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Finland's Arctic Strategy


Finland’s Arctic Strategy: important sectors and objectives

 By Lassi Heininen, University of Lapland


“Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region” was adopted by the Finnish Cabinet Committee on the European Union (of the Government) in June 2010. It was published at the same time in Finnish and in September 2010 in English.


Finland is one of the eight Arctic states with significant economic, political and security interests in the Arctic region. It has also been active in international northern and Arctic undertakings like, for example, the initiatives for the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and the EU’s Northern Dimension. Finland has not, however, had an official arctic policy of its own before this comprehensive and ambitious strategy, which is said to focus on external relations. After the five coastal states of the Arctic Ocean had adopted their respective arctic strategies or state policies, Finland ‘woke up’ and started to become interested again in Arctic issues. An ambassador for Arctic issues was named as Finland’s “own northern envoy” in the summer of 2009. Behind this re-awakening was the growing interest in Arctic issues in Finland, particularly as regards economic interests and climate change. As a result, Finland was the first of the non-littoral Arctic states to prepare and roll out a national Arctic strategy.


Finland’s Arctic strategy was drafted by a working group representing all the ministries appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office in February 2010. This governmental activity was accelerated by the report  on “Finland and the Arctic Regions” issued by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament as well as by a general discussion of Finland’s activities in the Arctic in Parliament in November 2009. By April 2010, the Government had appointed an Advisory Board on Arctic Affairs to supervise follow-up work on the Strategy and support, monitor and harmonise Finland’s activities in the Arctic.


At the very beginning, the Strategy document states that Finland is one of the northernmost states of the globe, and that “[A]s an Arctic country, Finland is a natural actor in the Arctic region” (p. 7). The Arctic region is a stable and peaceful area, but, it adds, significant changes are taking place in the region, including climate change and increased transportation. As the global significance of the region grows, so does its global significance. Due to all this, a holistic evaluation on the current situation and circumstances is required, and it is briefly touched upon in the introduction to the Strategy.


In addition to an introduction the document consists of six substantial chapters, conclusions and appendices. The first four chapters, “Fragile Arctic Nature”, “Economic Activities and Know-How”, “Transport and Infrastructure” and “Indigenous Peoples” define Finland’s political objectives in those important sectors. They are followed by a chapter on “Arctic Policy Tools”, which includes policy activities at global and regional levels, bilateral cooperation and funding. The next chapter, “The EU and the Arctic Region”, deals with Finland’s policy objectives on the European Union’s activities in the Arctic. The final chapter presents conclusions and proposes further measures, and the document is rounded off by several informative and illustrative appendices, including maps.


Finland’s policy objectives in the four important sectors are the following:

According to the first sector “Fragile Arctic nature”, “[T]he environmental perspective must be taken into account in all activities in the region” (p. 13), and climate change, pollution and biodiversity be given considerable attention. Climate change is defined as one of the most serious challenges to the Arctic, and increased human activity in the region raises the risk of environmental pollution. Finland’s main objectives here are threefold. First, to draw attention to the special features and risks facing the natural Arctic environment in international organisations; second, to give strong support for Arctic research, the development of regional climate models and the monitoring of the environment as the basis for decision-making; and third, to promote nuclear safety, particularly in the Kola Peninsula. It is also said that Arctic research, regional climate models and long-term monitoring of the environment should feed into decision-making processes, clearly indicating the importance of the interplay between science and politics.


Finland’s objectives in “Economic activities and know-how” are summarised by the slogan “Finnish know-how must be utilised and supported” (p. 18) and are first, to strengthen Finland’s role as an international expert on Arctic issues; second, to make better use of Finnish technological expertise in winter shipping, transport, and shipbuilding; and third, to expand opportunities of Finnish companies to benefit from their Arctic expertise and know-how in the large and mega-large projects of the Barents Region.


Indeed, the Finnish Strategy document emphasizes economic activities, as do most of the other Arctic states’ strategies. It is business-oriented with a strong emphasis on economic activity, coupled with expertise, particularly the utilization of natural resources in the Arctic region. Thus, the Strategy reflects the desire to promote and strengthen Finland’s position as an international expert on Arctic issues and know-how in the fields of winter shipping, sea transport and shipbuilding technology, expertise in forest management, mining and metals industry, and cold-climate research. Although protecting Arctic ecosystems is prioritised, in seems somewhat short-sighted not to give greater emphasis to the promotion and export of Finnish know-how and expertise in environmental technology.


Finland’s objectives in “Transport and Infrastructure” are first to improve business opportunities in the Arctic by developing transport, communication, logistical networks and border-crossings; second, to develop transport routes in the Barents region; and third, to harmonise international regulations concerning the safety of shipping and environmental protection in the Arctic region. Though the development of transport, communication and logistic networks (in Northern Finland and Barents Region) is emphasized, there is an urgent need to ensure safe navigation in northern seas, both in terms of the physical impact of climate change and growth in seagoing transport.


The fourth sector of the Strategy, “Indigenous Peoples” will be realised by facilitating the participation of indigenous peoples in matters to do with their affairs; second, to safeguard the funding needed for efficient participation; and third, to strengthen the status of the Barents Region’s indigenous peoples in the work of the Arctic Council (AC) and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC). Finland intends to continue backing the struggle of the Sámi and other (Northern) indigenous peoples. Absent, however, is a clear objective to ratify the ILO 169 Convention, which is long overdue and important for the Sámi and their self-determination.


Correspondingly, Finland’s Arctic policy tools include first, to emphasise the AC as the primary cooperation forum on Arctic issues; second, to strengthen the BEAC vis-à-vis the EU as the voice of regional actors; third, to strengthen Finland’s representation in the Russian North; and fourth, to use the neighbouring area-cooperation funds to enable Finland’s participation in multinational Arctic organisations. Several levels of international agreement and inter-governmental organization are mentioned, i.e. the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the global level, and the AC, the BEAC and the Nordic Council of Ministers at the regional level.


In declaring the Arctic Council as the main forum for Arctic affairs and policy, and striving to promote international cooperation on Arctic issues at the global and regional level, as well as bilaterally, Finland is taking an important and timely step. Here it is imperative that the mandate of the Council be renegotiated and broadened, as Finland has proposed, so that it can leave its current state of political ‘inability’ behind. The question is, however, if there is enough political will among the eight Arctic states to do that, and further, whether they are ready to engage with relevant non-state northern actors as well as non-Arctic states.


A special chapter on the European Union emphasizes the EU’s recognition of “the importance of the Arctic Region” (p. 45), and that the Union is accepted as a (global) Arctic player. Here, Finland – which could be seen to be promoting itself as an advocate of the EU in Arctic affairs – has the following three objectives: first, for the EU to take account of the special features of the Arctic in its various policy sectors and increase its contributions in the region. The EU’s (emerging) Arctic policy should be developed further, in such a way as to give politics priority over economics; second, the EU is to be approved as an observing member of the Arctic Council; and third, the EU’s Northern Dimension is mentioned as a central tool for emerging Arctic policy in terms of external relations.


This sounds logical from Finland´s point of view, but may involve risks for Finland as an Arctic Council member and more generally in the context of multilateral Arctic cooperation. Behind this lies a divided opinion regarding the role of the EU as an Arctic actor among  some Arctic states and Northern indigenous peoples’ organizations, which is reflected in the somewhat hesitant responses to the Union’s efforts.


Finally, the conclusions of the Strategy include a summary of the above-mentioned objectives and proposals. They also present three general objectives for Finland’s policy in the Arctic (p. 52). First, “Cooperation based on international treaties lays the foundation for Finland’s activities in the Arctic region”; second, “Finland strives to increase international cooperation in Arctic issues at global and regional levels and in bilateral relations”; and third, “Finland considers it important that the EU develop its Arctic policy”, and proposes to establish an EU Arctic Information Centre to Finland.


All in all, Finland’s Arctic Strategy covers most of the features of a modern strategy document in adopting a holistic approach. It can also be seen as reflecting and responding to the recent significant and multi-functional environmental and geopolitical change(s) in the Arctic Region, in its worldwide approach to the Arctic. It has neither clear priorities nor priority areas, though there is an apparent preference for economic activities including transport, infrastructure and know-how, and, on the other hand, general objectives for international cooperation on Arctic issues based on international treaties.


See also Lassi Heininen, “Arctic Strategies and Policies – Inventory and Comparative Study”. Northern Research Forum & University of Lapland, Akureyri, Iceland, August 2011 ( /Arctic Strategies).

Some useful links:

Finland's strategy for the Arctic region (in Finnish) (in English)
Press release from Finland's MFA
Foreign Minister Stubb proposes organizing a highest level Arctic conference
Barents observer: Finland: Arctic strategy with Barents Dimension
• Seminar-report: Finland's Arctic strategy and the EU, The Finninsh Institute of International Affairs, August 2010

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