The Northern Dimension is a joint policy between four equal partners - the European Union, Russia, Norway and Iceland - regarding the cross-border and external policies geographically covering North-West Russia, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic regions, including the Barents region. The ND Policy was initiated in 1999 and renewed in 2006. The Northern Dimension addresses the specific challenges and opportunities arising in those regions and aims to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between the EU and its member states, the northern countries associated with the EU under the European Economic Area (Norway and Iceland) and Russia. A particular emphasis is placed on subsidiarity, and on ensuring the active participation of all stakeholders in the North, including regional organizations, local and regional authorities, the academic and business communities, and civil society.
Several key priority themes for dialogue and co-operation under the Northern Dimension have been identified:
- Economy, business and infrastructure
- Human resources, education, culture, scientific research, and health
- The environment, nuclear safety, and natural resources
- Cross-border cooperation and regional development
- Justice and home affairs
The working method for cooperation within the Northern Dimension is the partnerships model. ND cooperation takes place within four partnerships:
- Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP)
- Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Well-being (NDPHS)
- Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics (NDPTL) and
- Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture (NDPC).
Other kinds of activities are pursued through the Northern Dimension Institute (NDI) and the Northern Dimension Business Council (NDBC).
From the beginning of 2019, the Northern Dimension Institute led by the Aalto University's Center for markets in Transition (CEMAT) is leading an EC co-funded NDI Think Tank Action -
Development of the think tank functions of the Northern Dimension Institute. The Action is designed to enhance genuine regional cooperation in the Northern Dimension area
through science diplomacy, capacity building and people-to-people contacts. ND area countries are facing common future challenges and opportunities across the state borders connected particularly to environment, climate change, healthy ageing, transport and logistics, emerging trade routes in the Arctic and role of culture in solving societal challenges. NDI Think Tank Action provides research-based knowledge and neutral platform for open dialogue, people-to-people- contacts between decision-makers, business, NGOs and the academic community to create common approaches to find solutions to future challenges.
The ND policies' own bodies convene on a regular basis to discuss the development of the joint policies. Partner countries' MPs also meet every other year at a Northern Dimension Parliamentary Forum to discuss the development of the activities.
ND cooperation is based on the principle of co-financing. Funding is provided not only by the participating states but also via the EU's funding instruments and programmes and International Financial Institutions (IFIs).
The Northern Dimension is intended to promote security and stability in the region, as well as helping build a safe, clean, and accessible environment for all people in the north. It aims at addressing the special regional development challenges of northern Europe. These include cold climatic conditions, long distances, wide disparities in standards of living, environmental challenges including problems with nuclear waste and wastewater management, and insufficient transport and border crossing facilities. The Northern Dimension is also intended to take advantage of the rich potential of the region, for example in terms of natural resources, economic dynamism, and a rich cultural heritage.
Besides, the Northern Dimension also has the objectives of addressing the challenges arising from uneven regional development, and helping avoid the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe following EU enlargement.
With the enlargement of the Union on 1 May 2004 to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, the importance of the Northern Dimension has increased considerably: eight EU Member States (Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Sweden) surround the Baltic Sea, and the EU's shared border with Russia has lengthened.
Recent years have seen far-reaching changes in the geopolitical map of northern Europe. The Baltic States regained their independence in 1991. Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland in 2004. These events greatly increased the Northern and Baltic “presence” of the EU, and substantially lengthened the common border shared by the EU and the Russian Federation. It was imperative to address constructively the new challenges and opportunities which these changes created.
The Northern Dimension as an important topic for EU policy was first recognized at the Luxembourg European Council in December 1997. In the years which followed, the concept became more concrete. The Vienna European Council in December 1998 adopted a Commission Communication on a Northern Dimension for the policies of the Union. Six months later, in Cologne, the European Council adopted Guidelines for the Implementation of the Northern Dimension. In November 1999, the Finnish EU Presidency held a Ministerial Conference on the Northern Dimension, where an Inventory of current activities under the Northern Dimension was adopted. The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 invited the Commission to prepare a Northern Dimension Action Plan, and the Feira European Council in June 2000 subsequently adopted this first Action Plan for the Northern Dimension in the external and cross-border policies of the European Union, 2001-2003.
In April 2001 the Swedish EU Presidency and the European Commission organised the 2nd Ministerial Conference on the Northern Dimension in Luxembourg. In June 2001, the Gothenburg European Council endorsed a Full Report on Northern Dimension Policies that, while taking stock of the activities undertaken to implement the Feira Action Plan, also outlined ideas and proposals for the continuation of the Northern Dimension initiative.
A ministerial meeting in Illulisaat, Greenland, in August 2002 discussed possible guidelines for a Second Northern Dimension Action Plan, which were adopted at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg in October 2002. Following this, the Commission proposed the 2nd NDAP in June 2003, and this was adopted at the European Council in Brussels in October 2003. This 2nd NDAP covers the period 2004-2006.
As foreseen under the 2nd NDAP, progress in implementing the Action Plan will be reviewed by meetings of Senior Officials and Ministers held in alternate years. The first Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) was held in Brussels in October 2004, and the Ministerial Meeting was held in the autumn of 2005.
Annual reports on NDAP implementation are produced by the European Commission. In addition, the Commission has since the summer of 2004 hosted on its website a comprehensive Northern Dimension Information System, presenting in an easily accessible format of information on a wide range of Northern Dimension activities being carried forward by all Northern Dimension partners.
On 21 November 2005, the Northern Dimension ministerial meeting held in Brussels approved by unanimity The Guidelines for the Development of a Political Declaration and Policy Framework Document for Northern Dimension Policy from 2007. These guidelines were the agreed basis to draft in 2006 new basic Northern Dimension documents that opened for a new phase of this policy. For example, the parties agreed that the Northern Dimension is a shared policy and that it will be the regional expression in the North of Europe of the EU / Russia Common Spaces although keeping its own specificities i.e. full membership of Norway and Iceland, special concern about environment and health issues, protection of indigenous peoples, etc. (Joint Press Release on the IV Northern Dimension Ministerial Meeting). The political declaration and the policy framework document became a stable basis for the Northern Dimension as from 2007.
Also a new dimension of this complex relationship is emerging with the melting of the Arctic because of climate change. Melting of sea ice leads to newly accessible natural resources which could cause power struggle.