THE 4TH EUROPEAN BORDER DIALOGUE FORUM ON CROSS-BORDER
COOPERATION IN A WIDER EUROPE
Permanent Secretary Erkki Virtanen
Ministry of Employment and the Economy
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of the Finnish Government I want to extend my best wishes and all success
to this 4th European Border Dialogue Forum on cross-border co-operation. This forum
is performing important work in promoting cross-border co-operation on EU's eastern
border. In my address I shall share some of our experiences on cross-border cooperation between Finnish and Russian border regions.
Traditionally, the border between States has been perceived as an obstacle to
development in border regions. Cross-border co-operation, however, has the potential
to transform a border into a possibility for development. This is particularly important
in the case of the regions on the external borders of the European Union. By working
together, these regions can jointly identify and address the specific challenges and
opportunities presented by the border between them. It creates “friction” which can
offer good business possibilities. Besides the important regional development
dimension, this co-operation also has a very strong external policy dimension.
Therefore it constitutes a broad reflection of the goals and activities of different
Furthermore, cross-border co-operation has important indirect effects: It fosters
people-to-people contacts as well as networks between local communities. Thus it
contributes to the establishment of a common border-region identity. Some of these
entities have gradually started to call themselves Euro-regions. Hence, cross-border
co-operation facilitates the generation of social capital, trust and mutual
understanding among the communities on both sides of the border.
After many decades of relatively limited exchanges, the contacts between Finnish and
Russian border regions are today very active and close. In 2012, Finnish authorities
issued 1.35 million visas to Russian citizens. Overall there were more than 12 million
border crossings. These figures are proof of the rapidly growing interaction. It has
been underpinned and enhanced by many policy measures of the Government of
Finland, one of which is promoting cross-border co-operation.
Finnish border regions initiated intensive cooperation with their Russian counterparts
already in the early 1990s. Co-operation was funded by the Finnish regions and by
the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs through the 1992 bilateral Neighbouring
Area Co-operation Agreement. At the time of Finland’s accession to the European
Union in 1995, cross-border co-operation was also being encouraged and financed
with the INTERREG Community Initiative. In the last 20 years territorial cooperation
has been further developed and provides today one of the cornerstones of the
Over the years this co-operation has developed into a truly equal partnership. The
border regions have created extensive co-operation networks that can be utilised for
regional development. Basing themselves on joint challenges and opportunities, the
Finnish and Russian regions have managed to identify their common interests and to
create joint strategies to address them. In the Barents region, this co-operation over
the borders takes place not only in a bilateral but also in a multilateral framework
among Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
Today the current ENPI CBC concept offers a single Community financing
instrument on both sides of the EU external border. These programmes have an
important role to play in supporting co-operation and enhancing potential for further
development. Besides producing small-scale but concrete results they strengthen the
stability, economic development and cohesion on and around the border regions.
ENPI CBC Programmes include funding also for infrastructure investment which can
be used for example for developing border infrastructure like border-crossing points,
bridges and roads. Such investments can have a significant impact for the border area
and create sustainable results. Furthermore, ENPI CBC programmes underpin the
broad Northern Dimension policy. This includes, among others, the activities of the
Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.
The results of this cross-border co-operation can be seen in concrete terms in projects
that contribute to sustainable economic growth in the border regions. These include
for example the “Creative Industries and Cultural Tourism Development Fund”
which aims to establish an innovative creative sector of economy in the Republic of
Karelia. Another good example is the “White Road” promoting the increase of
inbound tourism by building up a sustainable network of service suppliers. Russian
tourists are today an important source of revenue for the Finnish border regions.
Increased tourism leads to investments on services and more jobs.
It is also important to note the role of Euregio Karelia formed by the regions of
Kainuu, North Karelia and Northern Ostrobothnia in Finland and the Republic of
Karelia in Russia. It was the first Euro-region on the land-border between the
European Union and the Russian Federation. The basis of the foundation was
common aim of the partner areas to improve living conditions of inhabitants through
cross-border co-operation. It supports the implementation of the Karelia ENPI CBC
Programme by activating actors to cross-border co-operation and networking.
Furthermore, it acts as an information intermediary between the Karelia ENPI CBC
Programme and participants.
Cross-border co-operation has indeed the potential to transform a border into a
possibility. The lesson learnt from the Karelia ENPI CBC Programme and its
predecessor, the Euregio Karelia Neighbourhood Programme, is that regions on both
sides of the border should be fully committed to cross-border co-operation in order to
turn it into a success. Implementation of the ENPI CBC has been a partnershipbuilding process for all stakeholders and the outlook for the next period 2014 - 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen! I have taken an attempt to present our positive experiences on
cross-border co-operation on our eastern border. The governments' responsibility is to
create the necessary conditions for enhancing this co-operation. We should strive to
reach a situation where general foreign policy fluctuations don’t complicate the
situation in the border regions.
Cross-border co-operation has been and will continue to be a key priority for the
Finnish Government. We are happy to share with you our experience which can
hopefully provide you with a useful source of inspiration.
I wish the organisers and participants of the forum all best in your important work.
I’m convinced that the forum will be a great success and provides an excellent
opportunity to exchange views on cross-border co-operation.