New Kirkenes Declaration presented

Top government officials from the Barents Region meet for the 2013 Barents Summit. Photo: Jonas Karlsbakk.

KIRKENES: Top government officials at Tuesday’s Barents Summit pledged improved east-west transportation, sustainable resource development and more cooperation in addressing the effects of climate change in the Barents region.


“There are extreme opportunities for all of us,” said Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen during the Summit in Kirkenes, Norway. “There are extreme opportunities for economic growth and there are extreme challenges in order to do everything we want to do in a sustainable way,”

Katainen was joined by prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs from the other Barents Euro-Arctic Council nations who were celebrating two decades of economic, environmental and cultural cooperation between their countries. Together, they presented a new Kirkenes Declaration that builds upon a document first signed in 1993. This paves the way for the nations to work even closer together in a rapidly changing Arctic.

“Today the region is facing both positive and negative implications of global warming and increased global demands for minerals, oil and gas,” Katainen said. “This is why the Barents cooperation continues to be of upmost relevance even today.”

The Council’s declaration announces the formation of the Joint Barents Transport Plan which will allow Council countries to coordinate efforts to build inter-Barents roads, railroads, harbours and airports.

“Transportation cannot be an overlapping obstacle for our future,” Katainen told press after the Summit. “Labour forces need to travel and busy people need to travel.”

He said the main barrier to transportation in the Barents region today is money and that the development of a long-term investment plan will go a long way in helping the region become more connected.

Improved connectivity can also be achieved by the Council’s plans to find ways to “ease and promote” border crossings and to work towards visa-free travel for short-term stays in Barents countries. This has become increasingly important in the last 20 years as the number of people crossing the border has grown substantially.

“Our goal should be visa freedom between all countries in the region,” said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who added that border traffic across the Russian-Norwegian border has increased from 8,000 people annually in 1990s to more than 250,000 people per year today.

Also included in the declaration are desires to eliminate barriers to trade within the Barents region, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase funding for research into the effects of climate change and continue northern resource development in a sustainable manner.

The original declaration, agreed upon at a conference in Kirkenes in January 1993, created the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in the aftermath of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union. This Council included government members from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the European Commission who recognized that cross-border cooperation in the Arctic was imperative because northern nations face many unique challenges including harsh climates, sparse populations and vast territories.

Stoltenberg, who is turning over chairmanship of the Council to Finland this fall, said much has been achieved since that first declaration was put forward. Notably, the number of citizens crossing international borders has increased, Norway and Russia have agreed on where their borders lie in the Arctic Ocean, cod stocks in the region have been restored and Council nations worked together to eliminate illegal fishing.

“Those who signed the Kirkenes Agreement back in 1993 were convinced that Barents cooperation would contribute to peace and security,” Stoltenberg said. “History has proved them right.”

The full-text of the declaration can be viewed online.