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Research Topics

Actors and patterns of cooperation and conflict
Russia, Norway and the High North - Past, Present, Future
The United States in the 21 Century Arctic
Defining an Interest: The European Union and the High North
The Power of Energy
Law of the Sea and Ocean Governance
Climate Change and Environmental Protection

The EU as an Arctic actor? Interests and governance challenges

In May, SWP gathered politicans and academics in Berlin for a three-day conference on the EU's policy in the Arctic. Conference conclusions can now be found here

3rd annual Geopolitics in the High North international conference in Berlin, (SWP) 22-25 May 2012

“The EU as an Arctic Actor? Interests and Governance Challenges”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            19 June 012

The Geopolitics in the High North program organized its third annual conference in Berlin on 23-25 May. Throughout the three-day conference, scholars and practitioners discussed questions related to the role and interests of the European Union in the Arctic. The main organizer was program partner Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP).


The conference addressed the following topics in various sub sessions: EU interests and governance challenges, the role of the EU and its member states, natural resources, environmental protection, shipping and transport, and security developments.


On the last day of the conference young scholars and program participants presented papers on various issues related to the EU and the Arctic. This ranged from security issues, EU actors and interests in the EU Arctic policy making process, to EU perspectives on seal hunting, and a paper on Arctic infrastructure. Selected papers will be included in a special publication based on the conference.


Bernhard Friess (EU Commission), Barbara Lippert (SWP), Rolf Tamnes (IFS)

The first session gathered Arctic policy-makers to discuss the overall topic of the conference from the point of view of their respective governments and governmental institutions. The policies and priorities of Denmark, Norway, Germany and the EU were presented and discussed. The section addressed a broad range of topics, particularly the issues of governance, the Arctic Council and the question of observers. The presenters gave particular attention to the role of the EU in the region in relation to that of the coastal states and EU member states.


Claus Grube (DK) and Karsten Klepsvik (NOR)


The second session discussed EU Arctic policy, first from a discursive point of view, then by analyzing EU policies towards the Arctic. It was argued that there are various Arctic narratives, that they are often treated as historical explanations, but that there is a need for a methodology to understand narratives. The panelists also noted that the Arctic is a diverse region full of inequalities. Furthermore the section discussed the Commission’s role in EU Arctic policy development and its relations to member states. One argument was that the EU should not strive to develop an Arctic strategy, but a policy instead. The panelists also argued that the EU had something to bring to the table in the region, and that one way in which the EU could impact Arctic developments was to work to make international rules and regulations more effective.


The section also noted that narratives impact our thinking on governance, and three various narratives were outlined: The geopolitical, in which the EU would be marginalized; the geoeconomic, which holds promise of a larger role for the EU; and the geoecological, where the EU, it was argued, did not have a high profile in the Arctic as such, but does things at home that will impact Arctic developments. Finally, it was noted that scholars have a responsibility to reflect upon the influence of narratives, and it was suggested that a new narrative on the relationship between humans and the environment be developed.


Stefan Steinicke and Andreas Maurer (SWP)


Session three addressed the Arctic as a region of natural oil, gas and mineral resources. Scholars and practitioners presented scholarly and industry views on development of and interest in natural resources in the region. The panelists noted that the region was moving up on the agenda of the industry and governments alike, but that in Germany, for instance, the Arctic was after all not more than a third tier issue. The panelists also stressed the challenging conditions for resource extraction in large parts of the region. Moreover, they underlined that there were great differences between various sub regions, questioning the use of the circumpolar Arctic to describe one energy region. The extent of oil and gas resources in the Arctic were discussed. The panel identified Russia was as key to EU energy security in an Arctic perspective, since magnitude of the resource base in the Norwegian parts of the region, it was argued, was uncertain.


The fourth session addressed issues of environmental protection in light of new technological developments, and the role of the EU with regard to pollution as well as its contribution to solving the environmental and climate challenges. Various governance structures were also analyzed with a view to identify how prepared we are to meet the challenges. The question of whether the EU needs to engage in Arctic environmental protection was raised. On the one hand, the answer was negative as it was argued that Arctic environmental protection strategies are well developed.  On the other hand, panelists noted that the EU should in fact engage because many of the environmental challenges in the Arctic stem from outside the region, including the EU. It was pointed to the pioneer role of the EU in combating climate change, and that this policy should extend into the Arctic. Several of the presenters argued that many Arctic problems require non-Arctic solutions, varying across issue areas. One role for the EU, it was suggested, was to raise the level of ambition in various fora. The EU also had proven to play an important role in preventing illegal fisheries in the Arctic through its ports control initiatives. Finally, the discussion suggested that the Arctic should be analyzed with a view to the various layers of governance with relevance to the region: The global, the circumpolar, the regional and the local.


Olav Schram Stokke (FNI) and Antje Neumann (SWP)


The issues of shipping and transport were addressed in the fifth session. The session discussed various regimes for commercial shipping. It was argued that among EU interests were optimal use of navigational rights and freedoms, multilateral regulation of Arctic shipping. From an industry perspective, it was argued that transit voyages such as through the Northern Sea Route were not economically viable for the time being, and that it was almost only destinational shipping that mattered. Constraints on transit voyages included governance, technology and economic factors, although one could significantly shorten down the distance through Arctic transit routes. Other constraints in parts of the Arctic were linked to ice conditions, harsh climate, remoteness and darkness, with following navigation hazards and search and rescue challenges.


Joseph Casanovas (EU Commission) and Burghard Zimmermann (Nordic Yards)


The sixth session adressed security developments in the region. The session included both overall assessments of Arctic security, as well as specific views on particularly EU, British and German security interests and potential contributions. The interest of non-Arctic actors, such as China, were also touched upon. The dominant view was that cooperation rather than conflict will likely prevail in the Arctic in at least the near future, where cooperation will be focused on addressing soft security challenges. Finally, the session saw a discussion of multilateral and bilateral instruments of security cooperation, notably a quite pogniant debate over what roles NATO may play.


Steinicke, Masala Meyer Zum Felde (BAKS)


In the concluding session the panelists were asked to address three questions: How does the EU approach Arctic affairs; what should the EU do in its Arctic policies; and finally, what should the Union not do? The answers included suggestions that the EU could impact Arctic developments through its role as a funder of Arctic research, through its environmental and climate policy, by taking advantage of its market power, by setting the agenda in various for a in and outside the region, and by being clear about its priorities. However, it was also pointed to the challenges that the EU faces in not being a unitary actor, with some member states with their own agendas in the region. Furthermore, the discussion urged analysts to be clear about the geographical scope of analysis when discussing Arctic affairs, and to take various layers into consideration when studying Arctic affairs: the global, the circumpolar, the regional and the local. In addition, EU policies for the region, it was argued, must be seen in relation to other states’ policies and interests in order to get the full view.

©2014-2017 Geopolitics in the High North. All rights reserved

Norwegian Institute for defence Studies CSIS Fritjof Nansen Institute Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik University of Tromsø Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the MFA of Russia University of Oslo Institute of general history Norwegian Defence Research Establishment Econ Pöyry
  The GeoPolitics in the High North research programme is now terminated, and the programme website will be preserved through 2016, but not updated.
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