With the Arctic becoming an increasing priority around the globe, the start of the Finnish EU presidency, fresh from chairing the Arctic Council and Council of Europe is ideally timed, writes Marja Rislakki.
When we took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU in July, we were able to hit the ground running.
As recently as May, we had just finished chairing two other important international organisations, namely the Council of Europe and the Arctic Council.
The Arctic Council, a high-level body that brings together the governments and people of eight Arctic nations - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US - was founded in 1996.
It has accomplished a great deal in fields such as environmental protection, research and transport.
Chairing the Arctic Council was therefore the perfect preparation for our efforts to promote Arctic affairs in the EU.
This is Finland’s third EU Presidency. During its first in 1999, as a new Member State, Finland was determined to highlight the interests of its own neighbourhood.
It helped launch the Northern Dimension, a joint policy between the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland. After twenty years, the Northern Dimension is still going strong.
I am proud of everything it has achieved, particularly when it comes to environmental protection, including in the Arctic.
We are also lucky to be able to build on recent breakthroughs.
In 2016, High Representative Federica Mogherini issued a joint communication on ‘An Integrated European Union Policy for the Arctic’, to which the Council responded with a set of Conclusions, highlighting a number of key themes, many of which concern the safety, sustainability and prosperity of this vital region.
Similar priorities were recognised by the European Parliament in its own 2017 Resolution on this topic.
Finland has noted with approval the extent to which the EU’s interest in the Arctic has developed over the past three years.
I would personally like to commend the work of Marie-Anne Coninsx, the EU’s Ambassador at Large for the Arctic, whose tireless efforts here in Brussels and around the globe have made such a difference.
Looking forward, it is clear that an active role from the new Commission, from all relevant DGs and from the European External Action Service (EEAS), will be essential in ensuring that our commitments in the Arctic do not reach a dead end, but rather are embodied in ambitious policies, concrete actions and constructive cooperation.
The Arctic is no longer an unknown hinterland; instead, it has risen to prominence as a region of great geopolitical, environmental and economic importance.
“Finland has noted with approval the extent to which the EU’s interest in the Arctic has developed over the past three years”
Rich natural resources, combined with a strategic location and particular vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, have pushed the Arctic to the forefront of many discussions and processes.
Tragically, the Arctic is the most important barometer of climate change.
North of the Arctic Circle, temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average. Perched at the top of our shared planet, the Arctic brings together a constellation of international partners in a unique situation.
In the Arctic, we are compelled to look beyond the EU bubble and see the global picture.
Finland and Sweden, and the Kingdom of Denmark with the Faroe Islands and Greenland, may be the only Member States that have a geographical presence there, but the EU also has two important Arctic land neighbours; Norway and Russia.
In addition, we cooperate closely with three other partners; Iceland, the US and Canada.
We must also remember that the European Arctic is also home to an indigenous people, the Sámi.
The EU is a global player, and the Arctic is a global entity, not merely a region.
This is another reason why the EU needs to be active in Arctic affairs and continue its dialogue with other global heavyweights, including China, Russia and the US.
The new Finnish government, led by Prime Minister Antti Rinne, is strongly committed to pursuing Arctic cooperation and to advancing the EU’s Arctic policy.
The new government also intends to update Finland’s national Arctic Strategy. The Arctic looms particularly large in the environmental and climate context.
“The EU is a global player, and the Arctic is a global entity, not merely a region. This is another reason why the EU needs to be active in Arctic affairs”
We have a duty to fi d sustainable solutions for this fragile region, including when it comes to economic activities, transportation and the use of natural resources.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to take a holistic view and integrate the relevant policies.
In November, Finland will host a high-level event in Helsinki focusing on regional cooperation in the north.
This will also be an opportunity for us to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Northern Dimension.
There will also be a high-level meeting of the EU Arctic Forum in Umeå, Sweden, on 3-4 October.
It goes without saying that the European Parliament is also a key factor in this policy area.
Finland looks forward to cooperating with the new members of the European Parliament who will begin their work in July.
We hope the Arctic will feature prominently in the work of the new assembly.
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