Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Photo: Council of the European Union
In a recent article on the European Parliament’s (EP) latest resolution on an “EU strategy for the Arctic”,1)European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2014 on the EU strategy for the Arctic (2013/2595(RSP The Arctic Institute indicated that the Council of the European Union (hereinafter “Council”) may issue another conclusion on Arctic issues in May 2014.
It was argued that while the European Commission (hereinafter “Commission”), the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EP have been considerably Arctic-active over the last six to seven years, it continues to be the Council (and the EU’s Member States, respectively) that “lack[s…] a certain interest to put the Arctic on the EU policy table”.
Although currently occupied with more urgent issues affecting the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood, the Council, however, adopted its latest conclusion on the Arctic, entitled “Council conclusions on developing a European Union Policy towards the Arctic Region”2)www.consilium.europa.eu/media/28342/142554.pdf in its 3312th Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting in Brussels on 12 May 2014.
Unsurprisingly, the adopted conclusion does not entail any obvious blunt statements that could generate controversies between the EU and some Arctic actors, in particular Canada, Greenland, the Russian Federation or the United States. In general, the Council welcomes the joint Commission/EEAS’s and the EP’s most recent Arctic-related policy steps, and highlights the EU’s need to actively engage with its Arctic partners in order “to assist in addressing the challenge of sustainable development in a prudent and responsible manner”. In that regard, the Council recalls the EU’s financial contributions and investments to Arctic research and regional, cross-border cooperation over the last seven to eight years. The conclusion indicates EU-related regional action should be further strengthened by supporting “research (…) to address the challenges of environmental and climate change (…); [and] intensifying the EU’s constructive engagement with Arctic states”.
The Council furthermore re-recognises the Arctic Council (AC) as the primary body for circumpolar regional cooperation, and explicitly urges Canada to resolve the still-pending issue of the EU’s AC observer status.3)On this issue see, The Arctic Institute, In our Out? The Symbolism of the EU’s Arctic Council Bid The conclusion mentions the “current positive momentum in EU-Canada relations”, most likely referring to the recently concluded Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. One may wonder why Canada’s Kiruna decision,4)At the AC’s 8th Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna (Sweden) on 15th May 2013, the EU’s bid for AC observer status was put on hold. Although the application was received “affirmatively”, its final decision was deferred until a final solution on the pending issue between the EU and Canada regarding regulation 1007/2009 on trade in seal products has been found. at least publically, hasn’t been part of the bargaining during the CETA negotiations. Yet, it seems that both parties were intent on separating the ban on commercial seal products dispute from the larger (and, for the EU, more significant) CETA-talks.
Additionally, the Council supports the establishment of an EU Arctic Information Centre at the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi (Finland), and the continuous development of the so-called “Polar Code” within the framework of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In that regard, the conclusion reiterates the importance of respecting international law principles, especially the freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage. Upholding such a position is particularly relevant when considering the Russian and Canadian legal perspectives on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and the Northwest Passage (NWP), respectively; however, it is only a written expression formulated in an official EU document. In a last point, the Council requests the Commission and the EEAS to “present proposals for the further development of an integrated and coherent Arctic Policy by December 2015”, and explicitly highlights the need to “ensure effective synergies between the various EU funding instruments in the Arctic region”.
What remains of the Council’s latest Arctic document?
It is the DNA of any researcher to scrutinize, analyze and discuss policy documents of personal scientific interest. Over the last years, The Arctic Institute has proven to be rather critical when analyzing the EU’s Arctic policy steps. With regard to the Council’s most recent document, however, one can conclude the rather obvious: it seems that the EU (and its respective institutions) is continuing with its step-by-step Arctic policy approach, flavored with a learning-by-doing method that is slowly correcting the EU’s first clumsy Arctic steps. The Council’s conclusion seems to be rather straightforward, does not provide anything new to the debate and aims to be non-controversial at all. In that regard, the conclusion gives rather little leeway for proper critical analysis. Nevertheless, it is an essential step in the EU’s Arctic policy formulation process.
Contrary to the EP, the Council does not mention the potential controversial term “strategy” but insists on the term “Arctic Policy” (short for “European Union Policy towards the Arctic Region”). “Strategy” has rather been used by the EP and has hardly been part of Council or Commission/EEAS official vocabulary. Many have questioned if the EU should actually have a single, overarching Arctic strategy or policy at all.5)See for instance, The Arctic Institute, Towards an Active Role for the EU in the Arctic? Especially against the background of the strong bilateral and regional ties that the Union already has with various Arctic actors, it would seem more appropriate to speak of single EU-Arctic policies in order to substantiate the often-outlined EU’s Arctic policy aims.6)Kathrin Keil & Andreas Raspotnik (2014), “The European Union’s Gateways to the Arctic,” European Foreign Affairs Review 19, Nr. 1: 119 However, an analogue to its Eastward- and Southward-looking Neighbourhood Policy, a coherent, single Arctic policy – if finalized – could give the EU a stronger, conceptual foundation when dealing with Arctic states.
Yet, defining “coherency” is a challenge. The quest for “coherency” (“of an integrated and coherent Arctic Policy”) is still present but has not yet come into sharp relief. Coherency is particularly relevant for the EU – a multi-level governance system with competences shared between various EU institutions and EU Member States – and its cross-border policy challenges. Coherency is thus an explicit aim in the EU’s treaty documents.7)The English version of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) uses the term “consistency”, while versions in other European languages refer to “coherency”. At the same time, the EU is characterised by discrepancies between the different institutions and its Member States, which have become obvious when analysing previous Arctic policy documents. In addition, Brussels is relatively far-removed both physically and mentally from the Arctic, a fact that sometimes has caused environmental concerns, which do not match the Arctic’s reality, to dominate the debate. Yet, a particular strength of the EU policy-making system is the combination of a multitude of interests and actors, both nationally and institutionally, which can scrutinize and engage in the policy-making progress. Compared to the opaque policy-making in some of the Arctic littoral states’ foreign ministries, the EU’s approach at least inspires debate and participation.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2014 on the EU strategy for the Arctic (2013/2595(RSP|
|3.||↑||On this issue see, The Arctic Institute, In our Out? The Symbolism of the EU’s Arctic Council Bid|
|4.||↑||At the AC’s 8th Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna (Sweden) on 15th May 2013, the EU’s bid for AC observer status was put on hold. Although the application was received “affirmatively”, its final decision was deferred until a final solution on the pending issue between the EU and Canada regarding regulation 1007/2009 on trade in seal products has been found.|
|5.||↑||See for instance, The Arctic Institute, Towards an Active Role for the EU in the Arctic?|
|6.||↑||Kathrin Keil & Andreas Raspotnik (2014), “The European Union’s Gateways to the Arctic,” European Foreign Affairs Review 19, Nr. 1: 119|
|7.||↑||The English version of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) uses the term “consistency”, while versions in other European languages refer to “coherency”.|