Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities

Lars-Anders Baer (to the right) joined the “family photo” after the Barents Summit

The Working Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region halts all activities due to lack of funding. The decision was taken one day after the Prime Ministers praised the Indigenous Peoples work at the Barents Summit.

Dmitri Medvedev, Jens Stoltenberg, Jyrki Katainen and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Prime Ministers of Russia, Norway, Finland and Iceland, all underlined the importance of Indigenous Peoples participation in the Barents Cooperation in their official speeches at the Barents Summit on Tuesday. So did also Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal and the European Commission’s Vice President Siim Kallas.

Lars-Anders Baer, chair of the Working Groups of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) was among the ministers at the podium.

“It’s a long way from the fine words of the Prime Ministers at the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation, to the real world for us Indigenous Peoples,” says Lars-Anders Baer today after the ministers have taken off from Kirkenes with their private jets.

The Working Group has since 1995 had an advisory role for both the Barents Council and the Barents Regional Council.

Members of the WGIP represent the Sámi in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden as well as the Nenets and Vepsian peoples in Russia.

It is the lack of economic support that now forces WGIP to suspend its activities. Russia does not grant any funding, and funding from Sweden and Finland are sporadic. Norway is the only providing economic support on a regular basis.

“Russia is with its zero-funding hindering its own Indigenous Peoples participation. One can say that Russia’s contribution to WGIP today is only fine words. Also Russia’s new law on NGOs that need to register as “foreign agents” create problems for the Indigenous Peoples cooperation, “says Baer.

During the Barents Summit, Lars-Anders Baer, was sitting on the stage discussing the further of the Barents Cooperation together with the Ministers. Afterwards he told BarentsObserver “We are on stage, but we’re the cheap ones.

“It’s not a question of big money,” he says, adding that annual funding of even NOK 400,000 (€52,000) would be sufficient for indigenous people to have adequate involvement in the Council’s activities and decisions. It’s peanuts in the governmental structure.”

On Wednesday, the Working Group made the decision to suspend activities. Lars-Anders Baer says that also Finland and Sweden mainly have contributed with nice words at conferances and festivities. (Barents Observer)

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Arctic Council´s international breakthrough

The foreign ministers of Russia, Sergey Larvrov, Norway, Espen Barth Eide, USA, John Kerry and Sweden Carl Bildt

The decision to invite six new nations as observers in the Arctic Council lifts the status of this forum to a new level, says Norway´s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide.

When the Arctic Council gathered for an evening dinner in Kiruna on Tuesday there where no time for small talk. The council had one important issue to solve before the official Arctic Council meeting on the 15th: Whether or not to include six new observer nations to the council.

“We were far beyond the main course before the decision to invite China or not was decided on, and nobody was really certain of the outcome when the debates started”, Barth Eide confirms.

But to Barth Eide´s relief they finally agreed on the role of the observer status and which rights are given to these new observers in the council. So in the morning of the 15th all council members signed the Kiruna Declaration in the City Hall of Kiruna.

Better international cooperation
Barth Eide highlights the decision as a breakthrough for the political status of the Arctic Council. And this breakthrough is not only important for the cooperation between the Arctic nations, but also for international cooperation across the world.

“The Kiruna Declaration confirms that the Arctic Council is the primary organisation for Arctic issues. It confirms that the basic principles of the Arctic Council are to lead the way for all decisions concerning the Arctic. It confirms that all nations will focus on preserving the environment of the Arctic and it also confirms that this organisation will have Indigenous Peoples as active participants”.

EU has to wait
However, one issue was not solved during the tough discussions of the evening dinner: The observer status of the European Union. It is agreed that also EU will become an observer in the council, however some details concerning their role must be solved first.

“EU and Canada have to solve some disputes first and seals are a major part of these remaining discussions”, says Barth Eide.

EU had outlined a suggestion for solving the disputes on sales of seal products, but Canada felt the new text was sent on a too short notice to make a decision. Therefore the final decision to include EU as an observer in the council will have to be postponed, but not for long. It can be decided within the next months in the chairmanship. Since Canada has taken over the chair of the Arctic Council it will probably be solved quite fast, according to Barth Eide.

Main goal
The Norwegian foreign minister is satisfied that Norway´s main goal for the Kiruna meeting was decided on. In his opinion the observer debate has taken all focus away from other and more important discussions on Arctic development.

“I look forward to discussing more important issues for the Arctic, like environment and climate. And we see also on this meeting that all member countries agree that this is the most important area to focus on in the years to come”. (Barents Observer)

Six new observers to Arctic Council

Heads of seven of the member delegations in Kiruna

China, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore were all welcomed as new observer states by the Arctic Council during the ministerial meeting in Kiruna today.

China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore are the first Asian countries to  gain observer status to the Arctic Council.

The European Union’s application for observer status was received affirmatively but has not yet been approved, as the union must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns on its ban on sea products from Canada, which today took over the chairmanship of the council from Sweden. The EU banned the import of seal products in 2009. It is an issue of key importance to Canada, as seal hunting is an important part of life for many indigenous groups. The EU was granted the right to observe council proceedings until a final decision is made.

The ministerial meeting also adopted an observer manual that will define what rights the observer states have and clarify which decisions that are not included in the observers’ mandate. (Barents Observer)

Iceland vote: Centre-right opposition wins election

Bjarni Benediktsson

Centre-right opposition parties in Iceland are set for a return to power with all the votes counted after Saturday’s parliamentary election. The Independence party polled 26.7% and the Progressive party 24.4%, putting them on track to win 38 of the 63 seats. The ruling Social Democrats’ share of the vote dropped to below 13%. Bright Future 8.2% (6 seats) and Pirates 5.1% (3 seats).

It is a dramatic comeback for the parties widely blamed for Iceland’s economic meltdown in 2008. Iceland saw its prosperity evaporate, as the country’s three banks collapsed, and the Social Democrats came to power a year later, with a programme of austerity tailored to international lenders’ requirements.

The centre-right camp has promised debt relief and a cut in taxes. The two leading parties, which will now enter coalition negotiations, are also seen as Eurosceptic, and their poll success could slow down Iceland’s efforts to become a member of the European Union.

“The Independence party has been called to duty again,” said leader Bjarni Benediktsson, who looks likely to become prime minister. (BBC)

*** Islanda: elezioni, vince il centro-destra ***

L’opposizione di centro-destra in Islanda ha vinto le elezioni legislative svoltesi ieri, dopo lo spoglio del 95% dei voti. In base a questi risultati, il partito dell’Indipendenza (destra) ha ottenuto il 26,7% dei voti e il partito del Progresso (centrista e agrario) ha avuto il 24.3%; entrambi ottengono lo stesso numero di seggi, 19, mettendoli nella posizione di negoziare un governo di coalizione. Pesantemente sconfitti i due partiti che avevano dato vita al precedente governo. L’Alleanza (socialdemocratica) perde più della metà della sua rappresentanza con 9 deputati mentre il Movimento verde di sinistra ha ottenuto 7 seggi. Il partito Avvenire radioso (pro-Ue) ha avuto 6 seggi e il partito pirata 3.

Iceland election: Ruling bloc facing defeat

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir

Voters in Iceland are going to the polls in elections expected to oust the governing centre-left coalition. Analysts predict that two centre-right parties will be able to form a new cabinet, pledging to soften unpopular austerity policies.

This would mark a dramatic comeback for the centre-right, which was widely blamed for Iceland’s near-economic collapse in 2008. Their victory could also halt the island nation’s EU membership talks.

Polls opened at 09:00 GMT and are due to close at 22:00 GMT, with more than 230,000 voters eligible to cast their ballots. The conservative Independence Party and their traditional coalition partners the Progressives are expected to secure a majority in the 63-strong parliament.

The parties’ leaders, Bjarni Benediktsson and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, are then predicted to compete in a race to succeed the Social Democrat Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is retiring from politics.

Opinion polls suggest the main governing Social Democratic Alliance will suffer a heavy defeat. Many Icelanders are frustrated with the current government, saying that its austerity policies are too painful. This is despite the fact that Iceland has seen steady growth in recent years amid falling unemployment rates.

“We are seeing a record swing in Iceland politics and actually the polls are showing that the two government parties will be losing half of their following from 2009,” Prof Olafur Hardarson of the University of Iceland told BBC News.

The centre-right camp is promising debt relief and a cut in taxes. The two parties are also seen as Eurosceptic, and their poll success could slow down Iceland’s efforts to become a member of the EU. The Eurosceptics argue that Iceland already gets most of the benefits of full membership through existing free trade arrangements with the EU and by being part the Schengen visa-free travel zone.

First election results are expected shortly after the polls close. (BBC)

*** Islanda vota per rinnovare il Parlamento ***

Islandesi al voto oggi per le elezioni legislative. Favorita, secondo i sondaggi, l’opposizione di centrodestra contraria all’adesione all’Ue. Ma al di la’ di quale scenario politico verra’ fuori dalle urne l’isola avra’ in ogni caso un nuovo primo ministro visto che il premier uscente, la socialdemocratica Johanna Sigurdardottir, 70 anni, ha annunciato di ritirarsi dalla vita politica. Il suo programma ha permesso all’Islanda di uscire dalla recessione ma non e’ piaciuto agli islandesi.