14 April 2011

New initiatives could improve EU-Arctic relations


A proposed European Union (EU)-Arctic Centre could strengthen EU involvement in the Arctic region. That was among the conclusions of a high-level seminar on EU and Nordic relations with the Arctic held in Brussels on April 8. The centre could be located in Finland and the EU Commission expressed its commitment to continued cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers on Arctic issues.


The European Parliament has requested the EU Commission to take initial steps to create an EU-Arctic Centre. Rovaniemi in Finland could be the hub for this research network, that is intended to secure a firmer scientific basis for future policy decisions in the Arctic.

This move reflects an increasing concern for the Arctic in the EU system, a concern increasingly reflected by the activities of the Nordic Council of Ministers over the last three years.

Years ago, if one stated a need for North Atlantic activities within the EU, one was told to focus on the right ocean, which to the EU then was only the Baltic Sea. That is changing rapidly with an inclusion of the North Atlantic Ocean and we are part of that movement, the Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) Halldór Asgrímsson said in his opening remarks.

The EU Commission – represented by Director Bernhard Friess from the Directorate General of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries – confirmed this change of focus and expressed a commitment for increased cooperation on Arctic issues with the NCM.

He also underlined the obligation of the EU not only to continue promoting research and commercial activities in the region, but also assume responsibility for the ecological footprint of the EU in the Arctic.

According to the Ecological Institute in Berlin, emissions from the EU countries account for up to 45 % of black carbon in the Arctic and 24 % of all mercury. Black carbon increases ice melting and mercury endangers the livelihood of the indigenous populations, depending heavily on fishery.

This move by the EU would be welcome, according to experts.

The indigenous populations in the Arctic region are suspicious of EU intentions and sceptic due to controversies linked to seal hunting and whaling. A certain inconsistency is perceived between EU support for economic development and a lack of understanding for indigenous practices, said scientist Adèle Airoldi.

Airoldi is author of key reports issued by the NCM since the 2008 landmark conference “Common Concern for the Arctic” in 2008, inauguring increased EU-Nordic dialogue in the Arctic.

The Nordic Council of Ministers is a crucial actor in EU-Arctic relations, both due to geographical location, but also because of its expertise and knowledge of the Arctic region. The Finnish chairmanship of the NCM sees many benefits for EU-Arctic relations in a new research hub in Rovaniemi.

We already have commitments from key players ranging from the Polar Institute in Tromsø to the Scott Polar Institute at Cambridge. An EU-Arctic Centre would improve research and dialogue around Arctic issues, ensuring the impact of scientific research on new policy moves and initiatives, said Hannu Halinen, Finnish Ambassador for Arctic Affairs and member of the Arctic Expert Committee under the NCM.

The Nordic Council of Ministers is a crucial actor in EU-Arctic relations, both due to geographical location, but also because of its expertise and knowledge of the Arctic region, he underlined.

The discussions of EU-Arctic and Nordic relations took place at a seminar organized by the NCM in Brussels on April 8 as part of the ongoing efforts to strengthen dialogue in a region of growing concern and importance.

No comments: