The contribution of Regions to the European Union Northern dimension concept - CPR (11) 5

Information report

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Rapporteur:
Helena PIHLAJASAARI, Finland,
Chamber of Regions
Political Group: SOC

THE NORTHERN DIMENSION OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU)

Background to the Northern Dimension

    The concept of Northern Dimension was brought up when Finland and Sweden were preparing for a referendum on EU accession in Autumn 1994. Finland’s initiative was officially promoted in a speech delivered by the Finnish Prime Minister, Mr Paavo Lipponen, in the City of Rovaniemi in September 1997. The Northern Dimension can be seen as an attempt to respond to changes that have taken place in Europe. One argument for the initiative was that the Union should have better policy co-ordination and clear priorities in the geographical area covered by the Northern Dimension. The programme was seen to strengthen the Union’s enlargement process and co-operation with Russia. At the same time, the interdependency between the EU and Russia in trade, technology and energy was emphasised. The Northern Dimension also has links to the domestic policies of Member States, such as infrastructure and energy.

    The European Union Committee of the Regions issued an opinion on the EU’s Northern Dimension and cross-border co-operation already in June 1996. The opinion paid attention to the northern, value-adding focus provided to the Union by Finland and Sweden. The opinion discussed the need for new cross-border co-operation in a situation where the Union shares a border with Russia and where the accession of new Member States brings the Baltic states and the Baltic Sea closer to the Union. The opinion brought forward several proposals for the development of cross-border co-operation with Russia.

    Finland drew the attention of the EU Member States and the Commission to the opportunities, but also to specific challenges and problems, associated with Northern Europe. The aim of developing co-operation between a wider Union and Russia is to reinforce stability, sustainable development and positive interdependency. A point of comparison was provided by the Union’s southern dimension policy, regional co-operation in the Mediterranean. In 1999, the general policy guidelines were established for the EU’s Northern Dimension, which formed a basis for developing co-operation between the Union and the partner countries (Norway and Iceland; and Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia which became EU member countries since then; and the Russian Federation).

Action Plans

    An Action Plan for the Northern Dimension for 2000-2003 was adopted at the meeting of the European Council in June 2000. The Action Plan defines objectives and actions in different sectors, such as environment and natural resources; justice and home affairs; promotion of trade and investment; public health; energy; transport; information society; nuclear safety; science and research, and cross-border co-operation. The following policy areas, in particular, emerged at the summit: addressing environmental problems; nuclear safety; prevention of international crime, and Kaliningrad. Energy co-operation and development of information society have also been brought up in the discussions.

    In October 2003, the European Council adopted a second Action Plan for the Northern Dimension for 2004-2006. The Action Plan covers the following five priority sectors:

      § economy, business and up-to-date infrastructure
      § human resources, education, scientific research, public health and social issues
      § energy co-operation
      § environment, nuclear safety and natural resources
      § cross-border co-operation and regional development
      § justice and home affairs

    Attention will also be paid to regions with special needs, such as Kaliningrad and the Arctic.

Northern Dimension programmes by sector

    The Northern Dimension policy is implemented through different sector-specific programmes.

Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership

    The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) was developed during 2001 as a co-operative effort responding to calls from the Russian Federation and the international community for a concerted effort to tackle some of the most pressing environmental problems in North-West Russia. The programme consists of 12 priority projects.

Nuclear safety projects

    The key nuclear safety projects include the nuclear safety windows by the NDEP Support Fund and grant-financed nuclear safety projects in Russia.

Action Plan for the Northern eDimension

    The objectives of the Action Plan for the Northern eDimension are to:

      § accelerate the transition of the northern regions into an information society
      § consolidate transnational co-operation and integration in matters related to information society, and
      § improve the innovation and investment environment particularly in North-West Russia and in the new member countries to the EU.

Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Wellbeing

    The objective of the Partnership is to improve human health and social well-being in the Northern Dimension region through promoting healthy life styles and preventing both communicable and non-communicable diseases. This requires close co-operation between health care and social service providers.

Energy

    The long-range objectives of the Northern Dimension energy policy are:

      § transport of gas from East to West managed by more than one company
      § construction of a Northern Europe gas pipeline
      § development and integration of electricity markets, and
      § improvement of the conditions for using local and renewable energy resources.

Transport infrastructure

The priorities of transport infrastructure are:

      § development, and safeguarding the financing, of infrastructure
      § integration of transport and communications markets and the improvement of the accessibility of markets
      § harmonisation of legislation
      § improvement of transport telematics and logistics
      § removal of transport bottlenecks, and
      § further improvement of collective security (e.g. security checks) and the actual transport safety.

Human and scientific resources

    The Northern Dimension region has ample, high-standard know-how. The role of the Northern Dimension is to co-ordinate and integrate this know-how. In practice, this means the enhancing of co-operation and networks between the region’s universities and other centres of expertise. Another important objective is to make the themes of the Northern Dimension part of the EU’s Research and Development framework programme.

Regional and cross-border co-operation

    Regional and cross-border co-operation is a necessity, as several of the key challenges associated with the Northern Dimension require that the regions take common action. These challenges include the elimination of barriers to trade and freedom of movement; and combat against crime.

Priorities and development needs of the Northern Dimension from the point of view of European regions

    The main responsibility for the implementation of the Action Plan for the Northern Dimension is exercised by the Commission. Each EU Presidency in turn has an obligation to take over the management of the programme. This does not exclude Member States and partner countries or Regional Councils from actively participating in the planning of projects among other things. It is important that all EU Member States participate in the activities in the common interest of the entire Union. The implementation of the Northern Dimension requires concrete and realistic objectives covering the short and medium term, and indicators to measure the results. The Northern Dimension also requires proper funding for the implementation of projects.

    All of the partner countries have confirmed their support for the Northern Dimension. It is important that a willingness for co-operation and transparency between Russia and other partner countries can be retained. The Northern Dimension supports the Union’s enlargement to the East by promoting communication between the countries.

    The importance of the Northern Dimension will continue to grow after the accession of ten new Member States. The importance of the Northern Dimension will also grow when the Union policy on wider Europe and new neighbourhood is developed further and implemented. Within the framework of its “Wider Europe” policy, the Union will continue to forge closer links with its European neighbours. This policy is complemented by the Northern and Southern Dimensions, which have an impact also outside the European borders.

    From the point of view of European regions, it is important that future actions of the Northern Dimension be focused on specific priority areas. The following action areas, in particular, should be seen as key priorities:

Health and social sector

    There are marked differences in the standard of public health, the organisation of the social sector and the standard of living between the two sides of the EU’s external border. According to the Northern Dimension Action Plan 2004 – 2006, Northern Dimension partners will work to achieve two key objectives:

    - To address the challenges posed by major communicable diseases, and particularly tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Special attention will be paid to health problems in children and young people, addressing also the social and economic roots of such diseases.

    - To enhance and extend international co-operation on public health issues more broadly, to address also the social determinants of health problems, such as social exclusion and poverty, poor conditions of children (negative social inheritance) and the social status of the elderly; the impact of the environment on the health of citizens; and the structural reform of health services across the region.

    The Northern Dimension Partnership Programme in Public Health and Social Wellbeing provides a framework for large-scale development measures that have both social and economic impacts. The objective of the programme is to improve the health and welfare of the people living in the Northern Dimension area by encouraging them to adopt a healthy lifestyle, by preventing the spread of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and by forging close co-operation between the health and social services. Health problems related to communicable diseases, drugs and pollution require more effective health-care systems and exchange of information between national and regional actors.

The environment

    The Northern Dimension area, including the Arctic region, is vulnerable. Measures have to be taken to protect the environment and to support activities that exploit natural resources with
    due regard for the principles of sustainable development.

    After the enlargement of the Union, the importance of the Baltic Sea will grow. At the same time, there will be new challenges, but hopefully also opportunities for closer co-operation to increase the ecological and political safety of the Baltic Sea. The environmental aspects of the Northern Dimension Action Plans are of vital importance. Special emphasis needs to be placed on the safety aspects of sea transport in the Baltic Sea. The designation of the Baltic Sea to a particularly sensitive sea area is important. The increasing volume of oil transports represents a danger to the Baltic Sea region. The demand by the EU that single-hull vessels no longer be allowed to operate in the Baltic Sea merits support. All in all, sustainable development and a sustainable use of natural resources should be emphasised. In fact, the most visible outcome of the Northern Dimension has been provided by environmental and nuclear safety issues. The Environmental Partnership, in particular, is proving to be a real breakthrough. This model should be applied to co-operation on matters relating to public health and social welfare.

Cross-border co-operation

    Enhancing cross-border co-operation has become the Northern Dimension’s key area of action. The development of cross-border, intergovernmental and interregional co-operation should continue to have priority in the implementation of the Action Plan. Cross-border co-operation must be understood in a broad sense, meaning it would include the elimination of barriers to trade; safeguarding traffic flow; border control; police and customs activities; strengthening of judicial structures; and reinforcement of civil society. A significant object of co-operation in several areas of action is the development of Russian’s investment environment and governance.

    Barriers to regional cross-border co-operation should be removed. The way to achieve this is to establish a greater number of border-crossing points and to promote less complicated exchange of information between regional authorities.

The role of regions in development programmes and co-operation with civil society

    In the countries covered by the Northern Dimension, public authorities below the central government level should be consulted at a stage when concrete plans are made about programmes and projects. Actors at the regional level should be allowed to exercise more power in the planning of regional development programmes. The benefits of co-operation with civic organisations should also be employed. The Commission should make an initiative to organise a forum on Northern Dimension on a regular basis so that representatives of local and regional governments in the Northern Dimension region could together influence the region’s development.

Fight against crime

    Regions need to engage in closer co-operation with a view to combating illegal economic activity, cross-border trafficking in drugs and human beings as well as money laundering. Fight against crime and corruption must been seen as an essential part of cross-border co-operation.

Information society at the regional level

    Northern eDimension Action Plan was adopted in September 2001 at a meeting of the ministers of the countries of the Baltic Sea region responsible for information technology. It is based on the eEurope and eEurope+ programmes. The main lines of action are research networks (top-speed search networks) and sophisticated broad-band applications; e-skills; data security, e-commerce; e-government; indicators; and e-environment.

    Information and communication technology can play a crucial role in the development of prosperous and sustainable northern regions. The Northern Dimension offers a platform helping regions accelerate the transition into an information society through closer co-operation and integration. There is, however, still a need for promotion of co-ordinated initiatives and increased commitment from regions, national governments and other key actors.

Funding of Northern Dimension projects

    Today, the projects under the Northern Dimension are primarily funded through the EU’s existing financial instruments. Joint funding to Northern Dimension projects by international financial institutions, the Commission, the Member States and partner countries, and efforts to seek private funding, are crucial to the implementation of the Northern Dimension. The Northern Dimension serves as a political recommendation to be taken into account by the European Union in the adoption of financing decisions and preparation of projects.

    The links between the Northern Dimension policy and the European Union budget need to be consolidated. Proper funding needs to be secured for the Northern Dimension. A new budget heading for the Northern Dimension needs to be created in the European Union budget. Building of a financial framework would benefit all Northern Dimension priority areas. The management model for the financial framework has to be simple and the use of funds as flexible as possible. The new Neighbourhood Policy of the European Union will provide new momentum to the EU’s Northern Dimension. Its financial instrument, in particular, will bring added value as it reduces bureaucracy in border co-operation. The Northern Dimension can only be implemented if adequate financial resources are available. The use of the Tacis programme budget heading is already being limited by problems with implementation. The regulatory and budget framework for the Tacis Programme, which focuses on cross-border co-operation, must be improved in connection with the New Neighbourhood Instrument. Even prior to the adoption of the instrument, some of the pilot projects could be implemented in specific border areas. It is also important to co-ordinate the current Tacis and Interreg programmes more efficiently. The current programmes show that the co-ordination so far has been inadequate. The idea of a sole financial instrument should be considered as one solution to the problems with the financing of cross-border co-operation.



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