Regional cooperation hugely important for Iceland

Tómas Orri Ragnarsson, counsellor working on Arctic affairs and regional cooperation at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Iceland gave NDI an interview about the importance of regional cooperation for Iceland.

First, how important is regional cooperation for Iceland?
Despite Iceland may be perceived to have a slightly remote location – if looked from continental Europe – our country is well connected with Europe. In addition to tight economic and cultural exchange, we are also actively engaged in various regional cooperation forums in particular in Northern Europe. We focus on practical, result-oriented cooperation that is benefiting the socio-economic development of the region.

We have a long and extensive experience in Nordic cooperation which has proved very beneficial throughout the decades. Other essential regional cooperation forums include the Northern Dimension cooperation, Barents Euro Arctic Council, Council of the Baltic Sea States, and the Arctic Council. For a small country with limited resources it is enormously important to be able to exchange views with and learn from the experiences of our regional cooperation partners.

What about the Northern Dimension and Iceland´s role in the ND?
Iceland takes part in the Northern Dimension (ND) cooperation as one of the four equal partners with the EU, Russia and Norway. We are also the next in line to host the high level meeting of the ND. The previous ND Senior Officials Meeting took place in April 2014 in Oslo, so it really is about time to sit down and discuss the recent developments. The meeting will provide an important opportunity to follow up with the projects and activities implemented by the four ND Partnerships, ND Business Council and ND Institute as well as discuss the future of ND cooperation.

Iceland is also currently holding the chairmanship of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Chairmanships in the regional cooperation forums and hosting of various high level meetings are one means to demonstrate our willingness to cooperate, engage with our partners and have an impact on regional development in northern Europe.

What are the major challenges for Iceland when it comes to participation in the various regional forums?
For sure being a small organization it is often difficult to participate on all levels, attending all meetings and participate in the various working groups that are focusing on special issues. Fortunately, we count on the support of our partners and exchange information with them to keep us informed about the current developments within the cooperation.

One issue that often comes up when people talk about regional cooperation, is the need to avoid duplication of effort and overlaps. Indeed, if we look at the situation in the Northern Dimension area or for example focus just on Scandinavia, we see a lot of cooperation utilizing various venues and platforms. I believe it is not necessarily bad that people are working on similar types of projects in different cooperation forums. Instead, a lot of cooperation in the area means that the countries and people are willing and able to build on existing cooperation and find new ways and means of cooperation.

Tómas Orri Ragnarsson was interviewed by Piia Heliste.