On December 10th, 2015, the Board of Euregio Karelia held a meeting in Petrozavodsk. In 2015, the Board was chaired by the Mayor of the Northern Ostrobothnia Mr. Pauli Harju and the Minister of Economic Development of the Republic of Karelia Mr. Valentin Tshmil. General secretaries were Mr. Roman Gokkoev and Ms. Kira Romanova.
In his opening speech, Mr. Valentin Tshmil introduced the Target Program of economic development of the Republic of Karelia till 2020 adopted in June, in which two cornerstones for the development of the economic potential of Karelia were listed. Those were improvement of competitiveness of basic production facilities, including creation of new manufacturing companies and clusters; and ensuring functional infrastructure for social and economic development of the region. From the perspective of the Republic of Karelia, other important issues were as follows: improvement of the border area infrastructure, particularly in the Värtsilä border crossing point and railway station, as well as construction and development of the Syväoro border crossing point and customs terminal. Deputy Chairman of the Regional Council of the Northern Ostrobothnia Mr. Lyly Rajala informed in his political review, that in 2019 a reform of the regional government system would come into force in Finland.
Other issues discussed at the meeting included the adjustment of Russian state procurement legislation to the international standards, which opens new opportunities for the competition of Finnish stakeholders, implementation of the decisions made at the previous meeting, and implementation of the document Euregio Karelia Strategy till the Year 2020. Also, Karelia ENPI CBC 2007–2013 Program`s final results and the process of its completion, as well as the preparation of the new Karelia CBC 2014–2020 Program, were under discussion. Besides, the agenda included chairmanship objectives of the Kainuu Region in the Barents Regional Council for the period 2015-2017 and possible organization of Euregio Karelia seminar in Joensuu in autumn 2016.
The Secretariat of Euregio Karelia met four times during 2015. The topics discussed were preparation of a brochure based on the document Euregio Karelia Strategy till Year 2020, web pages update, and increasing of data exchange via the Euregio Karelia Facebook page. Additionally, the meetings were dedicated to the new CBC-Program and other topical issues related to cross-border cooperation.
The objectives outlined in the Euregio Karelia Strategy till Year 2020 have been implemented in the provinces. In Kainuu, the Russian expert group consisting of the representatives of business, regional government, education and culture sectors, works on the grounds of Russia Strategy of Kainuu 2020 – document prepared in 2014. The Russian group working in North Karelia coordinates cooperation with Russia and implements the smart specialization strategy in the Russian know-how area outlined in the regional strategic program.
In 2016, the Board of Euregio Karelia will be chaired by the Regional Council of the North Karelia, from the Finnish side, and by the Republic of Karelia, from the Russian side.
Projects and agreements
The daily bus service between Petrozavodsk and Joensuu, launched in August 2013, is the only cross-border public transport connection on the territory of Euregio Karelia. North Karelia and Kainuu have jointly launched the NiiKa exploratory project, which aims at creating a new development area to enable versatile economic activity and cooperation on the route Petrozavodsk-Niirala-Joensuu-Kajaani-Oulu. The project should be implemented in 2016 as a part of the broader Barents region cooperation, together with the representatives of the Republic of Karelia.
The secretaries of Euregio Karelia have participated in the work of the Program Committee during the preparation of the CBC-Program and delivered their ideas on the investment projects` list and the Programming document. The European Commission adopted the Programming document in December 2015. The main focuses of the program are small and medium business, culture, preservation of historical heritage, environmental protection, adaptation to climate changes, and efficient and secure borders.
Finland and Russia singed a new railway agreement in April 2015, and it is to be ratified in the Parliaments of both countries. After the entry into force, the agreement will contribute to the trade between the countries, but will not open the inner rail transportation market to business from the neighboring countries.
In the end of November, a new Ihala-Raivio state border road, significant in terms of cross-border cooperation, was opened in Lahdenpohja district of the Republic of Karelia. The road construction was financed by ENPI CBC Program.
Schengen visa information system VIS expanded to Russia. In this regard, since 14.09.2015 all visa applicants have started to provide fingerprints when applying for a visa. Number of border crossings have remained on average at the same level as in the previous year, but the share of Finnish border-crossers has increased.
Starting from 2015, passports of the Russian Federation citizens living in Finland can be delivered to their owners by post.
In 2015, numerous visits of authorities and other actors took place on both sides of the border. On June 6th, nine delegations from Finland participated in the 95-anniversary of the Republic of Karelia held in Sortavala. During the visits, negotiations about cooperation in such issues as town twinning, literature, tourism, and business were carried on. As for the amount of visitors, the biggest event of the year, with 340 participants, was the Finnish-Russian Cultural Forum, organized in Petrozavodsk in September. In November, the delegation from the Regional Council of North Karelia visited the Republic of Karelia in the context of development of transport connections and border crossing points. Additionally, the Regional Council of North Karelia represented Euregio Karelia on the events organized by the AEBR (Association of European Border Regions) in Brussels and Denmark.
In terms of the Barents cooperation, the most significant event was the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, held in Oulu in September. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also participated in the event as a chairman. At the same time, the chairmanship of the Barents Regional Council and Committee was handed over to Kainuu.
The Barents Forest Forum, organized in Joensuu, was one of the most significant events within Finland`s chairmanship in BEAC. The Forum was attended by more than 150 participants, of which about one third were from Russia. Special emphasis of the forum was wood construction and forest bioenergy.
Business and economy
In March 2015, Swedwood company sold its Kostamuksha plant to Pin Arctic Ltd from Kuopio. The sawmill employs 220 people. As a result of the bargain, the number of Finnish-owned manufacturing companies in Kostamuksha has doubled. Another Finnish company PKC Group, manufacturing wiring harness for cars, is still running in Kostamuksha.
Construction of the Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant has been launched. The Russian Rosatom was selected a supplier company, and in summer 2015 Rosatom`s main contractor from St-Petersburg Titan-2 started the work. The 4 km long road connecting the construction site and the road 8 was introduced in September. Local contractors were also involved in the project. Upfront investments, including dredging works, are estimated to be 500 million euros. The actual construction of the nuclear power plant will start in 2018.