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The Northern dimension is an initiative in the European Union regarding the cross-border and external policies covering Nordic countries, Baltic states and Russia. The Northern Dimension addresses the specific challenges and opportunities arising in those regions and aims to strengthen dialogue and co-operation between the EU and its member states, the northern countries associated with the EU under the European Economic Area (Norway and Iceland) and Russia. The Northern Dimension is implemented within the framework of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia. A particular emphasis is placed on subsidiarity, and on ensuring the active participation of all stakeholders in the North, including regional organisations, local and regional authorities, the academic and business communities, and civil society. Several key priority themes for dialogue and co-operation under the Northern Dimension have been identified, including the followings.

1. economy, business and infrastructure

2. human resources, education, culture, scientific research and health

3. the environment, nuclear safety, and natural resources

4. cross-border cooperation and regional development

5. justice and home affairs

Objectives

The Northern Dimension is intended to promote security and stability in the region, as well as helping build a safe, clean and accessible environment for all people in the north. It aims at addressing the special regional development challenges of northern Europe. These include cold climatic conditions, long distances, wide disparities in standards-of-living, environmental challenges including problems with nuclear waste and waste water management, and insufficient transport and border crossing facilities. The Northern Dimension is also intended to take advantage of the rich potential of the region, for example in terms of natural resources, economic dynamism, and a rich cultural heritage.

Besides, the Northern Dimension also has the objectives of addressing the challenges arising from uneven regional development, and helping avoid the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe following EU enlargement.

With the enlargement of the Union on 1 May 2004 to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the importance of the Northern Dimension has increased considerably: eight EU Member States (Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden) surround the Baltic Sea, and the EU’s shared border with Russia has lengthened significantly.

History

Recent years have seen far-reaching changes in the geopolitical map of northern Europe. The Baltic States regained their independence in 1991. Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in 2004. These events greatly increased the Northern and Baltic “presence” of the EU, and substantially lengthened the common border shared by the EU and the Russian Federation. It was imperative to address constructively the new challenges and opportunities which these changes have created.

The Northern Dimension as an important topic for EU policy was first recognised at the Luxembourg European Council in December 1997. In the years which followed, the concept became more concrete. The Vienna European Council in December 1998 adopted a Commission Communication on a ‘Northern Dimension for the policies of the Union'. Six months later, in Cologne, the European Council adopted Guidelines for the implementation of the Northern Dimension. In November 1999, the Finnish EU Presidency held a Ministerial Conference on the Northern Dimension, where an Inventory of current activities under the Northern Dimension was adopted. The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 invited the Commission to prepare a Northern Dimension Action Plan, and the Feira European Council in June 2000 subsequently adopted this first ‘Action Plan for the Northern Dimension in the external and cross-border policies of the European Union, 2001-2003.

In April 2001 the Swedish EU Presidency and the European Commission organised the 2nd Ministerial Conference on the Northern Dimension in Luxembourg. In June 2001, the Gothenburg European Council endorsed a Full Report on Northern Dimension Policies that, while taking stock of the activities undertaken to implement the Feira Action Plan, also outlined ideas and proposals for the continuation of the Northern Dimension initiative.

A ministerial meeting in Illulisaat, Greenland in August 2002 discussed possible guidelines for a Second Northern Dimension Action Plan, which were adopted at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg in October 2002. Following this, the Commission proposed the 2nd NDAP in June 2003, and this was adopted at the European Council in Brussels in October 2003. This 2nd NDAP covers the period 2004-2006.

As foreseen under the 2nd NDAP, progress in implementing the Action Plan will be reviewed by meetings of Senior Officials and of Ministers held in alternate years. The first such Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) was held in Brussels in October 2004, and the Ministerial Meeting will be held in the autumn of 2005.

Annual reports on NDAP implementation are produced by the European Commission (the most recent covering 2004; the next will be produced in spring 2005.) In addition, the Commission has since summer of 2004 hosted on its website a comprehensive Northern Dimension Information System, presenting in an easily accessible format information on a wide range of Northern Dimension activities being carried forward by all Northern Dimension partners.

On 21 November 2005, the Northern Dimension ministerial meeting held in Brussels approved by unanimity 'the Guidelines for the development of a political declaration and policy framework document for Northern Dimension policy from 2007'. These Guidelines are the agreed basis to draft in 2006 new basic Northern Dimension documents that will open a new phase of this policy. For example, the parties agreed that the Northern Dimension is a shared policy and that it will be the regional expression in the North of Europe of the EU / Russia Common Spaces although keeping its own specificities, i.e. full membership of Norway and Iceland, special concern about environment and health issues, protection of indigenous peoples, etc. Joint Press Release on the IV Northern Dimension Ministerial Meeting. The political declaration and the policy framework document will become a stable basis for the Northern Dimension as from 2007.

Also a new dimension of this complex relationship is emerging with the melting of the Arctic through climate change. Many resources are newly accessible and this could lead to a power struggle.

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