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Cross-border cooperation in the north of Europe as prevention of recurrence of the Cold War

In the turbulence of the world political system inter-regional cooperation structures such as the Barents/Euro-Arctic Region are the "last chance" to save the normal human relations between the communities and organizations of Northern countries and Russia.

Ambiguous foreign policy actions of the Russian leadership with regard to Ukraine are condemned and criticized in most civilized countries. Many of them are reconsidering the strategy of cooperation with Russia. Their example is followed by international organizations, changing the principles of working with Russian organizations, including cutting funding for international projects. For example, recently it became known that the Nordic Council of Ministers has stopped its work in Russia.

The inevitable changes also occur in collaboration of members of BEAR — the Barents/Euro-Arctic Council, which includes the most northern regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and also Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions, the Republic of Karelia and Komi and the Nenets Autonomous District from Russia. They affect, or will affect in the future joint projects in the field of economics, traditional crafts, culture, indigenous peoples, environment and so on.

Editorial of «7x7» assumes that during the tough foreign policy confrontation and a gradual return to the format of relations common for the Cold War, the cooperation of "people-to-people" (as one of the main formats of any cross-border cooperation, including BEAR) is still important if not the only tool to maintain the relationship between society and communities of regional and local level.

That is why the online journal begins a series of publications, which will feature some of the results of cooperation that has been achieved in 22 years of operation of BEAR and will tell how the changes in the foreign policy of countries affected the cooperation of ordinary people and organizations in the Barents Region. The first of them is the History of BEAR, specific cooperation and financing of joint projects.

Barents/Euro-Arctic Region appeared on the political map of Europe at the beginning of 1993, when foreign ministers of Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, as well as a representative of the European Union signed Declaration on the Barents Cooperation in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes.

The Barents Cooperation: Institutional Networking

Founding fathers of BEAR are senior civil servants of countries that recently were considered ideological enemies; at the beginning they determined the unique two- or three-tier network cooperation structure represented by interstate and interregional bodies of coordination of interests, as well as a permanent working group of indigenous peoples. 

The so-called Council of the Barents/Euro-Arctic Region was created at the "top" level; representatives of the central authorities of the countries that have signed the Declaration and a representative of the European Union composed it. According to the Kirkenes Declaration, the purpose of the Council was "to promote the sustainable development of the region" through "discussion of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in economy, trade, science and technology, tourism, environment, infrastructure, education and cultural exchange, as well as projects specifically aimed at improving the situation of the indigenous population of the North". Such cautious wording is clear: half a century of confrontation between East and West, "communism" and "capitalism", WTO and NATO didn’t allow to set more ambitious goals to partners. Therefore, we can safely say that "at the summit level" the main task of the collegial body was not the development of full cooperation, but at first to recreate the atmosphere of trust between the Member States and the harmonization of views on the common problems of the region.

Until recently it seemed that this goal was achieved. Thus, Kirkenes declaration II was signed in the year of the 20th anniversary of the Barents Region, in which the representatives of the Member States underlined their commitment to the principles of cooperation enshrined in the formation of BEAR. The new Declaration recognizes the important role "that the Barents Cooperation has played in strengthening of the mutual trust, stability and security in northern Europe". However, a year later only pleasant memories of "mutual trust" were left: another aggravation of relations between Russia and Western countries led observers to talk not about the new Kirkenes Declaration but a new Cold War.

However, the Barents Cooperation takes place and grows even in the current hard times of international cooperation. What is the secret?

BEAR decentralization

To answer this question we are to revert to a multi-level structure of the Barents Region. The key to success is in it, as the main cooperation initiatives are developed and implemented at the regional and local level, including cooperation between the representatives of indigenous peoples. It is also recognized by the Council and representatives of BEAR: "Achievements of the 20-year cooperation are primarily the result of local and regional initiatives and activities with various organizations and institutions, civil and business communities... The regional level was and will be the core of the Barents cooperation," stated in the Declaration of 2013. The foreign ministers of Russia and Norway also agreed; they met in Kirkenes in October 2014 during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of northern Norway from Nazi occupation. "The relationships today obviously suffer some stress... However, today we have confirmed their mutual interest in the development of relations in the field of economy, cooperation on environmental protection, nuclear and radiation safety, cross-border cooperation. Also the usefulness of established formats in the north — the Arctic Council, the Barents/Euro-Arctic Region, the Council of the Baltic Sea — was also confirmed," Sergei Lavrov said. His Norwegian colleague seconded him: "Today, we can demonstrate that the cooperation between the people remains as close and viable. We will continue the important cooperation in the field of fisheries, environment, radiation safety and other regional projects," Børge Brende said.

And it is probably no accident that cooperation at the level of regional and local communities in Northern Europe didn’t cease even in the years of ideological confrontation of the Cold War. An example of such cooperation is also the development of sister-city relations of Soviet cities with the Nordic countries (for example, sister-cities of Murmansk from 1962 to 1973 were the most northern European cities — Rovaniemi, Lulea, Tromso and Vadso), and North Calotte's Peace Days were held since the early 1960's, it was attended by the delegations of the northern regions of the country, that became founders of the Barents Region in 1993. In 1984 they even published a book dedicated to Peace Days (Zinov M.V. Neighbors should always be friends. Essays on the history of North Calotte's Peace Days. - Murmansk, 1984).

Today, 13 regions from Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden are among members of the Barents regional cooperation. The most "establishment" (the number of regions, territories, and population) is from Russia.

However, on many important indicators: the level of people's lives, economic development, criminal offenses and so on, Russian regions are lagging behind their northern neighbors. In addressing these issues, as well as on the development of cooperation in many spheres of public life (from youth policy and the rights of indigenous peoples to creating media associations and business partnerships) and is mainly in the Barents cooperation. It is realized in the form of joint projects, both bilateral, involving organizations from the two countries of BEAR, and multilateral, covering much of the region. However, joint projects require constant financial support. Where does it come from?

Shared fund of BEAR

Today the Barents projects have shared financials: the main funding comes from the European Union while co-financing the countries whose regions are part of BEAR, including Russia. The program «Kolarctic» is the main source of funding, operated from 2010 to 2014 and will be extended in 2016, when the organization of the Barents Region will be able to submit new project proposals. Over the past 5 years, the program "Kolarctic" has financed more than 50 projects totaling more than 70 million euros, including areas of economic and social development, addressing common challenges and developing identity.

Incidentally, the programs of "Kolarctic" and BEAR pay attention to the formation of a common Barents identity. A lot of sites function that emphasize the unity of the region: this also applies to the information-analytical portals, region-wide statistical compilations, writing a history textbook of the Barents region and even the Barents encyclopedia, which is preparing to be released.

Moreover, Norway supports its own, an additional financing instrument in which mainly bilateral projects between the regions of Norway and the Murmansk region find support. The annual volume of financing is 35 million Norwegian kroner (about 230 million rubles at the current rate). And in 2015, the annual budget for the program of grants for the implementation of cross-border projects has increased to 47 million euros, or 300 million rubles. And this is despite the fact that Norway has a very negative attitude to the Kremlin's foreign policy and joined sanctions against Russia in 2014.

This fact proves once again the importance of people-to-people cooperation (in contrast to the official inter-state cooperation), underlying the Barents cooperation.

The material were prepared with use of data of patchworkbarents.org

Gleb Yarovoy, «7x7»

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