The Northern Dimension
Delivered in Plenary - January 15th 2003
I welcome a new action plan for the Northern Dimension which will embrace three new Baltic states and Poland as EU members in 2004, Russia, with which I support a privileged status in a common economic space one day, and the EEA states of Iceland and Norway.
I am concerned about the environmental hazards in the far north and I strongly urge the Russians to sign the MNEPR Agreement, as they have agreed to do, on joint action for decommissioning of their spent nuclear fuel rods and warheads rotting in their naval submarines which might contaminate the Murmansk area.
Negotiations on the accession of ten countries to the EEA were launched in Brussels just last week. Enlargement of the EU entails simultaneous enlargement of the EEA in order to safeguard the homogeneity of the internal market.
There is no justification for the idea that the contributions of the EEA countries should be comparable to those of EU Member States and the Commission's demand for a 22-fold increase for Norway is absurd. Third countries do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as Member States; in some cases there is reduced market access due to tariff imposition. An example is Norway's loss of free trade in fish with Poland. The EEA Agreement is a good agreement but it has its limitations. Recent opinion polls in Norway indicate that public perceptions of the Union are changing; that support for membership is growing and will inevitably dominate the political agenda at the next elections.
I would like also to raise the issue of Belarus, which has borders with four of the Member States that are party to the action plan and, given its union with Russia, might one day become part of the group. It is important for the EU to maintain its dual-track approach and pressure for democratic reforms there. But notwithstanding our political differences with that country, we are still committed in areas of mutual interest such as the management of illegal immigration and cross-border crime.