EU makes pitch for Arctic cooperation

“The time has come to work together, constructively and with determination on the future of the Arctic.”


This map shows the EU-member nations in green. (HANDOUT IMAGE)

This map shows the EU-member nations in green. (HANDOUT IMAGE)

The European Union has a stake in what happens in the Arctic, says Maria Damanaki, the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, who argued Oct 4 for more cooperation between the EU and Arctic states.

Speaking at the annual Arctic Futures conference in Brussels, Damanaki addressed scientists, academics, business representatives, indigenous groups and policymakers, “in the heart of Europe, to discuss future scenarios for the Arctic.”

The EU itself is “an Arctic actor by virtue of three Arctic states, Denmark, Finland and Sweden,” she said — “four, if Iceland accedes to the EU.”

“The EU stands ready to aid the region’s sustainable development: supporting Arctic research, boosting economic development, combating global warming and developing greener technologies, while collaborating in international bodies to set high environmental and safety standards for the Arctic, “ Damanaki said.

The EU is also a key investor in the Arctic’s economic development, she said.

“In the last five years alone we have delivered over 1.1 billion [euros] in programmes stretching from Greenland to the Urals,” she said.

The EU is also exploring the Arctic from space, she said, because “due to its remoteness and its harsh environment, earth-orbiting satellites have to be used for science, research and communication.”

As the ice retreats, a number of new opportunities could open up in the Arctic, she said,

Off-shore drilling in the Arctic now becomes a viable option for big oil companies, she said, because “though we may be greening the global economy, oil and gas remain vital.”

Arctic shipping is also due for “a big comeback.”

Remote Arctic cities such as Tromsø, Reykjavik, Murmansk and Nuuk will be on the transport grids to Europe, Asia or the Americas and will have the chance to become “central trading hubs”, she said.

And as the waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic get warmer, “we will see more and more fish stocks moving north.”

“Last, but not least, the region is also thought to be rich of minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, diamonds, gold and rare earths,” she said. “The EU is the largest economic block in the world, so clearly, the importance of the Arctic for us is only bound to increase,”

But all these opportunities also carry responsibilities, she noted.

“Utmost care should be taken to minimize the risks of pollution from shipping and offshore drilling, as oil spills and accidents would have grave consequences on the Arctic’s precious ecosystems. If they do take place, systems should be in place for a swift and effective clean-up.”

Damanaki did say that “whether or not the Arctic is to be exploited economically for these purposes is not up to us — whether here, in London or in Beijing. In my view, the first say goes to the countries directly.”

“Constant dialogue with them and with the Arctic states is required to define our priorities, seek issues of common concern and find common solutions. I look forward to holding such a dialogue with the Arctic peoples here in Brussels soon. The time has come to work together, constructively and with determination on the future of the Arctic.”

However, the Canadian Arctic continues to eye the European Parliament with suspicion after its members dismissed Canada’s argument that the seal hunt is humane, voted by a margin of 550 to 49 to impose the seal ban through the EU in May 2009.

Nunavut MLAs then passed a motion March 2010 that asked the Government of Nunavut to see the Nunavut Liquor Commission impose a moratorium on its purchase of alcohol products from EU member states, to protest the EU’s import ban on seal products.

Nunavut has also been lukewarm in supporting the EU’s bid to join the Arctic Council as a permanent observer.

Non-Arctic players with a strong interest in marine transportation and resource development, such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Italy and the EU have been lobbying permanent observer status on the Arctic Council.

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