Opening Speech at the S&D Group Conference on Sustainable Development in the Arctic and the EU-Arctic Strategy in the Making

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to address The Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromssa Norway which this year brought together over one thousand participants from 25 countries, in yet another indication of the growing global interest in the Arctic.

Indeed one can talk of something of a new global ”Gold rush” – or perhaps better called ”Oil rush” – to the high north where for example in north  Norway alone, according to some estimates (Rystad Energy) investments on oil and gas sector can reach a yearly level of 24 billion euros by 2030.

This is certainly a bonanza which investors all over the world are eying greedily, and from which the Arctic nations and local populations expect to benefit in terms of employment, wealth creation and higher incomes.

We have to bear in mind, however, that the reason why we all expect these goodies to be delivered, is a bad one – climate change. It is the Arctic where we have already seen the most dramatic changes caused by global warming as the ice shelf melts at an accelerating pace that has so far exceeded most predictions.

A one degree increasing of the global average temperature will mean a more than two degree increase in the Arctic, thus further accelerating the melting of the polar ice cap and melting the permafrost of the continents, leading into even more methane being released into the atmosphere thus accelerating global warming as a whole in a vicious circle.

This is bad news. But there is also good news in the Arctic.

Each year The Fund for Peace publishes the Index of Failed States. In its listing of 178 countries Finland is rated the ”least failed state” in the world. All five Nordic countries are among the eight least failed, with Iceland as number eight. Recalling the serious crisis which Iceland went through only a few years ago this is a powerful testimony to the resilience and strength of our Nordic Model of society.

There is therefore, little risk that the rush in the High North could create least as the Nordic Countries  are concerned, a ”Wild North” comparable to the Wild West or  ”the Gold rush” period.

Indeed, our consistently strong showings in these comparisons measuring our performance in education, innovation, competitiveness, the environment, social cohesion, equality and quality of life in general has been notes by the world at large. It is no wonder, therefore, that there is more and more interest in the so called Nordic Model.

As Social-Democrats we Nordic socialist are happy to share the credit for this success with any other political families who wish to identify themselves as supporters of the Nordic model. But we know full well from our history, that the social innovations that have contributed to the high levels of overall well-being in the Nordic countries as is evident in for example an active employment policy, a social insurance system, freedom of movement, family policy and a bold redistribution policy, have come about through tough political battles where Social-Democrats have shown the lead against sometimes fierce bourgeois opposition.

Today the Nordic countries are known for their relative equality, and not least with respect to gender issues. Non-discrimination and the inclusion of all groups in the workings of society is an enormous asset which contributes to our wellbeing and enhances the vital perception of social justice, trust and systemic legitimacy.

The Nordic model has shown that not only can international competitiveness and a well-functioning welfare system based on universal benefits and public services be successfully combined, but they need to be combined in order to develop society in a sustainable way. We know both from our experience as well as from extensive comparative research that an equal distribution of  income is a recipe for better and more prosperous  and secure societies for all.

Our competitiveness is in many ways based on inclusion and social justice, a high level of education for all, a stable and reliable democratic system, and especially on the equal role of women in society and labour markets. It is important to keep everybody on-board, active and participating. When the proportion of marginalized people exceeds a certain threshold, there is a risk that the system becomes dysfunctional. We cannot afford social exclusion, neither from an economic nor a moral point of view.

But all our relative success notwithstanding, we must not be complacent about our achievements. We cannot take them for granted in the future unless we are ready to continuously adjust an develop our model in answer to the challenges we are facing. In other words, we need to continue our tradition of successful Social-Democratic piecemeal social engineering.

The challenges we face include the ageing of our populations. As people live longer the demand for different social and health services will increase while the share of our working-age population decreases. Irrespective of how are pension systems are funded it is always those at work who ultimately pay for the pensions and services for those not at work, and thus we need to maintain and increase our levels of employment. Any failures in this respect will fuel xenophobia and populist nationalism.


As important and challenging all of this and many other issues are, they pale in comparison with the necessity for the world as whole achieve sustainable development. It was 27 years ago that the World Commission on Environment and Development led by former Norwegian Social-Democratic Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland put the concept of sustainable development firmly on the international agenda, where it remains.

Unfortunately the world has been irresponsibly slow in responding to this challenge. This means that we may have, at best, only a few decades time to reach ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development. And while climate change is of course the biggest challenge, there all also the like the accelerating loss of biodiversity, which need to be brought under control to make sustainable development a reality.

Thus addressing the challenge of sustainable development will be the (crucial) litmus test for the success or failure of the Nordic model.  And it will be particularly in the Arctic High North where we will be closely observed and judged on how well our model works in addressing the challenges and opportunities we are facing in the Arctic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Profound changes are underway in the human, economic, political and physical geography in the Arctic. We may call it a geographic revolution emerging at the top of our globe. It is clear that these huge and complex changes are challenging to understand to the Arctic community also. Our duty is to gather widest possible knowledge on the situation and communicate it with wisdom to the other world.

Climate change poses a serious immediate risk to biodiversity. Special attention must be paid to the vulnerability of the natural environment and the need to foresee developments threatening biodiversity. Closely linked to biodiversity is the preservation of the traditional knowledge possessed by the indigenous peoples. The network of conservation areas in the Arctic region, particularly in the sea areas surrounding the North Pole, must be developed both in order to promote nature preservation and to clarify the framework for economic activity.

About one million one hundred and sixty thousand (1 160 000) people live in the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The populations of Iceland, Greenland and the Färoe Islands constitute some four hundred thirty thousand (430 000) people more. All of these people live in a region where the global warming is twice as rapid as in other parts of the world. Life in Lapland of Norway, Sweden and Finland is furthermore complicated by long distances, ageing population, labour market issues and in some cased also by inadequate resources for providing government services.

Finland shares with its neighbours the ambition to secure a good quality of life for all our Northern peoples. So what does a good life in the Arctic call for? Basically the same as in other parts of our countries: access to education and work, efficient basic services, equality and security. Our young people should have the possibility to study close to home and also have the opportunity to study abroad as well. It is also important to promote the mobility of labour in the Arctic region.

The Saami are part of the local population in Lapland. They are the only indigenous peoples in the European Union and the status of the Saami in Finland is guaranteed by our Constitution. Finland is committed to further reinforcing the position of the Saami language and culture, and securing the availability of services in the Saami language. At the international level, Finland seeks to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples when issues affecting their status are addressed. It is important to assure that the organizations of the indigenous peoples represented in the Arctic Council are able to participate in the work of the Council at all levels.

The Arctic Council is taking sustainable development seriously. Indeed the main impetus for establishing the Council came from environmental concerns.

The main work of the Council is carried out in six permanent working groups. The Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), established just two years after the Council itself, focuses on the human dimension in the Arctic. The guiding tenet running throughout the work of the working group is to pursue initiatives that provide practical knowledge and contribute to building the capacity of indigenous peoples and Arctic communities to respond to the challenges and benefit from the opportunities emerging in the Arctic region. As an example, the SDWG has been able to broaden the scope and strengthen the integration of human health activities within the Council by developing concrete initiatives to improve the health and well-being of indigenous peoples and other Arctic residents.

The first international agreement drafted under the auspices of the Council was our agreement on cooperation in cases of oils spills or other accidents. Important as this is, it is even more important to see to it that the international treaty framework is comprehensive and strong enough to prevent such catastrophes from occurring in the first place. Therefore we should actively look into the need and possibilities for new international agreements in the Arctic, something which we are doing in Finland.

The Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) showed the compelling economic connections of the Arctic to the rest of the globe. The development of the Arctic natural resources was identified as a primary driver of the need for safe and efficient marine transportation systems. The new Arctic economic geography consists of world’s largest zinc and nickel mines, high grade iron ore mines, and offshore exploration and development of hydrocarbons. Likewise, the Arctic is the future source of freshwater. Traffic in the Ocean will be increased not only by navy vessels, oil tankers and bulk carriers, but also cruising ships and fishing vessels following the changing patterns of fish stock.

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the legal framework for all activities in the Arctic, reaffirming at the same time the fact that the Arctic is indeed an ocean. The Arctic continental shelves – the broadest in the world – have suddenly gained wide economic interest due to their potential for hydrocarbon wealth and increasing marine accessibility. To define the spatial extent of these shelves has become critically important to the national sovereignty of the five Arctic coastal states.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finland’s new Arctic strategy for the Arctic region is based on the Arctic vision of the Government: Finland is an active Arctic actor with the ability to reconcile the limitations imposed and business opportunities provided by the Arctic environment in a sustainable manner while drawing upon international cooperation. 

We aim to promote growth and enhance competitiveness in the region with due regard to its environment. Environmental objectives and the framework for action required by the environment are the key considerations in the efforts to promote economic activities and cooperation, while at the same time ensuring a sustainable use of natural resources. To promote sustainable development and stability, on one hand, and economic activities in the Arctic, on the other, are not contradictory or mutually incompatible by the definition.  Especially as long as the economic activities in the vulnerable Arctic regions take into account the limitations imposed by the nature and are sustainable in terms of local communities.

International cooperation in the Arctic is an essential element of the Finnish foreign policy. We consider the Arctic Council as the main forum for addressing the Arctic issues. We are in favour of the Council engaging in an open dialogue with non-Arctic actors and support the inclusion of new observers with legitimate interest in the Arctic. Finland supports the continuation of this development, including the recognition of the Council as a treaty-based international organization.

As of autumn 2013, Finland holds the Presidency of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council for a two year term. The Barents cooperation introduces a regional perspective to the Arctic policy and has played a role in establishing permanent networks for cross-border cooperation. Barents cooperation and Northern Dimension partnerships display major potential for the Arctic region. Both the EU and Russia, together with the Nordic countries, are partners in this cooperation. Increasing consistency and links between Barents cooperation and Northern Dimension policies will create attractive opportunities in, for example, environment and transport sectors.

In 2010 Finland launched an Arctic partnership with Russia, which provides a facilitating framework for bilateral cooperation and contacts between regions, institutions and companies. Other partnerships and cooperation arrangements are considered with e.g. Norway, Sweden and Canada.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now focus on the role of the European union in the Arctic. The European Union is, undoubtedly, an Arctic stakeholder. The EU, and its Parliament, does have a strong role and competence in the Arctic, whether we look at it from the territorial perspective or ongoing economic and other activities in the region.

First of all, three out of eight Arctic Council member states are also EU members – Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The northernmost parts of Finland and Sweden are part of the EU territory, falling under EU’s internal legislative competence.

Secondly, the European Economic Area states – Norway and Iceland – are required to implement EU legislation that is related to the functioning of the common market, and therefore some of the EU legal competences have a direct impact on those two countries, too.

And thirdly, the EU has competence to act externally, together with the member states or as the union. This is carried out through participation in treaty regimes or intergovernmental organisations having regulatory competence and role in the Arctic.

Based on the Lisbon Treaty, the role of the EP has been strengthened. Many EU policies of direct relevance to the Arctic are now subject to co-decision procedure. Likewise, the EP’s role in the EU’s external policy is enlarged. The strength of the European Parliament could bring new vitality to the EU:s arctic policy too. It is evident that we need European scale investments and projects to increase the efficiency of our transport and traffic in the northern hemisphere while keeping in mind the restrictions of the especially vulnerable nature.

The activity and the proposals made from the parliamentary groups like the PES group in the EP are mostly welcomed. I am most delighted to speak in front of you today of the possibilities to find progress in Arctic because this Conference is clearly signifying the interest, will and aim of the European socialists to take the responsibility and the leading role in the process to focus to one of the most important developing regions in Europe, the Arctic.

It is important to recognize that most of the EU’s sectorial competencies relevant to the Arctic fall under the shared competence between the EU and its member states. The main exception here is the conservation of fisheries resources.

The Joint Communication by the Commission and the High Representative from June 2012 is a clear improvement to the policy planning of the EU for the Arctic.

The objectives in the Communication are largely same as the pervious communication form the year 2008: Interesting is that additionally, increase is proposed to the already substantive EU contribution to the Arctic research.  Attention is paid especially to the message to increase the cooperation, rather than only attempting to impose the EU views to the other Arctic actors.

While waiting for the reactions of the other EU institutions – the EP and the Council – on the Communication I would like to share with you some of my thoughts. Compared to the Finnish Strategy – which contains the policy vision, sectorial priorities and goals, as well as concrete actions to address the set objectives and implement the vision – the Communication unfortunately appears more as a progress report, with some policy elements, which however do not constitute an enough clear vision of the EU in the region. It is of course a true a fact that the EU is doing a lot in the Arctic. As evident it is that we need for us in The EU the guiding vision for all activities. And those activities needs to be better understood both inside and outside the Union in the civil society and among the private entrepreneurs and even to the state actors. A plan of action with setting of benchmarks should be also envisaged in the new financial framework.

The new Finnish Arctic strategy, as the old one, includes a special chapter on EU’s role in the Arctic. For us it remains crucial to re-establish the EU as an Arctic stakeholder, and reinforce its Arctic role. This is done by intensifying cooperation with Sweden and Denmark to clarify EU’s Arctic role; by consolidating EU’s Arctic policy and its observer status in the Arctic Council; and, last but not least, by establishing the EU Arctic Information Centre in Rovaniemi.

Also the European Economic and Social Committee has called for a fully developed Arctic strategy from the EU, emphasizing that the EU needs to demonstrate its commitment to the Arctic and to cooperation in the region. This includes investment in responsible economic activity based on cold climate expertise, development of infrastructure, continuation on research into climate change and protection of region’s fragile environment. These priorities should be clearly integrated into the Europe 2020 strategy for growth as well as other programmes such as Innovation Union and Horizon 2020.

To ensure the credible implementation of the EU Arctic policy, resources in the EU budget for Arctic research programmes and other activities should be effectively coordinated and put under a separate heading. In this context, a special attention should be given also to the Northern Dimension partnerships, and the transport and logistics partnership in particular.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Arctic region is undergoing a number of rapid and also conflicting developments. The Arctic areas are witnessing the effects of climate change more dramatically than any other part of the world; new transport routes are opening up; energy resources and minerals are being exploited; and tourism is on the increase. For the security of the Arctic region combating climate change and mitigating its impact are vital.

I am convinced that we will be able to meet the challenges in an open, active and innovative manner and find positive solutions where economic efficiency, welfare, equity and equality are not seen as contradictory but as complementary and mutually reinforcing factors. This is the way to build strong northern societies.