Time for the EU to act in the Arctic


Picture of Ville Cantell
Ville Cantell

Ville Cantell is Director of Europe and Neighbouring Areas at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

As the saying goes, “what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic”. And even though the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has said that the country will withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, no one can escape the effects of global warming.

If there were ever a time for the European Union to assume leadership, this is it. Finland, as the Chair of the Arctic Council for the next two years and the northernmost EU member state, is trying to achieve just that. We want to turn the focus of the EU to the Arctic, and for the EU to assume leadership in tackling the challenges of climate change.

We in Finland are fully aware that this will not be easy. We can’t, and won’t, tackle the issue alone.

Our Arctic Council chairmanship slogan ‒ ‘Exploring Common Solutions’ ‒ reflects the need for constructive cooperation between all Arctic stakeholders. At the same time, we ambitiously want to take Arctic cooperation to the next level.

Our four priorities include environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation and education.

It is in the interests of the EU, and the whole world, that that solutions to complicated Arctic questions are resolved peacefully together

Environmental protection remains a key task for Arctic cooperation. As for connectivity, economic development is directly linked to the adoption of modern communications technology.

Meteorological cooperation is a new focus of the Arctic Council, and work is carried out jointly with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Meteorological cooperation is becoming increasingly important for the development of ice and weather services, as well as for the real-time assessment of scientific research on climate change. And last but not least, education is the key to sustainable development. The Arctic region is no exception in this respect.

For Finland, the Arctic Council chairmanship and the new focus of the EU on the Arctic, are opportunities to showcase our world leading expertise ‒ known as ‘snow-how’ ‒ and technology.

The objective of the Finnish government is that Finland provides practical solutions to Arctic challenges. Two-thirds of the world´s icebreakers have been designed in Finland, and as our Foreign Minister Timo Soini has joked, “all the best ones” are of Finnish making.

The High North and Arctic are the ultimate testbeds for anything and everything functional, and therefore one can well say, “if it works in Finland, it works anywhere”. To work here, ideas must be Arctic-proof – and withstand the challenges of the changing seasons. Finns are born with an Arctic attitude and Finland is one of the leading countries in the world because we have to cope with, and get to enjoy, an Arctic climate.

As the EU as a whole holds a leading position in science, it should increase its participation in large-scale scientific cooperation. Research and education are central to the EU’s Arctic Programme.

Environmental protection remains a key task for Arctic cooperation

When it comes to project funding, the EU should put its money where its mouth is. The objectives of Finland for the Arctic Council chairmanship are supported by the EU’s growing interest in northern investment, infrastructure development and innovation. But more funding is needed for projects that focus on the connectivity and logistics in the North, thereby improving the lives of the people and giving an economic boost to the region.

Engagement of all stakeholders, both public and private, is needed. A high-level event, entitled ‘A Sustainable Arctic – Innovative Approaches’, was co-hosted by the Finnish foreign ministry, the European Commission and the European External Action Service, in the city of Oulu on 15-16 June.

Timo Soini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella all stressed the importance of deepening the cooperation in the Arctic region between local, regional and national authorities and with the representatives of the indigenous peoples.

Despite geopolitical tensions rising in the last years, the Arctic region has remained one of peaceful cooperation. We must continue to ensure cool heads prevail in the future as well.

It is in the interests of the EU, and the whole world, that the Arctic remains a region where constructive international cooperation is conducted and that solutions to complicated Arctic questions are resolved peacefully together.

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