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Brussels, 20 November 2008.

Arctic Communication

The term Arctic Region commonly refers to the area north of the Arctic Circle. It includes the Arctic Ocean and land territories of- three EU Member States (Denmark (Greenland), Finland and Sweden) - two EEA partners (Iceland and Norway) - Russia, the US and Canada.

Arctic Ocean coastal states are Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the US. While the EU has no direct coastline on the Arctic Ocean, it is however inextricably linked to the Arctic.

Member States and the Community are major contributors to Arctic research. Under the 5th and 6th Framework programmes we devoted more than €200 mio to polar-related issues, contributing substantially to the International Polar Year.[1] The current 7th Framework Programme contains new research projects and addresses large research topics relevant for the Arctic.

The EU is a frontrunner in countering global processes (like in the fight against climate change) affecting the Arctic in particular. EU interests in the Arctic touch upon many topics including energy, transport, environment, fishery as well as security and the issue of indigenous peoples.

The Arctic is also one of the priorities of the Northern Dimension policy, which has been an EU policy since 2001. In 2006 the ND was transformed into a common policy of the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland, becoming the regional expression of the EU-Russia Common Spaces. The new ND focuses on North-West Russia and has implemented important projects, in particular in the field of environment.

The Arctic is in rapid transformation, due to climate change, long-range pollution and human activities. Arctic air temperatures have been increasing twice as rapidly as the global average. The ice cover and the permafrost are shrinking at a rhythm surpassing earlier predictions. The effects of climate change appear in the Arctic more rapidly than elsewhere, leading – as a collateral effect – to more resource exploitation and navigation.

The EU has to state its position concerning a unique region of strategic importance which is located in its immediate vicinity. It is time for the EU to clearly assess its interest and develop a holistic and systematic Arctic approach. This will increase the efficiency of the EU’s action and open new opportunities for cooperation with the Arctic states.

In October 2007 the Commission adopted an Action Plan attached to the Communication on an Integrated Maritime Policy which announced a Commission report on strategic issues related to the Arctic Ocean for 2008 aiming at laying the foundation for a more detailed reflection on European interests in the Arctic Ocean. Thus, in March 2008 in their joint paper “Climate Change and Security” the Commission and the High Representative elaborated that the rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap and the changing geo-strategic dynamics of the region might have consequences for international stability and European security interests. Moreover, the paper recommended developing an EU Arctic policy based on the evolving geo-strategy of the Arctic region.

The present Communication on "The European Union and the Arctic region" is comprehensive, describing the EU's role and outlining EU interests. It sets policy objectives and recommends a series of steps in the fields of research, environment, indigenous peoples, fisheries, hydrocarbons, shipping, the Arctic legal/political framework and the cooperation with regional organisations. It deals with these issues under 3 broad headings:

  • Protecting and preserving the Arctic in unison with its population,
  • Promoting sustainable exploitation of resources,
  • Improving Arctic multilateral governance

The Communication gives clear priority to the protection of the Arctic environment. However, it recognises that exploitation of Arctic hydrocarbon resources and the opening of new navigation routes can be of benefit, provided it is done in full respect of the highest environmental standards.

Many of the Arctic challenges require both broad international efforts and close cooperation with the Arctic states. While recognising the fundamental role played by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other global conventions Arctic cooperation can and should be strengthened and adjusted to the changing circumstances.

In this context the Commission will apply for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council (AC) [2] and its members have large Arctic research programmes and published valuable assessments.

Concerning seals and whales the Communication re-emphasises the known EU position. Moreover, it stresses the readiness of the EU to conduct a dialogue with the indigenous communities to better prepare them for profiting from the exemptions they will enjoy under upcoming Community legislation.

Finally, the Communication invites for a more detailed, sector-by-sector reflection and constitutes a first step towards an EU policy on the Arctic region.

See also IP/08/1750

[1] IPY is a large scientific programme focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009. The EU Programme DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic studies and observation capabilities for long-term environmental studies) is the largest single contribution to the IPY.

[2] The Arctic Council is a high level intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation among Arctic states and involving indigenous communities. AC members are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America.

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