Speech by Secretary of State Torstila at a Cross-Border Cooperation Conference in Kaliningrad
7th Annual International Conference Russia/EU/Norway Cross-Border Cooperation Conference, Kaliningrad 22nd September 2011.
Secretary of State Mr. Pertti Torstila, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
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Deputy Prime Minister Zhukov, Minister Basargin, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is with great pleasure that I welcome the possibility to address this Seventh Annual Conference on Cross-Border Cooperation between The Russian Federation and EU Member States and Norway.
Cross-border cooperation with Russian regions is a major foreign policy priority for the Member States which have borders with Russia. The European Union, Member States and Partner Countries benefit from external border cooperation through creation of a positive atmosphere for rapprochement between the participating countries, improvement of EU and Partner Country relations, increasing people-to-people contacts and promotion of shared political and economic values. This contributes significantly to stability and prosperity on the border regions which is in our common interest.
One year ago in the same Conference we had to state that no projects had been launched in the three Finnish-Russian ENPI Cross-Border Cooperation Programmes: namely Kolarctic, Karelia and South-East Finland – Russia Programmes. But today I am glad to take note of positive progress in the implementation of these three Programmes. It could even be said that implementation of the Programmes is now progressing rapidly. We have to make sure that implementation will continue successfully and these programmes will reach their full potential in the years to come. I am very glad to see that the discussions on the future of these programmes is being launched and I am confident that the next generation programmes will open new avenues for more even more intensive co-operation.
I want to stress that the preparation of future arrangements is a joint process between the Commission, the European External Action Service, the Member States and the Partner Countries involved. This means that legal arrangements guaranteeing the ownership and equal status of all participating countries - including the Russian Federation - will have to be identified and implemented.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me say a few words on the Finnish-Russian cross-border cooperation which has been very active and successful. Last year Finland granted over 950 000 visas to Russian citizens and this year we are expecting some 10 million border-crossings on our Eastern border. The high-speed train connection between Saint-Petersburg and Helsinki was inaugurated in December 2010 and now the travel time between the two cities is only three and half hours. The border and customs controls are performed on a moving train, which saves journey time considerably. Over the period of November to April over 1,5 Million passengers arrived in Finland from Russia. In fact last winter over half of the tourists visiting Finland were Russian.
Increased traffic sets high requirements on the border infrastructure and it is our common goal to improve the border infrastructure to meet the high expectations. Achieving this goal is made easier by the fact that cooperation between our border and customs officials is excellent.
The Finnish-Russian cross-border cooperation started with the Neighbouring Area cooperation, launched in early 1990s. This cooperation has been a success and has resulted in sustainable networks and over 200 on-going projects annually between public authorities, institutions, NGOs and enterprises. Due to current economic circumstances, Finland’s budget for the Neighbouring Area Cooperation will decrease significantly, which makes it even more important to secure the future of ENPI CBC Programmes across the Finnish-Russian border.
I would also like to highlight the regional dimension of the cross-border cooperation and especially the Northern Dimension. The Northern Dimension provides a flexible and pragmatic framework for regional and cross-border cooperation in the Northern Europe. Northern Dimension as a common policy of EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland has led to tangible results, such as several projects to protect Baltic Sea within the Environmental Partnership. Northern Dimension has several synergies with ENPI CBC Programmes and we have earlier proposed that the five EU-Russia ENPI CBC Programmes should actually be called “the Northern Dimension CBC Programmes”.
Northern Dimension serves as a link to cooperate with non-EU countries, especially Russia, in implementing the EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy. In this context, the ENPI CBC Baltic Sea Programme is an important element in regional cooperation and it is important to guarantee that Russia will be part of this Programme in the next Financial Period.
Against this background the five EU-Russia ENPI CBC Programmes can be seen as a key instrument to implement the broad Northern Dimension policy. These Programmes cover more or less the geographical area of the Northern Dimension and they can strengthen and complement in a useful way the Northern Dimension partnerships. All the relevant stakeholders should be aware of these synergies and their strategic importance for the Baltic Sea Region, North-West Russia and the Barents region.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
This Conference has again provided a good opportunity to continue the dialogue on cross-border cooperation between Russia and its European neighbours. I want to thank you, Minister Basargin, and the other organisers for this possibility to express my views on the importance of cross-border cooperation.