February 1998                             

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Regional networks proliferate in Northern Europe

The Finnish initiative of creating a ‘Northern Dimension’ for the European Union is evolving into a broad strategy of co-operation in Northern Europe. The EU is already an actor in the Council of Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Finland would like the EU to become involved also in the Arctic Council.

The process started gathering strength in April 1997 when the Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen sent a letter to the President of the EU, Jacques Santer, suggesting that the Union develop "a strategy for the Northern Dimension, based on an analysis of the risks and opportunities that (the region) offers".

Lipponen introduced his ideas to the Nordic Council meeting in Helsinki in November 1997, describing the Northern Dimension as the EU external regional policy in Northern Europe. The Northern regions in this definition are the non-EU regions of the Baltic, Barents and the Arctic. According to Lipponen, not only countries around the Baltic Sea but also all the other Nordic countries, Britain, the United States and Canada are more or less directly involved in the Northern region.

Finland then brought the initiative to the European Council meeting in Luxemburg in December 1997 where it was readily accepted.

What is the role of the Nordic Council in this widening network of regional initatives? One answer was given by Lavst Riemann Hansen, the deputy secretary general of the Danish delegation to the Nordic Council. Writing in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (December 19, 1997), Hansen noted that there has been the danger of the Council being left outside real policy making when intra-Nordic questions are discussed more and more in the EU, European Trade Area or the United Nations. Hansen sees Lipponen’s strategy as a solution to the problem. Lipponen’s central idea is, according to Hansen, that the traditional forms of Nordic co-operation would form the core of these new developments but they would be tied in with a EU policy in the other regional councils where the Nordic Council input is strong.

According to Hansen, thanks to the idea of the Northern Dimension, the Nordic countries have become less marginalised in the EU.

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