Politician calls for stronger EU engagement in Arctic

Urmas Paet is representative of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)
All key government structures of the Union must assign a far higher level of attention to Arctic affairs, says Urmas Paet.

Change is quick and dramatic and the European Union has a role to play, the Estonian MEP underlined as he this week arrived in Kirkenes, the north Norwegian town.

«In a time of climate change and changes in international relations, the multilateral approach of the EU can help balance between the big power interests of Russia, the USA and China,» he argues.

Paet was foreign minister of Estonia for almost a decade and now sits in the European Parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs. He is also the the initiator of the parliament’s informal Arctic Group.

Little Arctic in Brussels

«All EU institutions have to increase their attention to the Arctic, the region is too important to neglect,» he told the Barents Observer during this week’s Kirkenes Conference.

He is deeply disappointed that Arctic developments are not included in the European Commission’s new Working Program.

«The Working Program does not mention Arctic, there nothing at all about it,» he argues and stresses that the growing importance of the northern region must be taken more seriously.

«If the ambition of the European Commission is really to be an international player and geopolitical player, then how can it not have understanding about what is going on here in Arctic?» he asks.

There is still far too little “EU for Arctic”, says Urmas Paet. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The Working Program was adopted on the 29th January and is titled «A Union that strives for more.»

Investments needed

Paet also argues that the Arctic must be included as priority region in the EU’s new multiannual financial framework, the budgetary document that included key investment priorities for the new seven-year period. A new framework document is soon to be adopted for the period 2021-2027.

According to Urmas Paet, the European Union does today not have any body, nor representative, that is fully dedicated to follow-up of Arctic developments.

Previously, the Union had an Ambassador for the Arctic who promoted EU Arctic activities and represented the block in Arctic events.

The MEP also calls for longer-term thinking in Brussels with regard to Arctic developments.

«We need strategies for the region that can last for 20-30 even 50 years,» he underlines and explains that long-term vision is needed for regional infrastructure development.

Among possible infrastructure investment projects for the future could be the projected railway line between Kirkenes and Rovaniemi, he makes clear.

Rule of law

And he expresses skepticism with the growing engagement in the Arctic of countries from outside the region, like China.

«Some counties that are not themselves in the Arctic are interested in weakening International law. They are not much interested in living conditions in the region and indigenous peoples, or environment. Lets not be naive. Their interest is purely business.»

EU Arctic strategy

The European Commission in 2016 adopted a strategy for the Arctic and former EU Ambassador for the Arctic Marie-Anne Coninsx in 2019 explained that work with a new strategy document is in the pipeline.

The document adopted in 2016 was considered a breakthrough for EU Arctic affairs. Now, it is already outdated, representatives of the Commission admitted.

«The developments that are now taking place are so dramatic that there is a call for the EU to get more strongly engaged,» Coninsx said in a address delivered during the Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik, Iceland.

According to Coninsx, work with the new strategy would be kickstarted shortly after the new EU Commission took office on in November 2019.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Beef up Arctic search and rescue to keep Canada’s North secure, experts argue, CBC News

China: It’s official: China releases its first Arctic Policy, Cryopolitics Blog

Finland: Why are we so afraid of China, even in the North?, Yle News

Greenland: Controversy over Greenland airports shows China still unwelcome in the Arctic, Cryopolitics Blog

Iceland: Iceland & UK sign agreement to boost security, defence cooperation, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Major rethinking of Arctic governance structures needed to address current threats, says analyst, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian influence ops seek to fuel discord between Arctic Norway and Oslo, Norwegian intelligence service says, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Faced with Trump’s wavering support for NATO, Nordic nations stick together, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Trump, the Arctic Council & northern policy in Canada: Arctic stories to watch for in 2020 with Heather Exner-Pirot, Eye on the Arctic

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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