Statement by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
at the Conference on the Northern Dimension,
11-12 November 1999,
Promoting stability through economic integration
Let me begin by congratulating Finland on a well-organised conference and a successful Presidency. As one of Finland's closest neighbours and friends, Estonia has taken a keen interest in the Northern Dimension from the very beginning. Indeed, the idea of a separate northern dimension for the EU was first presented by Finnish President Ahtisaari in Estonia in 1994, before Finnish EU membership and the opening of accession talks with Estonia two years ago. Today, as a future EU member, we support the Northern Dimension and are eager to contribute to its further development.
Now that the Northern Dimension has been adopted as EU policy and its general aims have been agreed upon, it is time to look at the concept's content and consider how to give it practical value.
One of the ways in which the Northern Dimension could provide 'added value' to existing regional co-operation is by focusing on areas that other, more limited, regional structures, such as the CBSS, have either not wanted to or not been able to pay more attention to. In particular, I see the Northern Dimension as an opportunity for developing economic co-operation and integration in Northern Europe. Economic integration is the key to promoting greater stability and security in the region. In the past, I have urged the CBSS to focus on this topic. Today, I would like to urge the Northern Dimension to do the same.
The European Union is already an active player in the region. Yet with the Northern Dimension, the Union can make an even greater contribution to prosperity and stability in Northern Europe. With its different policy instruments, the EU can play a key role in promoting European principles of economic co-operation, improving the region's business environment and furthering the approximation of legislation with the EU's acquis.
In general, I believe that we are on the right track. In planning our regional activities, however, we should avoid focusing too much on one area or country. We believe that the Northern Dimension's philosophy should be to focus on regional projects that reflect all of our common interests. Making full use of existing natural resources in Northern Europe is important, but it is only one way of promoting further economic integration in the region. We also need to work on improving transport infrastructure, developing energy networks and eliminating existing barriers to trade and investment. All of these areas - outlined in detail in our position paper on the Northern Dimension - are priorities for Estonia.
In particular, Estonia would like to see the development of a power network ring around the Baltic Sea (Baltic Ring) and a gas supply pipeline ring around the Baltic Sea (Nordic Gas Grid project). We are also interested in modernising our common transport infrastructure, including the Crete corridors numbers 1 and 9, eliminating administrative barriers in customs procedures, getting rid of shortcomings in legislation and solving open competition-related issues.
A good way to ensure smooth economic and human interaction is through the development of secure, efficient and well-functioning borders in Northern Europe. A great deal of progress has been made in this area, but developing the existing and future EU external border on basis of the EU rules and regulation will require more work.
One way to improve border-crossing, in particular the movement of goods, is to invest into information technology. This area is a priority for Estonia and an area in which our Nordic neighbours excel. Clearly investment into information technology is sound from the economic point of view. Yet it can also have a positive spill-over humanitarian effect which opens a whole range of new perspectives for people. I believe that our region has tremendous potential in the IT field and that it should become one of the Northern Dimension's trade marks.
In conclusion - regional co-operation in the Baltic Sea area is already very dynamic and work is going on in all of these fields. The Northern Dimension, however, allows us to find a common interest in our efforts and new ways to promote economic integration in the region. The Commission's inventory of Community projects and programs in Northern Europe is a good starting point for planning future activities. It provides a comprehensive overview of the EU's current activities in Northern Europe. I am confident that the Action Plan, to be worked out by the Commission in the near future, will help make the Northern Dimension more concrete and give it practical value.