EU seeks to increase influence in the Arctic

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The The EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council. European Commission presented a new Arctic policy on Wednesday, 13 October, with the aim to increase influence in the region. Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs stressed the importance of engaging in the Arctic:

“The Arctic region is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. The melting of ice and thawing of permafrost in the Arctic further accelerate climate change and have huge knock-on effects. The EU is committed to make the Arctic safe, stable, sustainable and prosperous.”

The EU’s new policy is an update of the strategy dating back from 2016, and now focuses heavily on mitigating the effects of climate change. It also positions the EU as a geopolitical actor in the region. As outlined in the Commission’s communication of the new Arctic policy, the EU aims to become a central actor in the dialogue between the Arctic states. To that end, the EU appeals to the Arctic An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council, the intergovernmental body through which dialogue between the Arctic states takes place, to be granted observer status. To emphasise its political commitment to the region, a The EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council. European Commission Office will be established in Greenland (which is a dependent territory of the Member State Denmark). 

In its dialogue, the EU will push for climate protection as well as continued peace in the region. This is particularly important as the Arctic is becoming a target of geopolitics, largely due to its natural resources. Additionally, the EU will pass legislation that protects the Arctic by mitigating the effects of climate change. This is an important step given that the EU itself is responsible for almost a third (31%) of CO2 emitted in the Arctic. The EU’s climate action in the Arctic will be part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s flagship climate policy (read more about that here). Another crucial effort will be convincing the Arctic partners to stop the extraction of oil, gas and coal from Arctic grounds. 

The EU’s third priority is improving the lives and future of the Arctic inhabitants, which includes people living in the Northern parts of Finland and Sweden, as well as Greenland. To that end, investments in education and jobs that have a sustainable future in emerging industries, such as sustainable tourism and green technologies, will be made in part through the EU’s cohesion fund and rural programmes. 

However, the European bloc is not the only party showing interest in the region and specifically in the natural resources like gas and rare earths that are becoming increasingly accessible as the ice melts due to global warming:

Russia is a key competitor and has secured its influence by settling in parts of the archipelago Svalbard, formally part of Norway. There, Russia engages in economically non-profitable coal mining activities that are a way to increase political influence and access to the Arctic region. Moreover, a Russian consulate has been set up in the town of Barentsburg that is inhabited by merely a few hundred people and also underscores Russia’s political interest in the area. Militarily, Russia has been a concern for A Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is a person who has been elected to serve as a representative in the European Parliament. MEPs given its deployment of ice breakers and sea-based nuclear forces.

In its 2013 Arctic Strategy, the US makes security a key priority of engagement in the Arctic. A central focus area is natural resource development, as is physical presence on sea and in the air for protecting commercial activities and national defence. 

China, though not an Arctic state, is increasing its influence through its Belt and Road initiative that finances infrastructure projects abroad. Other areas of interest include access to shipping routes and resources, and becoming a stakeholder in Arctic governance, even though China is not an Arctic state. A Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is a person who has been elected to serve as a representative in the European Parliament. MEPs have expressed growing concern regarding China’s role in the race for the Arctic.

Canada emphasises the importance of acknowledging the sovereignty of Arctic states and their land in the region, which includes the sovereignty of the natural resources located in the respective territories. While Canada also prioritises dialogue between the Arctic states, interests regarding natural resources might clash with the EU, who aims to put a stop to all exploration of gas and oil resources.

The parties stand in dialogue through the Arctic An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council, which comprises the US, Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden as the Arctic states. 

The coming years will show how successful the EU is in establishing itself as a central player in the Arctic region, and if its efforts to protect the Arctic from environmental degradation will be effective. 

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