The 2008 Commission communication on the „European Union and the Arctic Region“ was eventually issued on 20.11.2008. It laid the „first layer“ of an EU Arctic Policy by defining scopes of the EU interest toward the region aiming at leading to a structured and coordinated approach to Arctic matters.

The Commission first considered the relevance of the Arctic for the EU and vice versa. In the Commission‘s view, the European Union is inextricably linked to the Arctic region by a unique combination of history, geography, economy and scientific achievements, and that the European Arctic was already the focus of an existing policy, the Northern Dimension. Three EU Member States — Denmark (Greenland)[1], Finland and Sweden — currently have territories in the Arctic, two other Arctic states — Iceland and Norway — are members of the European Economic Area (EEA), and last but not the least, the remaining Arctic states (Canada, Russia and the United States) are EU‘s strategic partners.

Nevertheless, the Commission considered the consequences of climate change effects on the Arctic environment as main rational to act in the region. The vast sea and land spaces of the Arctic region are vital and vulnerable components of the Earth’s environment and climate system. Arctic air temperatures have been increasing twice as much as the global average. Coverage of sea ice, snow cover and permafrost have been decreasing rapidly, triggering strong feed-back mechanisms that accelerate global warming. Accelerated loss from the Greenland ice sheet would raise sea levels rapidly and considerably.

On the other side, the Commission considered that those effects, combined with new technologies will gradually increase access to Arctic living and non-living resources as well as to new navigation routes.

Indeed, recalling that EU policies in areas such as environment, climate change, energy, research, transport and fisheries have a direct bearing on the Arctic, the Commission considered an imperative for the European Union to address environmental challenges and economic opportunities in a coordinated and systematic manner, in cooperation with Arctic states, territories and other stakeholders. The Commission thus proposed several objectives to be undertaken around three main policy objectives:

– Protecting and preserving the Arctic in unison with its population

– Promoting sustainable use of resources

– Contributing to enhanced Arctic multilateral governance

The Commission however concluded that the suggestions contained in the communication are to be considered as a basis for a more detailed reflection, also useful for implementing the EU’s strategic initiatives, including the Integrated Maritime Policy. In addition, the communication should also lead to a structured and coordinated approach to Arctic matters, as the „first layer of an Arctic policy for the European Union“, opening to cooperation perspectives with the Arctic states, helping all of us to increase stability and to establish the right balance between the priority goal of preserving the Arctic environment and the need for sustainable use of resources.

However, the Commission was criticized for being too outspoken regarding “improving Arctic multilateral governance”.

Read the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on „The European Union and The Arctic Region“

[Commission communications are acts – not legally or otherwise binding where the Commission expresses its views on a given subject. They do typically contain or accompany suggestions for action by the EU or even legislative proposals. Communications can be equated to an opening bid by the Commission, which would require to be endorsed by the Council and the Parliament before it could be considered an expression of EU policy]

[1] It should be noticed that the Kingdom of Denmark is considered an Arctic State – a State with territories in the Arctic—by reason of Greenland. Greenland, however, formally withdrew from the European Community in 1985, following the result of a referendum held in 1982. The Kingdom of Denmark – in representing Greenland – is not exactly an EU “ Member State” with territories in the Arctic.

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