Friday

25th May 2018

EU gets cold shoulder in the Arctic

  • Canada and Russia remain wary of the EU bid (Photo: Silje Bergum Kinsten/norden.org)

Arctic Council ministers have agreed on a new set of criteria for determining whether an external country or institution is eligible for 'permanent observer' status in the increasingly-important forum, but a decision on the European Commission's long-standing application could still be years away.

Finland lobbied hard for the EU application at a ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, on Thursday (12 May), but Canada and Russia have traditionally been opposed to the move.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

And in a sign of further tensions within the council, 'permanent observer' France circulated a letter, challenging the notion that countries and organisations without territory in the Arctic were somehow less affected by changes in the area.

But incoming chair-holders Sweden insisted on the pre-eminence of the Arctic Council's eight member states: Canada, Denmark [including the Faroe Islands and Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.

"We have agreed on the criteria. A decision [on whether to grant observer status] will be taken at the next ministerial meeting [in two years time] at the latest," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told EUobserver.

Deputy foreign ministers meeting in one year's time are likely to make recommendations on whether candidates are eligible.

"But let's be realistic," Bildt said. "At the end of the day, members are members, and observers are observers."

The EU bid

China, Italy and Japan are also among non-Arctic states seeking to gain a foothold in the decision-making forum, conscious of the region's growing geo-strategic importance as melting ice opens up new shipping routes.

Despite the fact that three Arctic Council members are also part of the EU, the European Commission's application for 'permanent observer' status was not accepted at a ministerial meeting in 2009.

European Economic Area states Norway and Iceland have also adopted a large chunk of EU legislation, arguably adding further legitimacy to the commission's request, together with the institution's considerable research spending in the area.

Privately EU officials talk of their frustration. "People say that Canada and Russia have a closed attitude," one source said on condition of anonymity. The two countries are reportedly wary of creating an increasingly unwieldy Arctic Council, and question the motives of some applicants.

"Applicants must demonstrate their support for the Arctic Council," Canadian health minister Leona Aglukkaq, who represented her nation at the meeting, told journalists.

Finnish under-secretary of state for foreign policy Jaakko Laajava was unequivocal in his country's support for the EU bid however. "We think the EU's Arctic policy is being devised in a very constructive way," he told this website.

"There are scientific communities way beyond our shores. How can we tap into these if we don't communicate? We should be an open-source organisation."

He also said that the growing stature of the Arctic Council did not reduce the need for further work in another forum - the Nordic Council - of which Finland currently holds the chairmanship, insisting that communication between the two structures had avoided a "duplication of effort".

The French

In a sign that frustration within the Arctic Council is not merely confined to the EU, French delegate Michel Rocard circulated a letter outlining his country's unhappiness with the rights accorded to permanent observers and with the role of the council in general.

"The Arctic Council has no wish to encourage debate," said the former prime minister. "The unspoken assumption is that whatever happens in the Arctic, it is sufficient for each coastal state to shoulder alone but totally the responsibilities … I can certainly not adhere to that view."

Fish, he said by way of an example, were increasingly moving northwards to cooler waters, creating global questions of where future supply would come from.

Another issue was the need to create accurate maps of the Arctic area, together with the building of lighthouses, Rocard said, citing three shipping accidents in the Northwest Passage in the summer of 2010.

"Over the next 20 or 30 years, putting the Arctic to good use is the most colossal of any current human endeavour," read the French ambassador's letter, questioning whether the eight Arctic Council states would have the capacity to tackle the growing list of issues.

"The time has come to call upon all potential users of the Arctic to contribute both to the definition of rules governing such use, and to the funding of major infrastructures."

Fears of Arctic conflict are 'overblown'

The Arctic has become a new frontier in international relations, but fear of potential conflict in the resource-rich region is overblown, say experts.

Russia re-submits Arctic claims to UN

Russia Tuesday announced it had submitted a revised application to the UN seeking the expansion of its Arctic shelf border, rich in oil and other natural resources.

Analysis

A good day for Russia in Europe

Russian firm Gazprom is a reformed character, the European Commission has said, improving the climate for more pipelines to Europe.

Sofia summit: EU leaders search for a Trump strategy

"With friends like that, who needs enemies?" European Council Donald Tusk asked on Wednesday, as EU leaders were trying to come up with a reply to the US president's questioning of the transatlantic relationship.

Analysis

EU has no 'magic bullet' against US Iran sanctions

EU leaders in Sofia will discuss how they can protect the bloc's economic interests against US threats to sanction companies doing business in Iran. But their options are limited.

Opinion

Ratifying CETA after 'Achmea scandal' is anti-European

While few people in Europe have heard of the 'Achmea' ruling, the case will have far-reaching consequences. Member states must understand the implications of the case quickly - especially those considering ratifying the EU-Canada trade agreement.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight