Thorvald Stoltenberg President of the Norwegian Red Cross Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board Despite the very optimistic language on the imminence of new accessions to the European Union that came out of the June 2001 European Council in Gothen burg, it will serve no good purpose to neglect the fact that EU membership for the Central and Eastern European applicants remains a difficult process. Painful experience makes it prudent to exercise caution in predicting developments with in the European Union. Negotiations may drag out, snags may appear and some thing may happen on the way to ratification. So perhaps it is wise to take a broad er view of European integration - and therefore integration within the North European, Barents and Baltic Sea region that is the focus of this Yearbook. EU membership for those countries that are able to satisfy the Copenhagen requirements - and the chapters of the acquis communautaire that have subse quently been specified - is certainly a prize worth fighting for. But all is not lost if some of the applicants end up not joining the Union as a result of the current enlargement round. Even more important than formal membership is the process of growing together that has taken place simultaneously with the membership negotiations. We are dealing here with integration in the real world of trade, investments, division of labour, politics, environment, hard and soft security, people-to-people relations etc.