1 February 2013
On an Arctic Policy for the EU
On 31 January 2013 in Rovaniemi (Finland), the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a joint hearing with the Arctic Centre (University of Lapland) on the EU's Arctic policy. Participants included representatives of civil society, academia, local authorities and media as well as parliamentarians and diplomats. The discussion focussed on the EU's interests and priorities in the Arctic, a region which is attracting ever-greater interest from global players in a number of policy areas such as energy, transport and the environment.
Interest in the Arctic has grown in recent decades due to the changes taking place in the region. Climate change is causing the ice sheet to melt and the permafrost to thaw, drawing global players' attention to energy and natural resources, new maritime routes and environmental challenges. The EU has not been oblivious to these developments: it launched its Arctic policy in 2008 and in 2012, announcing its intention to pursue a comprehensive policy for the region.
The public hearing on the upcoming EESC opinion entitled "EU Arctic Policy to address globally emerging interests in the region – a view of civil society" brought together a range of stakeholders, guaranteeing a valuable debate on the situation in the Arctic region and its future prospects. The EESC was represented by Paul Lidehäll, President of the study group on EU Arctic Policy, Sandy Boyle, President of the Section for External Relations and Filip Hamro-Drotz, rapporteur for the opinion and other members of the study group. Other speakers included Professor Mauri Ylä-Kotola, Rector of the University of Lapland, Professor Paula Kankaanpää, Director of the Arctic Centre, Michael Gahler, Member of the European Parliament and rapporteur for the EU Arctic Report (EP), Esko Lotvonen, the Mayor of Rovaniemi and Ambassador Hannu Halinen from Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The EESC endorsed the priorities outlined in the Communication on Arctic policy from the Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. The representatives of the Committee stressed, however, that the EU should formalise its Arctic policy as soon as possible, to ensure its involvement as a credible and constructive player. This policy should be consistent with the strategy of each Arctic state, so that Arctic governance can be developed and implemented on the basis of effective cooperation with countries and key partners. "We want to make the best of the opportunities the Arctic brings but at the same time we should strive at limiting to the minimum the negative consequences of human activities in the region", said Filip Hamro–Drotz.
The EESC furthermore asserted that civil society, especially the indigenous people living in the region, needed to be widely and regularly involved in Arctic work in an advisory role.
The participants welcomed the decision of the European Commission to allocate 1 million EUR for the preparatory project leading to establishment of the European Arctic Information Centre in Rovaniemi.
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Karin Füssl, Head of the Press Unit
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