Esteemed participants of the Northern Dimension Business Forum.
I am glad to welcome you this morning in slightly different premises than that we left yesterday night. This brand new building is just another sign of economic activity that has so much contributed the progress of Estonia towards EU membership.
Estonia has earned lots of its merits and achievements in the recent years thanks to consistent economic policies that rely on continuous dialogue with the business community. The same approach has guided us in the regional fora. In the Council of the Baltic Sea States we have had the opportunity to work closely with the Business Advisory Council. A number of the BAC recommendations have been implemented on the regional level. I firmly believe that the Northern Dimension of the European Union can be successful only with the support and participation of the entrepreneurs of our region.
This event today is a symbol of a new formula in regional interaction.
As an EU candidate country Estonia carries the responsibility of giving its input in formulating and shaping the policies of the Union. For the first time Estonia has a chance together with the EU Presidency, Sweden, to stage a forum that has high priority in the current agenda of the European Union. Preparation for this Forum with the support of Sweden has been most rewarding.
We have invited you as major players in the Northern Dimension region to deliver your views and recommendations on the implementation of the Northern Dimension. The concept itself has been a subject of discussion in the European Union for some years now. The Northern Dimension Action Plan was adopted by the Feira European Council in June 2000. It laid down objectives and perspectives for action during 2000-2003 in the sectors where the added value of cooperation is greatest.
The foreign ministers from Northern Dimension region will gather in Luxembourg on 9 April for the Second Conference on the ND. And a full report on the Northern Dimension will be presented by the EU Presidency together with the Commission to the Göteborg European Council in June.
We have to admit that while political support to the ND has been encouraging in most of the EU and partner countries, the real outcome for the public and especially for business may have remained somewhat vague. Today’s exercise, I hope, will fill in this gap to some extent. We have an opportunity to compile a set of recommendations and positions of the business community of our region to be discussed at the coming ND Foreign Ministers Conference. And I am convinced that your views on the future development of the ND are most valuable and will be taken into account when drawing up the first full report to the Göteborg European Council.
Our Chairman, Mr Uffe Ellemann Jensen, a man of real merits in the regional cooperation and the founding father of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, has promised to keep the discussions here on track and sum them up as Chairman’s Conclusions for the ND Foreign Ministers’ Conference.
We have singled out several sectors of interaction within the ND Action Plan to be discussed today. That is because we feel that transport, energy and the ITC present the greatest relevance for the audience of this forum. These are the three infrastructural pillars that the businesses of our countries can build on in creating economic growth and prosperity in the North of Europe. There is also another reason for choosing these areas for discussion. In preparation for this meeting we asked the opinions of possible participants and the feedback let us decide on the agenda that is of highest possible interest for you. But I would urge you to feel free to address also other issues that you consider of importance for the future development of the ND policies. Particularly I would like to learn your views on the ways to structure the future dialogue of governments, the EU and the business community in the Northern Dimension framework.
Welcome once again to bring the ND ideas forward in this distinguished audience.
I wish you a business-like discussion both in the plenary session and the working groups and I am convinced the outcome will be of real value for all of us.