Norwegian leaders drop out of Barents Cooperation

County politicians from northern Norway together with Arkhangelsk Governor Igor Orlov and Murmansk Governor Marina Kovtun.

The Norwegians are known as staunch supporters of the Barents Cooperation. But they show a clearly fading engagement in the Barents Regional Council. 

As political regional leaders from the whole Barents Region assemble in Oulu, Finland, two key regions are absent. Neither Troms, nor Finnmark, the two northernmost Norwegian counties, are represented at the meeting with their top leaders.

The political leaders in the two regions will argue they are busy back home with important county assembly meetings. However, their absense in the Barents Regional Council is not the first.

In the last session of the Barents Regional Executive Committee, a subsidiary unit of the Regional Council, none of the two regions were represented.

Neither was the third Norwegian region, the County of Nordland.

The absence spurred frustration among the other participating Nordic and Northwest Russian representatives, a source associated with the Regional Council told BarentsObserver.

Norway has since the Barents Cooperation was formally established in 1993 been an active patron of cross-border relations between the involved Nordic and northwest Russian regions, and today contributes with a lion’s share of financing for activities. However, most of that engagement, as well as the financing, comes from Oslo and not from the regions themselves.

In Wednesday’s Barents Regional Council meeting in Oulu, the governors from both Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were present. So were also Sven-Erik Österberg from Norrbotten (Sweden), Magdalena Andersson from Västerbotten (Sweden), Pauli Harjo from Northern Ostrobotnia (Finland), Mika Riipa from Lapland (Finland), Timo Korhonen from Kainuu (Finland) and Tomas Norvoll from Nordland (Norway).

Figures assembled at Patchwork Barents, the regional dataportal, similarly show that the Norwegian regions are not the most active Barents Regional Council particpants. Seen over the period 2008-2014, it is the Swedish region of Norrbotten which has attended the Council meetings most frequently. Norrbotten tops the list both when it comes to governor’s attendance and the total number of regional representatives participating in the meetings.

From the Norwegian side, it is the county of Troms which is the most active participant. It is listed among the top-five in the ranking along with Norrbotten, Oulu, Kainuu and Västerbotten.

From the Russian side, it is Murmansk and Arkhangelsk which have attended the council meeting most frequently.

The Barents Regional Council is a key pilar in the Barents Cooperation and a unique construction in European east-west cooperation. It includes regional leaders and officials from thirteen north European regions, among them five Northwest Russian, three Finnish, two Swedis and three Norwegian. In addition, the council has permanent representation from the indigenous peoples in the region.