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The European Parliament & EU Arctic policy

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This article originally appeared in The Circle, WWF’s quarterly Arctic journal, issue 01.16. See all articles here. Previous issues of The Circle can be downloaded here.

The European Union may have a relatively small territory above the Arctic Circle but FERNANDO GARCES DE LOS FAYOS says it has always been an important and engaged Arctic actor. In terms of Arctic research he notes the EU, along with the EU Member States, is one of the leading forces in the world. He argues that the Union works hard to encourage international research collaboration with its sectoral policies, and its cross-border actions have a significant impact on the Arctic region. FERNANDO GARCES DE LOS FAYOS is a Senior parliamentary policy analyst with the European Parliament.

THE EU ARCTIC POLICY has been built gradually since 2008 in a process that is still ongoing. From the outset, the EU Arctic policy was meant to be a common enterprise of the EU institutions and the EU Member States, open to inputs from other Arctic States and other Arctic stakeholders. Its first building block, the 2008 European Commission Communication on the EU and the Arctic, was the result of a vast consultation exercise. A second Communication in 2012 consolidated the EU Arctic policy, maintaining three basic priorities:

  • support research and channel knowledge to address environmental challenges, most notably climate change in the Arctic;
  • act with responsibility to assist in ensuring economic development in the Arctic is based on sustainable use of resources and environmental expertise;
  • intensify its constructive engagement and dialogue with Arctic States, Indigenous peoples and other partners.

The European Parliament (EP) has agreed with this basic line and has provided valuable input into the construction of the EU’s Arctic policy. On top of regular questioning of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) whilst reflecting Arctic concerns in the work of its different Committees, three key resolutions have channelled the main views of the EP on Arctic policy, i.e. 9 October 2008, 29 September 2011 and 12 March 2014. The latter EP resolution (2014), along with the Council of the EU Conclusions of 12 May 2014, asks for a new Communication, taking into account the recent developments in the Arctic and in EU action in the Arctic.

The EP went a step further asking for the new document to be a proper EU strategy for the Arctic region, in line with the national Arctic strategies of EU Arctic and non-Arctic Member States. The new Communication was expected by the end of last year but it has still not been issued at the time of writing (mid-January 2016), probably because the text needs to reflect the achievements and new avenues opened up by the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) held in Paris in December, 2015.

The EP is eager to see how the new Communication reflects the recommendations that it called for in its 2014 Resolution. Several of these recommendations refer to Arctic Indigenous Peoples and other citizens living in the Arctic. The European Parliament:

  • emphasises that the EU must take into account the need for raw material activities to provide local benefits and garner good will with the Arctic populations;
  • urges the Commission to proceed with the establishment of an ‘EU Arctic Information Centre’;
  • recommends strengthening regular exchange and consultations on Arcticrelated topics with regional, local and Indigenous stakeholders of the European Arctic in order to facilitate mutual understanding;
  • stresses that maintaining developed and sustainable communities in the Arctic with a high quality of life is of the utmost importance, and that the EU can play a vital role in the matter;
  • acknowledges the wish of the inhabitants and governments of the Arctic region, with sovereign rights and responsibilities, to continue to pursue sustainable economic development while at the same time, protecting the traditional sources of the Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and the very sensitive nature of Arctic ecosystems. The EP also “regrets the effects which the EU regulation relating to the ban on seal products has produced for sections of the population, and in particular for Indigenous culture and livelihood”.
  • supports the meetings held by the Commission with the six associations of circumpolar Indigenous peoples that are recognised as permanent participants in the Arctic Council;
  • underlines the importance of supporting the development of cooperation networks between higher education institutions within and beyond the region, providing opportunities for research funding in order to bring about sustainable economic development in the regions of the Arctic.’

Several other recommendations regarding the Arctic environment can be summarised with the following one:

  • The European Parliament stresses that the increasing use of the Arctic region’s natural resources must be conducted in a way which respects and benefits the local population, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and takes full environmental responsibility for the fragile Arctic environment.

Another way in which the EP interacts with the Arctic is as a member of the Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians, which brings together parliamentarians from around the Arctic, and is an observer at the Arctic Council.

The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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