The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission have today adopted a policy proposal that will guide the actions of the European Union in the Arctic region. The European Union will step up its existing action and engagement in the region with 39 actions focussing on climate change, environmental protection, sustainable development and international cooperation. The particular importance of research, science and innovation is reflected across these priority areas.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, said: “A safe, sustainable and prosperous Arctic not only serves the 4 million people living there, our European Union and the rest of the world. It is a region of immense environmental, social, and economic importance to us all. The steps taken today underline our commitment to the region, its States and its peoples, and to ensuring that the region remains an example of constructive international cooperation. Because the Arctic is also crucial in terms of regional and global security, and a strategic component of our foreign policy.”
Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “We impact on the Arctic and the Arctic impacts on us. Global weather patterns, our oceans, ecosystems and local biodiversity – the Arctic influences them all. While increasing human development is inevitable, it is in our hands to do it in a sustainable way. We have to do this in full respect of the livelihoods of those who live in the region and by protecting its most valuable resource: the environment.”
The Joint Communication takes into account existing EU legislation, including the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as ongoing and forthcoming EU activities and projects. It also builds on and complements the Arctic policies of the EU Member States. The proposed actions will now be discussed with the EU Member States in the Council and the European Parliament.
In 2014, the Council and European Parliament asked the Commission and the High Representative to develop a more coherent framework for EU action and funding programmes in the Arctic. The new, integrated EU policy for the Arctic stems from that request and is to further bolster the EU’s profile in the Arctic, building on a number of existing EU activities and decisions that already have an impact on the region following the 2008 policy communication and an update and overview of activities in 2012.
The Arctic covers the Central Arctic Ocean, its regional seas such as the Barents, Chara and Chucchi seas, as well as the territories of Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. Three EU Member States are therefore also Arctic States, while Iceland and Norway are members of the European Economic area.
In recent years, the Arctic’s role in climate change has become much more prominent with far-reaching consequences as the region acts as a regulator of the Earth’s climate, including the weather patterns in Europe. In past decades, the Arctic has been warming at almost twice the global average rate. Scientists have pointed out that the Arctic also contributes to climate change, due to the gradual release of methane gases as the region warms up. In turn, the climatic changes in the Arctic drive increasing economic activity in the region. Several international institutions and fora have been established to facilitate international cooperation on the joint management of the Arctic region.