Speech ”The Arctic Policy of the European Union”, Seminar on Arctic Know-how as Strength, 18.3., Helsinki

I wish to thank the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes for organizing this seminar on Arctic Know-how as Strength, and for including in it a session on the Arctic Policy of the European Union.  The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland is pleased to co-sponsor today´s event.


A quarter of a century ago, the Arctic region emerged as a new frontier on the world scene. It is remarkable that from the beginning peaceful cooperation and inclusiveness rather than rivalry and conflict were coined as leading principles in the interaction among the Arctic states. Indigenous peoples of the region also joined in this cooperation.


We must keep in mind the principle of peaceful, constructive cooperation and inclusiveness now when international relations are strained. The Arctic region faces many urgent challenges. Addressing them cannot wait for better times.  We need the best possible human and material resources to tackle the issues at hand.


The European Union is an indispensable part of the equation. The EU already has an impressive track record in providing human and material resources, supporting research, formulating policies and raising awareness of Arctic issues.

From Finland´s point of view, the role of the European Union is closely tied to Arctic cooperation and this is emphasized in our own Arctic strategy. Several member countries were among the initiators, when Arctic cooperation became possible in the 1990´s. They were present at the creation.


Three of the EU´s member states, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are members of the Arctic Council, founded in 1996, and participate in circumpolar cooperation. Seven EU member countries are observers to the Council. In addition, the EU gives its significant contribution to the Working Groups of the Arctic Council.


At the subregional level, the European Union is a founding member of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council established in 1993, together with Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Russia. The Northern Dimension policy of the EU contributes to important projects in Northern Europe through partnerships.


In spite of this remarkable involvement in Arctic affairs, the European Union has been slow to formulate a coherent policy toward the Arctic. The first Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council was issued in 2008, followed by the second Communication in 2012.


Clearly an effort must be made to bring the EU Arctic policy to a new level and to strengthen the coherence of decision-making on Arctic issues within the Union. It is time that the EU begins to fully use its influence and resources to better focus its policy vis-à-vis the Arctic region. There are great expectations regarding the third Arctic Communication, due in December 2015. Finland, along with other Arctic member countries, is certainly prepared to contribute to this Communication.


There are urgent, compelling reasons to intensify Arctic cooperation as soon as possible. Major developments such as climate change and globalization will profoundly affect the natural habitats and living conditions in the Arctic region in the coming years.


These changes will be dramatic. Scientific evidence of the impact of climate change globally and in the Arctic is abundant. Temperature in the Arctic is expected to rise twice as fast as elsewhere. The ice cover of the Arctic Ocean will shrink rapidly, resulting in open waters absorbing more heat. It is a vicious circle, made worse by the melting of permafrost and increased emissions of carbon dioxide and methane.


There is no time to lose. A global, legally binding climate agreement is the aim at the COP 21 Conference in Paris in December. This agreement should limit the rise of global temperature to two percent by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases. This agreement is widely regarded as a last chance to get a grip of global warming before it reaches its tipping point. As President Obama said at the UN Climate Summit last year, we may be the last generation that can do something about climate change.


The European Union has shown strong leadership in efforts to mitigate climate change and to prepare for the necessary measures of adaptation.  The EU has confirmed its commitment to reach the climate agreement in 2015. It has agreed on a climate and energy package and intensified its climate diplomacy with other stakeholders.


It is symbolic that the Climate Conference will be held in Paris. The role of the French Government hosting the Conference will further underline the European effort to finally reach an effective climate deal.


Globalization will reach the Arctic region with full force, propelled by climate change. It is vital that the Arctic countries will agree, in consultation with indigenous peoples and other local inhabitants, on measures for sustainable development in its three dimensions: economic, social and environmental.


Sometimes the Arctic is seen as a new, opening reservoir of resources with its oil and gas deposits, minerals and fisheries. Sustainable development can succeed only if rule of law prevails. We should continue to broaden our common understanding of the application of international law and especially the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea to avoid rivalries and confrontations.


We should not allow the Arctic to turn into a kind of Wild North, where might makes right. All stakeholders, also states and business organizations outside the Arctic region, should work for sustainable development in the region.


Developing Arctic stewardship, a new and stronger model for international governance is what is urgently needed. This is also in the interest of the European Union. On the other hand, the EU is particularly well-placed to contribute to Arctic governance. It is a trustworthy and predictable actor.


Already now, the European Union is a major destination of goods and resources from the Arctic region, and its policies have implications for all those who participate in trade and investments or provide related services. In the area of navigation, transport and logistics the role of the EU and its policies is likely to increase considerably. The expected growth in marine transportation between Europe and Asia via the Northern route is a case in point.


Here again we must ask whether the EU will be fully prepared to participate in discussions concerning the Arctic, including in efforts to strengthen Arctic governance. We should make sure that Arctic issues are coordinated at a high level and that the Union is adequately represented in such discussions.


In May last year, the Foreign Affairs Council underlined the need for better understanding of the developments underway in the Arctic and requested the Commission to consider options for an EU Arctic Information Centre. Finland has made an offer to host the EU Arctic information Center in Rovaniemi, linked to the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland. That offer is still valid, and I sincerely hope that the decision to establish the Information Centre will be included in the next Arctic Communication.


In the course of the past year, trust has become a scarce commodity in international relations. The old East-West divide has made a strange comeback, and the Arctic role of European Union runs the risk suffering from the strained relations.


At the moment it is still open whether the Russian Federation will agree to implement the decision taken two years ago by the Arctic Council ministerial meeting, inviting the EU to become an observer of the Council. The next ministerial meeting of the Council in April will discuss this question. Russia refers to the membership of Finland, Sweden and Denmark in the Council and says that it wants to avoid a situation where the EU controls the actions of these countries. Unofficially Russia points out that the EU has turned into a geopolitical adversary as a result of the sanctions imposed against Russia.


This is a most unfortunate approach, disregarding the past merits, present involvement and future potential of the Union in Arctic cooperation. Respect for international law must be ensured and the governance of the region needs to be strengthened to tackle the issues that come with advancing climate change and increasing globalization. Thanks to its broad-based policies, wide experience in regional cooperation and its considerable human and material resources, the EU continues to be an ideal partner to all Arctic stakeholders.


Finland hopes that the Union can still be invited as an observer to the Arctic Council. All member countries of the Council have confirmed that constructive cooperation in the region must continue in spite of the present tensions elsewhere. In view of the huge challenges ahead in the Arctic region, this is the only sensible approach to take.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


I would like to use the opportunity to thank Ambassador Hannu Halinen for his great work as the Senior Arctic Official of Finland. Ambassador Halinen has been a particularly active diplomat at home and abroad. He has led the preparations of Finland´s Arctic strategy and represented Finland in countless meetings of the Arctic Council and in other Arctic gatherings. One of his main goals has been to involve the European Union as tightly as possible in the Arctic network. So thank you Hannu!