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Regional cooperation important for European reconciliation

Rune Rafaelsen speaking at the OSCE workshop in Vienna. Photo: Robert Kvile

“I am confident that the lessons we have learned during the last 20 years are useful to other regions,” said Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat speaking at the OSCE workshop on reconciliation in Vienna on Tuesday.

Location

“During the Cold War the borders between the Russian Federation and Finland and Norway were frozen. The area was characterized by mistrust. Today the situation has completely changed. Trust has been reestablished, a complex web of cooperation and contacts developed, economic cooperation is flourishing and job opportunities have been created,” Rune Rafaelsen said in his speech to the 150 experts and representatives of OSCE participating States. 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) plays a key role in facilitating progress towards a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian Security community.

Rune Rafaelsen and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat have 20 years of experience in building trust across the formerly nearly closed border between Russia and Norway. 

“Border regions are among the least developed areas in Europe. This is partly a legacy of the Cold War when the primary role of these regions was to provide a “buffer zone”. They suffer from weak transportation infrastructure, underdeveloped industry and high unemployment. This, combined with ethnic and religious diversity, has created a fertile basis for conflicts. This was also the situation in the border areas in the North.,” said Rafaelsen.

He pointed to the fact that the regional dimension of the Barents Cooperation is unique because Russian regions in an unprecedented way take part in an institutionalized political cooperation with foreign counterparts. 

“This year an agreement on non-visa local border traffic between Norway and the Russian Federation entered into force. This is the first agreement of this kind between a Schengen country and Russia. The agreement will further promote people to people contacts, the bedrock of the Barents Cooperation,” Rune Rafaelsen explained. 

He was invited to the OSCE workshop because the Barents cooperation has attracted huge interest in other parts of Europe. Especially other border regions are interested in the cross-border success between the countries in Europe’s northernmost corner.

“The Barents Cooperation is basically a peace project. It underpins the objectives of the OSCE,” Rafaelsen said and ended his speech by quoting Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that in 2007 said “the Barents Euro-Arctic Council continues to be firmly established in the role of a major instrument for building in the North of Europe an area of stability, trust and sustainable development.”