President of the Nordic Council, at the Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, September 25, 2002.
It is an honor and a pleasure to address this distinguished assembly. On behalf of the Nordic Council, I would like. to extend our warm thanks to you, Mr Chairman, and to the entire assembly for kindly inviting me to attend your session.
The Nordic Council is a regional interparliamentary cooperative body for the five nordic countries and beside the countries also three autonomous areas Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Aland Islands. This year, we celebrate our 50th anniversary. During this first half century, Nordic cooperation has succeeded in implementing a wealth of joint measures in order to enhance political cooperation and to facilitate everyday life for our citizens and enterprises. The passport union, the common labor market, the joint health and social welfare area, the common regulations in the field of education and research are but some examples of what the cooperation has yielded. I like to mention also our commitment to sustainable development. The Nordic council approved last year one of the first regional programs and strategies for sustainable development, which we had the opportunity to present at the World Summit in Johannesburg some weeks ago.
We Nordic parliamentarians feel a very close kinship with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The assembly has been, and remains, one of the main driving forces in the building of Europe. The fundamental pillar of the Assembly is the commitment to protect, defend and develop human rights, democracy, freedom and security for the peoples of Europe. These are values that also lie at the core of the political and social development of the Nordic countries.
I believe it is important to recognize the fact that these values have not come for free, nor can they be taken for granted. Today we can see worrying manifestations of extremist and non-democratic tendencies, and we can hear our basic democratic values being threatened and scorned from extremist positions. Efforts to guard and develop our democratic achievements must therefore be continuously pursued by all of us. This Parliamentary Assembly is one of the forerunners in that pursuit. I am glad that the Assembly has been such a staunch champion in advocating and defending human rights, while at the same time taking an unconditional stand against all sorts of terrorism.
Freedom, security, and prosperity are best supported by promoting democracy and a fair social and economic development. The international activities of the Nordic Council have a strong focus on the adjacent areas. Of key significance in this respect is the Baltic Sea Region and Northwest Russia, as well as the Arctic and Barents region. We have, for instance, a cooperation agreement with the Baltic Assembly and close contacts and exchange with the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council. It is in everybody's interest that the democratic, economic and social development can proceed in a stable manner and contribute to the closing of the gap between the prosperous and the poorer parts of the region.
Immediately following my statement, this Assembly will address the question of Kaliningrad. That discussion is both timely and urgent. I look forward with great anticipation to the reports by Ms. RAGNARSDOTTIR and Ms. BURBIENE on the situation in Kaliningrad.
The Northern Dimension places emphasis on the conditions and issues in Northwest Russia. I cannot stress enough the need to pay particular attention to the situation of Kaliningrad. The region suffers from numerous problems. One of our most pressing challenges, therefore, is to break the vicious circle of economic deprivation and social problems of Kaliningrad.
The Kaliningrad issue will also be a prominent item on the agenda of the eleventh Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, to be held in St Petersburg next week. (I note with satisfaction that Mrs. Sigita BURBIENE from Lithuania has already announced that she will address the Kaliningrad issue at the Conference.)
The proposal by the EU Commission last Wednesday to introduce a Facilitated Transit Document for Russian citizens who travel frequently between Kaliningrad oblast and Russia, appears to be a creative step towards a settlement of the issue of cross-border travel for Kaliningrad citizens.
Within a few years, the organizational chart of Europe will be redrawn. The countries of Europe will display a variety of organizational affiliations. There might be those who fear that this will prove an obstacle for cooperation. I do not think so. First of all, there is a communality in approaches, not least concerning democracy and human rights, that will provide a solid foundation for further cooperation. Moreover, I believe that the mixture of various solutions can boost our comprehensive capacity to deal with the challenges facing us in Europe.
It is an important task for us parliamentarians to promote this development by supplying political support, applying political pressure and taking political initiatives to sustain momentum in the process. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has a leading role in the process. We in the Nordic Council express our support and look forward to many more years of fruitful contacts.