EU ministers strengthen Northern Dimension

  • 2005-11-23
  • From wire reports
This week foreign ministers of the European Union endorsed the underlying principles of the EU's Northern Dimension, a plan that focuses on cooperation with Russia's northwestern regions.
During a conference on the Northern Dimension held during an EU foreign ministers meeting, member states underscored the need for close cooperation with Norway, Iceland and Russia when it came to the environment, nuclear safety, climate changes and social welfare, a spokesperson for the Estonian Foreign Ministry reported.

"The goal of the new action plan is to make interaction closer in those regional fields which are not contained in the four common spaces of the already agreed EU-Russia cooperation plan or whose implementation on the local level will yield extra effect," said Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.

Paet added that the Northern Dimension didn't fully overlap with the action plan laid out for the four common spaces. The ministers included an Estonian proposal in the guidelines, he said, suggesting that the Northern Dimension would adopt only those fields from the four common spaces, which can be successfully implemented on a regional level.

Estonia's interest within the Northern Dimension lies first and foremost in improving the environmental situation of the Baltic Sea and the surrounding areas and carrying out important energy and infrastructure projects.

"Cooperation in the field of public health and social welfare is certainly in the interests of Estonia too, because it focuses on matters that are important in our region, such as curbing the spread of dangerous infectious diseases," the foreign minister said.

On the basis of the adopted guidelines, the commission will draft a new framework document and expects it to be adopted at the end of the Finnish presidency in 2006. A majority of member states have expressed their wish to involve Belarus on an expert level, and the commission has taken this into account.

Apart from EU foreign ministers, the conference was attended by the foreign ministers of Norway, Iceland and Russia, as well as by representatives from the Nordic Council, the Nordic Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Meanwhile, a hot topic on the Baltic Assembly and Nordic Council presidium's agenda is the Russia-Germany gas pipeline. Members will decide on Nov. 25 about adopting a resolution on the pipeline, an Estonian MP said.

The head of Estonia's delegation to the BA, Reform Party MP Andres Taimla, told the Baltic News Service that the meeting would clarify whether the assembly would adopt the resolution at the end of the week or continue to work on it with environment commissions.

Characterizing the Nordic Council's stance on the proposed resolution, Taimla said it was cautious but supportive.

The resolution would express indignation over the fact that the Baltic states were ignored in negotiations over a gas pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

"For the Baltic states, the most sensitive issue right now is that the construction of the gas pipeline was decided behind our backs, and we were just put face to face with it as a fact," Taimla said.

Russia and Germany agreed on the gas pipeline at the beginning of September. If carried out, the project will enable Russia to export natural gas to Western Europe bypassing Poland and the Baltic states. The latter two want the pipeline to pass through their territories.

The draft resolution suggests addressing experts to evaluate the potential threat that could arise from construction of the pipeline. Apparently, the pipeline could set off chemical weapons that have been sitting at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for the past 50 years, a Lithuanian MP claimed.

Although the exact course of the gas supply pipeline is yet unknown, experts believe there is a real threat of "stepping" on chemical weapons. However, scientists from different countries disagree on whether the chemical weapons are potentially hazardous after 60 years, yet they all believe the environmental threat to be very high.