ArCticles - Arctic Centre Papers

The EU’s new Arctic Communication: not-so-integrated, not-so-disappointing?

Adam Stępień (Arctic Centre) and Andreas Raspotnik (The Arctic Institute)

The new Joint Communication on “An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic” was published on 27 April 2016. The document generally follows the lines drawn in previous EU Arctic policy statements: climate and environment, sustainability and regional cooperation. However, the policy update also shows evolution of the EU’s understanding of its place in the changing Arctic economic, environmental and political landscape

The Communication does not deliver on the promise included in its title, namely that it proposes to establish a truly “integrated EU Arctic policy”. The EU Arctic policy encompasses too many diverse issues – both internal and external – and it is too marginal for the EU in order to realistically aim for the envisaged integration that is linking different sectors together.

The EU Arctic policy is clearly evolving towards a greater focus on the challenges specific for the European Arctic. The vision of the Arctic’s future moved now away from the overblown expectations of rapidly expanding maritime shipping and hydrocarbon extraction. As a result, the attention shifts to innovation, entrepreneurship, circular economy, bioeconomy, cold climate technologies and renewables. North-South transport connections are to support these developments, although clear commitments are not made. The policy statement is silent on indigenous economies and challenges for indigenous peoples connected with new infrastructure and renewables. Furthermore, the new Communication also reflects the general shift in the EU support from regional development funding to investment financing and loans. The latter may be problematic for many regional stakeholders.

Better coordination of diverse EU Arctic-relevant funding sources has been proposed. A forum for European Arctic authorities at various levels and a network of managers of EU funding programmes are to facilitate the formulation of overarching objectives for investment and research funding in the North. The participation of indigenous peoples in these frameworks is not explicitly mentioned. Furthermore, the Commission and the High Representative suggest the Council and the Parliament to strengthen their respective internal coordination of Arctic affairs.

As regards international cooperation, the Union’s Arctic steps - ever since the early unfortunate statements on, inter alia, an Arctic treaty - are shaped by terminological diligence and an overall cautious approach that rather defines the Union as Arctic suppliant than equal Arctic actor. Science seems to be the internally agreed-on key that aims to finally open the Arctic governance/cooperation door for the Union.

The EU is now drawing its new Global Strategy and the North/Arctic is generally considered one of few positive directions in the EU’s ever more precarious international environment. The Union’s main contribution to this environment will be via soft security measures, such as delivering on science and infrastructure. The very basis on how and where to further cooperate in the Arctic was now illustrated in the new Joint Communication.

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