Lapland & The European Union - How Did We Fare?|
Governor Hannele Pokka
Introduction to the seminar on the enlargement of the European Union
Tuesday 27 April 2004, 1 p.m. Fellman Hall, University of Lapland
Finland began negotiating membership of the European Union at a time when the nation was in one of the worst economic crises since its independence. Unemployment increased to rates never seen before, or indeed since that time. Businesses and banks went bust. In order to survive through this, the Finnish State was forced to take out a record amount of debt. Here in Lapland, there has always been some structural unemployment, but in the beginning of the nineties, in a short space of time there were 20,000 more unemployed persons. In effect, this meant that when in 1990 there were 85,000 jobs in Lapland, after 1994 there were only a little over 65,000 workplaces left. One in five Laplander of working age was now unemployed.
Luckily, the recession did not last for long. Finland?s economy started to improve, but not however without help. In the 1990s, we had to rebuild the functions of both the public administration and private enterprises. The number of public posts was reduced, and on the private side, efforts were made to try to increase the number of jobs. Both sectors had the aim to work more efficiently than before with better results than ever before.
How did Finland cope with all this? Back then we had, as indeed we still do have good social safety nets. No one in Finland, who is unable to secure a reasonable living due to unemployment, sickness or studying, is left to fend for themselves.
Following the recession years, Lapland was left with a relatively high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country. The reorganisation of the public economy is especially felt here, as Lapland has traditionally had a good deal of public sector jobs. Nevertheless, the private sector in Lapland has also been able to create new jobs over the past few years. Now there are jobs for around 68,000 Laplanders. Unfortunately we have not managed to get back to the figures we had before the recession.
It is good to bear in mind the state of our own economy when we recall the feelings that membership of the European Union fired up within us. The rural folk were afraid of EU membership. Farmers were sceptical that there could be no way northern agriculture could compete with the regions of Central and Southern Europe, that had much more favourable production conditions. The question was posed that how could people in Brussels understand Lappish matters when they are not even always understood in Helsinki.
During Finland?s membership negotiation period, I held the post of Minister of Justice to the Finnish Government. The office of Prime Minister was held by my party colleague Esko Aho, and the President of the Republic was Mauno Koivisto.
One of my first tasks as Minister of Justice was to establish an EU Office in my ministry that would set out to translate EU law, directives, resolutions, and other documents into Finnish, as the new member nation should comply with the whole EU system of laws. I have to admit, I was shocked at the number of EU acts and wondered how they could be efficiently managed.
In Lapland, the results of the referendum for membership were split with a bare majority opposing membership.
Back then, even I started to wonder if membership of the EU would actually benefit the northern regions. Now I can quite openly admit, that Finland?s position as a member of the community has brought about more economic stability than we could have ever imagined back in the mid-nineties. The condition of our country in the turbulent global economy and politics that has continued over the past few years would probably have been significantly weaker than it is today as a member of the EU and its monetary union.
For Lapland, membership of the EU has brought development finance from EU funds. The farmers in Lapland have survived. When twenty years ago we had 4,000 dairy farms producing milk, now we have around 900, but we are still managing to produce 100,000 litres a year just as we did twenty years ago. The size of the farms has increased and the number of dairy cattle increased. By average age, the farmers in Lapland are younger than those of the rest of the country.
Lapland has been of interest to EU officials. At first, whole groups were glad to come for a visit. No one imagined we could have cattle, but they did believe we had sheep, reindeer and bears. Our exotic quality received a boost when we told that our nearest neighbour is Russia in the East. Today, relations with Brussels are a part of everyday life, but we are still a fascinating local wilderness for the people in Brussels, that does however have surprisingly civilised conditions.
Practical decision-making in the EU is still much more complex than I first imagined.
Here in the North, we have become familiar with EU bureaucracy, as we have drawn up financing applications, project reports, accounting and monitoring reports required by the EU. EU bureaucracy requires money that is deducted from the actual implementation of the project. In our own opinion, we have internalised the EU system reasonably well as well as internalising the fact that the system is continually changing.
In the main, the decision-making system related to the use of structural funding resources has been favourable for the regions. This comes from the fact that the regions themselves have to know what they want, they have to make their own development plans, acquire finance and implementers. During the present programme term, Lapland belongs to the Objective 1 area.
In addition to the State Provincial Office of Lapland, Objective 1 programme funding is also approved by The Regional Council of Lapland, the Lapland TE Centre, The Lapland Regional Environment Centre, Finnvera Oyj, as well as the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health that finances projects related to social and health care.
The EU structural funding projects of the State Provincial Office of Lapland under Finland?s Objective 1 programme are realised under the administration of the Ministry of Education. We finance for instance training, expertise and research development projects. During the Objective 1 programme operational period from 2000 to 2006, the State Provincial Office of Lapland has already financed 129 projects. Of these, 93 are European Social Fund (ESF) projects and 36 are European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) projects. The total sum of these projects amounts to 25.39 million euros. The share represented by the State Provincial Office of Lapland of the total volume of project financing in co-operative documents for 2003 was 45.8 % on the part of the ESF and 20.9 % for ERDF projects. The distribution of projects in Lapland is based on the geographical divisions of population and businesses.
Of these projects, 22 % are projects that support the information society, using which attempts are made to increase information technology expertise among all age groups of the population. One of the most important projects has been the Information Technology Masters Programme project.
Tourism has a significant standing in business in Lapland. In connection with this, 20 % of projects are focused on production serving tourism.
The year 2004 is the year for young people in Lapland. This may be seen for example with a structural fund theme search that has been arranged for young people. Earlier, a number of youth workshops have been financed, with which attempts have been made to prevent the displacement of young people as well as the promotion of young people moving into the working environment.
In Lapland, the aim of the Objective 1 programme has been to create 5,000 new jobs, assist with the establishment of 700 companies and to affect the safeguarding of 11,000 jobs and to activate 26,000 with training. Opinions on how we have succeeded in this aim can be fairly varied.
In the State Provincial Office of Lapland, the emphasis for projects is on the development of expertise and the information society, and using these, ensuring the long-term improvement in the employment situation. According to monitoring data of the State Provincial Office of Lapland, a total of 259 new jobs have been created so far using these projects. A total of 281 jobs have been safeguarded and 30 new companies have been established. Based on this monitoring data, as far as training is concerned, the target group of the projects has comprised 1185 persons.
For cross-border projects, the State Provincial Office of Lapland allocates national co-financing under the banner of the Interreg III A North programme. The central aim of the programme is to strengthen living conditions and unity of the programme region using cross-border co-operation. The State Provincial Office of Lapland has given approval for the financing of 20 projects. Eight projects are currently under consideration. In the State Provincial Office of Lapland, we are prepared to finance projects during the current term to a total sum in excess of two million euros.
One of the most significant Interreg III A projects is the From Drug Route to Treatment Chain project which is a project belonging to the Kolarctic sub-programme. The project implements a network of drug work treatment chain and training models. The project?s target group are children in day care, young people studying in colleges, their parents, as well as day care college staff in Northern Finland and Russia. There are also corresponding projects underway on the Finnish side of the eastern border in Kainuu and Karelia.
Another noteworthy project is the Barents Specialists project where the universities, polytechnics and colleges in the Barents region form a network of expertise utilising and supporting the special expertise of each respective participant and combining resources in regional development work.
The EU?s Eurosummit has become a central part of the Union?s decision-making system. Based on declarations of the Eurosummits, the EU?s policies are revised. From a northern perspective, one matter that has been initiated from the Eurosummit is the EU?s northern policy. The notion of the northern policy was initially approved as a declaration of a meeting of EU directors. In the next meeting, northern policy became part of the EU?s own activities, and northern policy was then issued its own action plan. Last autumn, the Union passed a second action plan for northern policy. It is a question of a programme concerning external relations for the EU, the significance of which is evident here in Lapland with the co-operation with Russia.
The enlargement of the EU does not devalue the significance of these resolutions, which are made on the national level in each respective member state. As far as regards Finland?s provinces and districts, the most important decisions are made in Finland in our own parliament and government. If our own decision-makers see it as important that Finland remains inhabited right up to its borders, then it will stay that way. The future of Finland and Lapland is still in the hands of the Finns and Laplanders.
It is therefore largely up to us how well we are able to anticipate the future. It is not just membership of the European Union, but it is especially the globalisation of world trade that has altered economic structures in our country. The rate of migration is at least not slowing down. Companies tend to locate to areas that facilitate the most feasible reasonable economic activity. Lapland has also lost corporate activities to China and elsewhere where production costs are low.
Tourism has been one of our growing industries over the past few years. Tourism on its own however is not enough to keep us going in the future. We also need other business activities. We need to find specialised fields with which a small district can survive.
Are we able to create an innovative and business promoting way of working in Lapland? The requirements for such already exist: a well functioning infrastructure, high technology expertise, a good educational system, clean nature and an interesting northern identity. Lapland?s special characteristics and its ability to practice cross-border co-operation are our strengths. Strengths that I believe will provide the practical recipe for winning through.
Back | Print page