Ladies and Gentlemen,
The end of the East-West confrontation has changed the geopolitical landscape in the North and offered completely new opportunities for Arctic cooperation. In fact, we are in the process of opening a Fourth World on the top of the globe where Northern Europe is reaching a hand over the Arctic Ocean to North America and eastern parts of Asia. This world has always existed but for a long time it was hidden by the curtains of the cold war.
I am convinced that the recent momentum of cooperation is indeed necessary and responds to the genuine needs of the peoples in the northern regions. And even more widely, we should be able to look at the map from a different angle than we usually do. The cold Arctic waters do not only separate, they also unite. These regions are rich in natural resources and inhabited by determined people willing to utilise these opportunities.
Let me briefly refer to the most important cooperation initiatives of recent times.
In 1989 Finland took the initiative to commence cooperation between the eight Arctic countries for the protection of the Arctic environment. This cooperation, which is now called the "Rovaniemi Process", is well under way. The work is based on a comprehensive action programme, adopted in the ministerial conference in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. It will be followed up next year at Nuuk, Greenland, on ministerial level.
Increased economic activity, which we are here to promote, will inevitably mean higher environmental risks for the Arctic regions. The fragile nature of the Arctic is already exposed to a number of environmental threats in air, water and soil, be it in the form of sulphur emissions, oil spills or radioactivity. We should further intensify our efforts to reduce these existing risks. It is also of great importance that a proper environmental impact assessment is always carried out before major new activities are started.
Last year the Government of Canada made an important proposal for broad cooperation in economic, social, cultural and other fields between the Arctic Eight. Canada proposed that an Arctic Council be established as a political umbrella between the governments concerned. This new body could act as a forum to discuss, coordinate and give political guidance to the rather fragmented existing cooperation.
The Nordic countries have given their full support to this initiative. This kind of cooperation between the Baltic Sea states has given positive experience. The negotiations on the Arctic Council are still going on at officials' level. It is important that the mandate of the proposed Council can be formulated in a way which will satisfy all the governments concerned.
In addition to multilateral initiatives, bilateral cooperation has considerably increased in the Arctic areas. Also, at the regional and non-governmental level the circumpolar cooperation has lately intensified. I only mention the establishment of the Arctic Forum as a cooperative body for the leaders of the northern regional governments, the International Arctic Science Committee and the cooperation among the indigenous people.
I met the foreign minister of Norway, my distinguished colleague Thorvald Stoltenberg, last spring in Lapland. There we together developed an idea of arranging an expert meeting on Arctic cooperation. Later we decided to limit the scope of the meeting to the Northern Sea Route. That is why we are here today.
We all know the huge natural resources existing in the Arctic areas and the ambitious plans for their utilisation. But do we also know how short is the distance between Europe, Asia and America over the Arctic waters?
The distance between Yokohama and Hamburg is only 6,600 nautical miles by way of the Northern Sea Route. Through the Suez Canal it is 11,400 nautical miles. The distance from London to all ports north of Hong Kong is shorter via the Northern Sea Route.
But there still exist two basic preconditions which should be fulfilled in order to make the Northern Sea Route commercially profitable: the length of the operating season must be substantially lengthened and the average speed of vessels increased.
Traffic through the Northern Sea Route is not our only option. Other kinds of traffic, e.g. in the form of shuttle transport by which natural resources from central Siberia are carried to both East and West during the open season, may be economically even more important.
Finland has a long tradition in the mastery of Arctic engineering and shipping problems. Our industry and companies can offer a lot of expertise in the development of the Arctic regions.
160 years ago Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld was born in Helsinki. 47 years later his ship Vega passed through the Bering Strait and the Northern Sea Route was found. Now this seaway is open again to regular transport. I hope that this expert meeting will make an important contribution to developing this route as a commercially competitive alternative in sea transport.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On now launching the cooperation on the Northern Sea Route I would like to remind you of one more initiative on increased cooperation
in the North. My colleague minister Stoltenberg has recently launched an initiative in promoting regional cooperation in the Barents region between the northern parts of Norway, Finland and Sweden and the north-western parts of Russia as a European sub-region. I look forward to discussing this interesting proposal with my Nordic and Russian foreign minister colleagues in Kirkenes next January. It is indeed necessary to define the position of these northern areas on the map of "Europe of regions" and to ensure that their needs and opportunities are duly taken into consideration in the allocation of available resources. This idea was further elaborated in the discussions I had yesterday evening with minister Stoltenberg here in Tromsö.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And I would now like to open the working sessions of this meeting and wish you all success in your deliberations.