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Happy birthday Barents!

Murmansk is celebrating 20 years of Barents cooperation. Photo by Alexander Bergan, Art Lasovsky, idea and execution Alexey Filin and Maria Goman.

January 11th marks the 20-years anniversary of the Barents cooperation. BarentsObserver congratulates all participants of this unique cross-border bridge-building network between east and west at the top of Europe. We look forward to the coming years of successful interregional formalized cooperation between the northern parts of Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

The cooperation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region was launched in 1993 in Kirkenes, Norway. The region consists of thirteen counties or similar subregional entities in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

The Barents Cooperation promotes people-to-people contacts and economic development and creates good conditions for interregional exchange in many different fields; e.g., culture, indigenous peoples, education, youth, trade, information, environment, helath and transport. The Barents Cooperation is regarded as an integral part of creating a stable, democratic and prosperous Europe.

In the spirit of the Northern Dimension, the Barents Euro-Arctic Region is, in its cultural diversity, a gateway to opportunities for researchers, entrepreneurs, pioneers and discoverers. In the 21st Century, the region enters a booming mining and petroleum development. The shrinking of the Arctic sea ice due to Global Warming has also opened the door to increased commercial shipping along the Northern Sea Route making shortcuts from Europe to Asia. By that, the Barents Region goes from being the periphery to be located in the centre of new trading routes.

Population
About 5.5 million people live in the Barents Region. The population density is on average a mere 3,5 inhabitants per square kilometre. This varies from 0,3 (Nenets) to 8 (Oulu) inhabitants. The largest city in the Barents Region is Arkhangelsk (Russia) with its 330.000 inhabitants.

The majority of the Barents Region belongs to the temperate conifer zone whereas the Scandinavian mountain chain, the northern parts of the Kola Peninsula, the Nenets Area and Novaja Zemlja are part of the Arctic tundra. The location mainly north of the Arctic Circle gives a period of exotic midnight sun and also long and dark polar nights.

The surface area of the Barents Region is 1.755.800 sq.km. This Euro-Arctic region is also characterised by its harsh climate and long distances. But no other part of Europe and indeed few places on earth are equally rich in forests, fish, minerals, oil and gas. Besides such natural resources the Barents Euro-Arctic Region has a skilled labour force and constitutes a meeting point between the European Union and Russia.

The Barents Euro-Arctic Region includes the following 13 territories which also are members of the Barents Regional Council:

Norway: Finnmark, Troms and Nordland 
Russia: Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Nenets, Komi and Karelia 
Finland: Lappland, Oulu and Kainuu 
Sweden: Norbotten and Västerbotten

History of the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation 
The Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation and the intergovernmental cooperation in the region was formalised when the Foreign Ministers of Norway, Russia, Finland, Sweden and representatives of Denmark, Iceland and the European Commission signed the Kirkenes Declaration on 11 January 1993.

The Council was established as a forum to promote interregional contacts in the northernmost parts of Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden. On the same occasion, representatives of the member regions, governors and their equivalents, together with representatives of the indigenous peoples, signed a protocol of cooperation that established the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, with the objective of working together to promote the development of the Barents Region.

Aim and Vision 
Today, as decentralisation and regionalization progress in most European countries, initiatives are taken to strengthen or create new regional structures. The expectations of this process are to bring political and administrative structures closer to the citizens and to improve the democratic functions of society.

Much has been achieved over 20-years of Barents Cooperation. This is a unique undertaking that confirms the value of close integration between intergovernmental, interregional and people-to-people cooperation. It is also an important framework for strengthening and developing the Northern Dimension of EU policies and interaction with Canada, Japan and the United States and other Arctic regions in the far north of Europe.

The vision of the Barents Cooperation is to improve living conditions, to encourage sustainable economic and social development and thus contribute to stability, environmental progress and peaceful development in northernmost Europe. These aims can only be reached through continuous, multifaceted efforts in a broad range of areas, spanning from overall security, environmental concern and economic development to the human dimension.