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Keynote Speech by Erkki Virtanen


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Keynote Speech by Erkki Virtanen

  1. 1. V.3 final 19.11.2013 THE 4TH EUROPEAN BORDER DIALOGUE FORUM ON CROSS-BORDER COOPERATION IN A WIDER EUROPE JOENSUU 20.11.2013 KEYNOTE SPEECH 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 policy processes.
  2. 2. 2 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 European Building. 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
  3. 3. 3 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
  4. 4. 4 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 looks bright. 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. Thank you.