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Petteri Vuorimäki: The EU should update its Arctic policy

EU2019FIMinistry for Foreign Affairs 27.11.2019 9.01
Column

In recent years, international interest in the Arctic and Antarctic regions has taken on entirely new proportions. Many countries are closely following the work of the Arctic Council and want to participate in its activities as observers or otherwise. Engaging in research cooperation and regional debate under the Antarctic Treaty is also of interest to many countries.

This growing interest can be explained by climate change occurring faster than anticipated, by changes in the international political climate and, on the other hand, by the economic opportunities some have envisioned. In this dynamic, Finland plays a key dual role at the global level: Finland is one of five countries that are both permanent members of the Arctic Council and consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty, the latter giving the right to participate in making decisions concerning Antarctica.

The European Union contributes to the Arctic Council’s work as a de facto observer. In line with the programme for its Presidency of the Council of the EU, Finland has systematically tried to raise Arctic issues on the EU agenda and actively underlined the need to update the 2016 Joint Communication on EU Arctic policy. This was emphasised by Prime Minister Antti Rinne at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik and Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto at the EU Arctic Forum in Umeå.

Arctic issues on the agenda during Finland’s Presidency

The EU has so far published three Arctic communications, in 2008, 2012 and 2016. As the drafting and updating of communications takes time and requires consultation with a wide range of interested parties, it would be important to get the work started as soon as possible after Finland’s Presidency.

The Arctic discussions held during Finland’s Presidency started at the informal meeting of ministers for foreign affairs and have continued in several other formats. Initiating work to update the communication could become a “legacy of the Finnish Presidency”, as EU Ambassador at Large for the Arctic Marie-Anne Coninsx so aptly put it at the Arctic Circle Assembly.

Updating the 2016 communication would be very important, as the EU is an Arctic actor whose expertise and resources would benefit the Arctic region as a whole. The region should be able to make better use of EU programmes and standards, many of which represent the absolute top.

The EU must review its Arctic strategy

In order for the EU to remain a key player, it must be able to reconsider its Arctic policy. It should take into account the increased international interest, new challenges and emerging opportunities.

Finland, like almost all Arctic states or countries interested in the Arctic region, is currently renewing or updating its Arctic strategies. How could the EU not do the same? This way of thinking is almost a given in Finland, but that may not be the case in all parts of the EU, as different countries have different priorities. That’s why Finland’s approach to promote the EU’s Arctic leadership has been so central.

Petteri Vuorimäki, Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Antti Rinne Pekka Haavisto
Foreign Affairs Council
antarctic zone
arctic region
external relations