Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
I do not know if there are any crows in Tromso, but if there were, and one of them decided to fly east, it would take it only 550 kilometres to arrive at the Russian port of Murmansk.
To Oslo, the journey would be twice as long – 1150 kilometres as the crow flies. If the crow could drive, it would be even further!
I believe that this is a very good illustration of the reason for the
Council of Europe’s policy to encourage transfrontier co-operation and the creation of Euroregions in different parts of the continent. The fact is that the local and regional authorities in Tromso in Norway, Lulea in Sweden, Rovaniemi in Finland and Murmansk in the Russian Federation share many problems and have a lot to gain from closer co-operation.
This will be particularly true in areas such as the protection of the environment, the management of natural resources, health, youth and culture policies, education and research. Of course, some of this
co-operation must involve the national capitals, but if we remember the distances involved – Murmansk, after all, is even further – more than
1500 kilometres – from Moscow – then direct co-operation between the local and regional authorities is clearly the most appropriate, efficient and effective way forward.
This Conference will look into the experience of existing cross-border co-operation in the region of the Baltic Sea and the High North, and we will explore what else could be done by local and regional authorities to improve the quality of life of the people who live in these areas.
Personally, I believe that the experience of the Council of Europe, our legal instruments, such as the Madrid Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation, and most of the work of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities can provide a very relevant contribution to this debate and perhaps also serve as an inspiration for future cross-border co-operation in this region. I also believe that the Euroregions project of the Council of Europe is particularly interesting in this context.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe started this project in order to deal with the challenges posed by
semi-closed seas and to deal with them through closer co-operation between local and regional authorities located in close proximity to these seas. The ecosystems of the European semi-closed seas are increasingly fragile, and our Congress wanted to reinforce local and regional co-operation.
Put simply, the creation of Euroregions around the European seas is a tool to achieve greater economic and social cohesion and to establish better economic and cultural links at the level closest to the citizen.
And we must also add that Congress felt that it was important to bring together partners from EU member states and non-member states.
The first step taken by the Congress was the creation of the Adriatic Euroregion last year. This Euroregion brings together local, national and regional authorities around the Adriatic Sea, and so far it includes
22 member entities. The Adriatic Euroregion is set to become a permanent structure for co-operation in policy areas of great importance for the development of the basin, and the Euroregion works closely with other institutions and organisations involved in co-operation on sustainable development, closer cultural links and economic and political integration.
Following this first initiative, our Congress launched the Black Sea Euroregion project. We were responding to the demands of local and regional administrations of the Black Sea Basin which wanted to tackle together a number of problems in the region and to establish a channel for dialogue and the exchange of information and ideas.
The areas identified for co-operation include the protection of the environment and especially the protection of the Black Sea and its rivers through the prevention of oil-spills and discharge of waste water; better management of other maritime transport risks; investment for renewable energy; integrated management of coastal areas; development of initiatives for intercultural and social cohesion; migration; and joint promotion of sustainable tourism. This is a long, but certainly not an exhaustive list of possible areas of co-operation.
The creation of a Black Sea Euroregion structure will give local and regional authorities a framework for close co-operation. The next steps in the creation of this Euroregion were discussed at the international conference in Odessa last week.
At this Conference in Tromso, the Congress – and President Skard will certainly tell you more about it in a minute – will begin to examine the prospects for inter-regional co-operation between the Baltic Sea and the High North regions. This reflection will take place against the background of our experience from our Adriatic Euroregion, and Black Sea Euroregion, as well as the existing forms of co-operation in the Baltic Sea and the High North.
This is an exciting and promising initiative, and I should like to thank the Congress, the Norwegian Government and the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities for organising this Conference, and of course the city of Tromso for hosting it.
If the ideas put forward at this Conference are given life, the distances in the region of the Baltic Sea and the High North will be reduced – perhaps not for crows, but certainly for the people who live in this beautiful and exciting part of Europe.