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CWA # 250, 28 March 2020

The NIAS Arctic Series
The EU and the Arctic: The interest is not mutual. Why?

  Rashmi Ramesh

The Arctic countries are reluctant to include the EU mainly due to the latter's international identity, its political tensions with Russia and its policies that inhibit the uniqueness of the indigenous communities

 

The European Union is interested in the Arctic governance, since a 2007. The most obvious reason is climate change. But is that all?

Beyond Climate Change: The EU interests in the Arctic

The effects of climate change are twice stronger in the North than the rest of the globe. Therefore, the EU, as well as the non-EU countries, are at a higher risk. 
Climate change and the Arctic environment is one of the pillars of the EU's Arctic policy. Its priorities are: "understanding the science of climate change, helping to develop strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and safeguarding the Arctic environment.". EU's stature of being a world leader on issues of climate change, gives it an inherent advantage in the Arctic, in matters such as these. 

The geopolitical developments in the previous decade provided an impetus to the European Union to increase its presence in the Arctic. When Russia placed its national flag on the seabed under the North Pole, the world anticipated the dawn of a new Cold War. Though incomparable to the Cold War of the 20th century, there are continuing efforts of militarization by Russia. It has been rebuilding and reopening the old Soviet military/naval bases in the Arctic. 

Since 2007-08, the EU has been contemplating on its role and stance in the region and has been attempting to formulate a comprehensive strategy. The second pillar of its policy is to address the questions of governance. It aims to "engage in multilateral, regional and sub-regional cooperation on Arctic matters." 
2008 was also important due to the US Geological Survey's study that developed a notion about the possible "race for Arctic resources". The Circum Arctic Resources Appraisal (CARA) estimated that the world's 25 per cent undiscovered, untapped resources lay trapped in the permafrost of the North. The European Union member countries depend on Norwegian and Russian oil and natural gas for their economy. 

The third pillar of the EU's Arctic policy is sustainable development. It emphasizes on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Given the fragile environment of the Arctic, the EU stresses on balanced development that is modern and also meets the socio-economic goals of the inhabitants of the region.

EU's engagement in the Arctic
The EU has a dual role to play in the Arctic. First, Sweden, Denmark (not Greenland) and Finland are Arctic members of the EU. Iceland and Norway are part of the European Economic Area (EEA). By this virtue, the EU is a stakeholder in the Arctic region. Second, as an institution, it is a neighbour of the Arctic Council. Therefore, its engagement in the region is two-fold. 

The EU engagement in the Arctic can be understood in relation to its three pillars stated in the policy documents:
EU collaborates with the Arctic states and other important players for developing a strategy for adaptation and mitigation of the effects of climate change. It also engages with the working Groups and Expert Groups of the Arctic Council to monitor carbon emissions. The EU also has provisions for data sharing through the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (NPA).

However, its engagement with regards to climate change in the Arctic is largely driven by the international standards defined in instruments such as the Paris Agreement. Few region-specific collaborations exist, even though the requirements of the Arctic region are more stringent than the rest of the world. 

As a part of its sustainable development policies, the EU invests in the potential sectors of the Arctic in a sustainable manner. As transportation and logistics are key concerns, the Trans-European Network for Transport (TEN-T) supports the road-rail networks across Norway, Sweden and Finland. Greenland, though not a member of EU, depends on it for investments and funds for its infrastructural development. 

The EU participates in the functioning of the Arctic Council and various other regional organizations such as the Barents-Euro Arctic Council and Northern Dimension Policy Framework. It also funds regional programmes, initiatives and projects for improving cross border cooperation for environmental conservation, innovation and entrepreneurship, sustainable development and protection of natural and cultural heritage. 

As stated previously, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are EU members of the Arctic Council. Sweden and Finland, in particular, emphasize on the role of the European Union in the Arctic. While Denmark is not very keen, mainly because Greenland is not a member of the EU; Finland and Sweden during their Chairmanship in the Arctic Council highlight EU's role in the Arctic as one of their main priorities. As an institution, the EU has attempted to gain the status of an observer in the Arctic Council, however, it has been rejected by the Council members for various reasons. 

Why is Arctic hesitant about EU's role?
The Arctic has been witnessing a surge in the number of actors interested in its affairs. Once Northern American-North European region, the Arctic now has participants from southern latitudes. In this regard, the EU's presence is quite natural. However, not all Arctic countries are keen on providing such a space to the Union. Three reasons have been identified:
First, the concept of "Arcticness" or the uniqueness of the Arctic is a predominant feeling. This is manifested in the demand for adopting certain region-specific policies about climate, governance and other issues. This might get negatively affected if the EU becomes an observer in the Council. While there are other countries designated as observers, including from Asia, there is more possibility that EU's footprint might expand much more than other observers. This is mainly because of its geographic proximity and its deep involvement in individual Arctic countries' economies. The issue about seal products and fishing quotas is, for example, a point of divergence. Restrictions on imported seal products and a push for the capping of fishing in the Arctic Ocean has made the EU look "insensitive" to the needs and lifestyle of the indigenous communities and other people of the Arctic. 

Second, the feeling of core and periphery is also prevalent in the Arctic. Capitals of the Arctic countries are all located below the Arctic Circle. The decision-making authorities at the periphery, are governing the core (the area within the Circle) of the region. Therefore, the difference of opinions between the core and the periphery. The EU, in this case, is definitely at the periphery and has the potential to influence the governance of the core to a certain extent. 

Last, the European Union brings an international identity with itself. The Arctic might be an important issue for the Union, yet it is only one of the aspects of various international engagements the EU has. Its policies and statements are driven by international treaties, agreements and organizations. Additionally, not all EU member nations may necessarily be keen on its engagement in the Arctic. The Union's international outlook might be a hindrance to its Arctic strategy. The European Union hence, has many obstacles to cement its position in the Arctic Council, though it is the immediate neighbour. 

Rashmi Ramesh is a PhD Scholar at the Science Diplomacy Programme within the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS


The NIAS Arctic Series

Rashmi Ramesh
The EU and the Arctic: The interest is not mutual. Why?
CWA #250, 28 March 2020

Rashmi Ramesh
Iceland, Denmark and Norway: Small is Big in the Arctic
CWA #249, 28 March 2020

Harini Madhusudan
The Non-Arctic powers: Assessing the interests of Japan and South Korea
CWA #248, 28 March 2020

Rashmi Ramesh

The Arctic Littorals: Iceland and Greenland
CWA #185, 3 November 2019

Harini Madhusudan

The Polar Silk Route: China's ambitious search in the Arctic
CWA #184, 3 November 2019

Parikshith Pradeep

The Scientific Imbalance: Is technology rightly being invested in the Arctic?
CWA #183, 3 November 2019

D. Suba Chandran

Why an Arctic foray is essential for India
CWA #177, 27 October 2019

Parikshith Pradeep

Russia's Polar Military Edge
CWA #176, 27 October 2019

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