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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

Defining an interest: the European Union and the High North

A study of coherence in European Foreign Policy

by Ida Holdhus, former Master scholarship holder Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies


Ongoing developments in the Arctic have attracted the attention of a variety of actors and states. In addition to the five coastal states; Canada, the U.S., Russia, Denmark and Norway, large external actors, such as China, NATO and the EU have also stated their interest in the region. Whereas a considerable amount of research has been conducted on the relations between the coastal states, little has yet been written about interested external actors. Considering that these stakeholders might attempt to influence the future of the region, there is a need for knowledge about their Arctic ambitions.

The EU is an interested stakeholder that considers Arctic issues important enough to desire a standalone and coherent Arctic policy. Studying the policy process might reveal information about European foreign policy-making, while also providing fundamental knowledge about the EU as an actor in the north. This paper therefore sets out to study challenges and opportunities that the EU is facing in developing a coherent policy. It firstly locates Arctic issues within the European policy process before studying intra and inter institutional relations between the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. Underpinning the study is an eclectic analytical framework consisting of Foreign Policy Analysis, Multi-level Governance and the concept of coherence in foreign policy.


Recognizing the inherent tensions between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism in EU policy-making, preliminary findings suggest that firstly, the EU will have to address issues of member state positions. Of particular interest is Denmark (Greenland) which must reconcile its roles, interests and responsibilities as both an Arctic coastal state and an EU member state. Secondly, there are indications suggesting different perceptions and levels of ambition among the institutions. The European Parliament is particularly interesting in this regard. Its role in both internal and foreign policy has increased with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.  Considering that Arctic issues touch on both internal and external EU policies, the role of the Parliament in shaping the EU’s approach towards the Arctic should therefore not be underestimated. Furthermore, there are indications suggesting that the Parliament would like a somewhat more ambitious EU involvement in the Arctic than what is preferred by the Commission and the Council. The two latter institutions have responded with a ‘reality check’, indicating the appropriate level of ambition and the limits of an EU Arctic policy.


As a final remark, it is important to remember that the EU Arctic policy is a policy in the making. The final policy will be a product of the various forces present in European policy-making as well as future developments in the Arctic.

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