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'The European Parliament and the Northern Dimension'

September 5, 2006 2:36 PM
By Diana Wallis MEP in Diana Wallis MEP's speech to the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, Reykjavik, 5th September 2006

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Good morning. Mr.Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman, the title of my speech is 'the 'European Parliament and the Northern Dimension'. When I spoke to this conference last year in Vilnius I urged delegates to speak to their MEPs from their own countries to encourage them to participate much more in the debates on the Northern Dimension in the European Parliament. I emphasised this because there was a real danger in a post 2004 enlargement Europe that the Northern Dimension might not have a future.

Well, I am delighted to able to report that, thanks to your work, the debate on the Northern Dimension resolution last November during the Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg was well attended - and not just by me and some Finns! This was a hugely positive step forward. I want to try to share with you some of the preoccupations of my Parliament in this area at a time when it is clear we stand on the threshold of a new era in the evolution of the Northern Dimension.

Firstly, the new interest in the Northern Dimension in the European Parliament has meant that many members who we might say have a 'Baltic' constituency, have been attracted to the topic. This is in itself is of course no bad thing because it generates the very interest I complained was lacking last year in Vilnius. There is now also a Baltic 'inter-group' in the Parliament and an increasing interest in the Northern Dimension as an element of the EU's regional policy. It might seem strange that I address this meeting of Baltic parliamentarians to warn against the Northern Dimension becoming a Baltic preserve but indeed that is what I plan to do over the next short while. Because, unfortunately in my opinion, this emphasis on the Baltic is to the possible detriment of the Arctic, and more importantly clouds the understanding of the Northern Dimension as an external policy of the Union. We need to achieve balance and we need to look for the cross cutting horizontal issues where the EU can really add value to what is already achieved by inter-regional and inter-governmental co-operation.

The Northern Dimension, from its first inception, has always included an Arctic window. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja recently came to the European Parliament to set out the external policy priorities of Finland's Presidency of the European Union over their current six month tenure. Naturally the Northern Dimension featured prominently. We also know that the new Northern Dimension Framework, to be agreed in the autumn under the Finnish Presidency, has a strong reference to the Arctic in it.

We have to appreciate that Europe has changed somewhat since the Northern Dimension was first debated at the back end of the 1990s, not least because many of the countries it sought to serve have since become full members of the EU. In doing so, to a large extent, it has made the Baltic in effect an internal sea of the EU. This means that policy matters which come out of the EU have a natural importance for the Baltic, and that the needs of the Baltic can and should receive attention in mainstream European policies. Therefore in these changed circumstances it is surely appropriate to ask what is the point of defining the Northern Dimension towards the Baltic and how does this help take us forward? The EU should, after all, only act where it adds extra value to existing cross border relations.

We also know that the institutional framework of the Northern Dimension is to be changed subtly, but importantly. The Northern Dimension is in future to be promoted as a partnership between the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland. If this is indeed the case then it is clear that its focus will naturally move through and beyond the Baltic, as such partners of the EU have greater mutual interests in the high north and Arctic region. The biggest geo-political issues we face - the environmental effects of climate change and security of energy supply which I see are the priorities of the Swedish presidency of the CBSS over the coming year - find their main expression in that region.

Just prior to this meeting I spent five days in Greenland on a study visit with colleagues from the Liberal Group in the European Parliament. I was invited there by the Speaker of the Greenland Parliament, Jonathan Motzfelt, who I have encountered on previous occasions. The timing was important because the EU and Greenland have just agreed a new and, I would say in some ways ground-breaking, agreement on future cooperation. Yes, on fisheries but also on climate change research, energy, maritime routes, mineral extraction, tourism, culture and education. And the context within which all of this is put? As the Agreement states: noting the strategic importance of Greenland in the Arctic window of the Northern Dimension policy! If the Northern Dimension can now turn its face seriously northwards and provide the sort of financial support to infrastructural projects in the Arctic in the same way that it did in the Baltic then this must be a welcome development.

What we have to see is that the issues that relate to the high north are also of great consequence to the Baltic: the effects of climate change on the maritime environment, the development of the EU maritime strategy, security of energy supply particularly the exploitation and transportation of resources and, more generally, research in all these areas. These are cross cutting horizontal issues where the Northern Dimension can help bring something additional through external and cross border co-operation that we cannot achieve either within the Union itself or bilaterally between adjacent states.

The night before I left Greenland we had a reception in Nuuk. Some of you may know that, the Speaker of the Greenland Parliament's wife, Mrs. Moztfeld, is Icelandic, and when I told her where I was going and what for, she could not understand, a Baltic meeting in Reykjavik? She found it highly amusing! Yet I too am here because in the European Parliament I lead our delegation for relations with Iceland, Norway, and well Switzerland. That apart, the inference is clear - the Northern Dimension is put in a structure that stretches beyond the borders of the EU. It is part of our external policy but of course there are issues that equally have internal impact like those relating to our oceans and seas that we have discussed here. In that sense it sounds to me as if our colleagues in the Black Sea probably have the correct aspiration, as mentioned yesterday morning, that there should one day be a 'Parliamentary Association of Maritime Countries'. It is these common issues and challenges that go through and beyond Europe's borders which the EU should address in the new Northern Dimension policy. My plea is do not constrain by your very welcome activities the Northern Dimension to too small a geographic area.

I end with an invitation. We are parliamentarians and it has always been my greatest concern that the Northern Dimension should not be a ministerial preserve. There is an increased danger of that in its new manifestation as a partnership. We will need to be vigilant. That is where I believe we in the European Parliament have a key role to play. We can hold the Commission and, indeed, the Council to account in a unique way. That is why I am looking forward to our Parliamentary Forum in November. That forum must concentrate on issues, not process or structure - years of debate in the EP about the constitution have made me allergic to such debate! Rather, and this is my appeal to you this year, we have to make sure, as parliamentarians, that there is a clear message about the content of the future Northern Dimension policy. As one of my Norwegian colleagues recently said, we have opened an Arctic window in the Northern Dimension policy and we now have to put some flowers in the window - exactly! And the same goes for all issues of substance which affect our citizens. Thank you.

Ends.