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Unfreezing Europe's Northern Dimension

COPENHAGEN: Slowly, ever so slowly, Europe is establishing its new political geography. Enlargement of the European Union to include the first batch of applicant countries is now within reach as more and more chapters are closed in the bilateral negotiations. The biggest remaining hurdle concerns the political will among today's EU members to set the actual dates for enlargement.

Later this year, in Prague, NATO's leaders may also give the green light to the next group of new members. So 2001 can be a crucial year in the never-ending story of the creation of a new and better Europe. This is why relations with Russia must also be placed high on Europe's agenda this year.

If you look at the new map of Europe, it is obvious where the focus must be: Northwest Russia already shares borders with both the EU and NATO (a fact often missed by those who argue against "expanding NATO right up to the borders of Russia"). This proximity offers the prospect of friction or, if Europe seizes the moment, the most promising of possibilities for economic growth. After all, Russia's reforms, many of Russia's leading reformers, and President Putin himself all began their careers in St. Petersburg.

The "Northern Dimension," a concept developed during Finland's EU-presidency of two years ago, has been picked up by the present Swedish presidency. On April 9th, foreign ministers from the EU, Russia, and other countries from the Baltic Sea Region will meet in Luxembourg to review implementation of the so-called Northern Dimension Action Plan and provide political guidance for developing this initiative.