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"Give us Barents visa-freedom"

Janne-Pekka Piispanen and Julia Bobina want visa-freedom for inhabitants in the Barents Region. The current demand for visa is outdated and the main hindrance for increased cooperation. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Janne-Pekka Piispanen and Julia Bobina believe the Barents Region could be the first place with full visa-freedom between EU and Russia. Their suggestion is now posted to the Prime Ministers that will meet in Kirkenes next spring to sign a new Barents declaration.

Location

“It is far too difficult to cross the east-west borders in the Barents Region. We need to plan long time in advanced if going to Russia, processing a visa takes two weeks,” says Janne-Pekka Piispanen from Rovaniemi in northern Finland.

“Actually, it will be just perfect to introduce visa-freedom in the Barents Region.”

Barents youths want to travel freely in the region. That is the main message from this week’s youth council meeting to the Prime Ministers of the four Barents countries Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Prime Ministers will meet in Kirkenes next June for the 20 years anniversary of the Barents cooperation.

In May this year, Norway and Russia opened for visa-free travel for inhabitants in a 30-kilometer zone on each side of the border. The so-called visa free border zone has resulted in a boom in border crossings between the two neighbors. The Barents Youth council argues a similar regime can be introduced for the entire Barents Region.

The Prime Ministers Jens Stoltenberg, Dmitri Medvedev, Fredrik Reinfeldt and Jyrki Katainen can when meeting in Kirkenes next spring outline a unique step in east-west relations by opening for visa-freedom.

“Our world is globalizing and borders are the main hindrance for cooperation,” says Julia Bobina from Arkhangelsk. She is currently working as an intern at the International Barents Secretariat in Norway.

“The current visa regime makes my cooperation with Norway difficult,” she says. “My Norwegian Schengen visa allows me to stay for no longer than 90 days this period. So after my intern period, I can’t go to Arctic Frontiers, an important meeting arena for Norwegian, Russian cooperation in the north, “explains Julia Bobina. She will have to stay out of Norway until March next year, while Arctic Frontiers takes place in Tromsø in January.

The new Barents declaration is meant to bring Europe’s northernmost cross-border cooperation a step further.

“Barents unites all active and enthusiastic people who want to give the region a positive outlook. Visa-freedom in the region will create a unique Barents identity, and that is what will bring the region a step further after 20 years of cooperation,” says Julia Bobina.

“The roadmap for full visa-freedom between Russia and the European Union can start here in the north. First Barents, then the rest of Russia and Europe,” argues Julia enthusiastic.