Various EU-Russia cooperation formats and platforms were discussed at the workshop organized by HA Neighbours during the EUSBSR Strategy Forum in Stockholm. In particular, the Northern Dimension and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) were raised up as successful cooperation platforms. HA Neighbours is one of the Horizontal Actions (HA) in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). Its aim is to promote cooperation with Russia, Ukraine, Norway and Iceland in order to tackle the challenges and tap the opportunities identified in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.
In his key note speech, former Prime Minister of Finland Paavo Lipponen discussed the four forces strongly at play in the Northern areas as identified by Lawrence C. Smith: demography, growing demand for natural resources, globalization and climate change. Firstly, the population in the Northern Dimension area is aging fast. Secondly, the demand for natural resources caused a major Arctic hype a few years ago. Luckily, the view on the Arctic has now become more balanced. Thirdly, most of the countries in the region are open economies and as such highly dependent on the global economy and development of global transportation routes. And finally, the Northern and Arctic areas are feeling the impacts of climate change more severely than most other regions. Lipponen highlighted “the need to identify areas where we can make a difference despite the geopolitical tensions” and tackle those joint challenges in cooperation.
There appeared to be some frustration among the workshop panelists as well as the audience caused by the current political situation. For example, environmental cooperation is at stake. “Northern Dimension cooperation offers the best and most proven instrument for environmental cooperation but sanctions prevent the international financial institutions to start new projects in Russia”, argued Paavo Lipponen. This was also noted by Ambassador Erja Tikka who called for solutions: “We need to find a way to continue funding environmental projects between European Union and Russia. Otherwise we’re just harming ourselves.”
The present situation also shows the value and importance of regional level cooperation. In many cases, the people-to-people contacts and cooperation between e.g. municipalities and cities have continued largely unaffected. This level of cooperation was considered essential for building trust between partners in the EU and Russia.
The need to secure the prosperity and peacefulness of the region was highlighted in most of the statements in one way or the other. There was also a clear consensus about the need to cooperate with Russia if we want to reach results in solving our joint challenges, be they in the field of transportation, health, environment or business development.
The workshop panelists and audience seemed to be very much expecting the situation to turn to better. Igor Kapyrin from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation put it well: “We need to construct the better times instead of just wait for them.”