference we are holding today is focused on this goal as well. Together with the Cooperation in the Arctic annual conference held in Murmansk, your forum is helping to promote the idea of Barents cooperation on the scale of Greater Arctic, together with the search for an effective joint response to the challenges we are facing.

A vital element of the current agenda is to strengthen the financial basis of our cooperation. We are working together with our partners at the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) to launch the region’s own financial mechanism in 2022. It is our common goal to make our multilateral cooperation in this part of the Arctic even more effective and diverse.

We are convinced that securing stable socioeconomic and environmental development and establishing comfortable living conditions for people in the High North must remain a priority task for our interaction in the Arctic.

We really do hope that Barents cooperation will not only maintain its pace in the years to come, but that it will break new ground in the interests of strengthening trust, stability and good-neighbourliness in Northern Europe.

I would like to wish you every success and all the best in your efforts.

Thank you.