EU must take Arctic risks seriously

We can, and should contribute more to maintaining peace in the Arctic, says Urmas Paet.

The Arctic | Photo credit: Creative Commons

By Urmas Paet

Urmas Paet (Renew, EE) is the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs

04 May 2017

The melting of the Arctic sea ice has opened a race for the region. Many governments and companies are very interested in new navigation routes as well as new fishing and natural resources.

However, growing competition for access also brings risks to the Arctic, including challenges to security.

In our report on the EU’s Arctic policy, my co-rapporteur Sirpa Pietikäinen and I argue that the EU needs a coherent Arctic strategy with a focus on maintaining a peaceful and stable Arctic and protecting the environment.


The Arctic has long been an area of constructive international cooperation, and has thankfully remained relatively free of global tensions. We want to keep it that way. This is crucial not only for the region itself but also for Europe as a whole. Developments in the Arctic concerning security, energy and the environment affect the security situation in northern Europe and beyond.

The EU’s main goal should therefore be to keep tensions in the Arctic low and to prevent militarisation. For this the European Commission should create an Arctic policy strategy which also deals with the security issues of the region.

The Commission has taken a position on the Arctic many times in the past, but the focus has so far been on topics such as environment and research. These are extremely relevant, but given the increasing geopolitical importance of the Arctic we can no longer ignore the security dimension.

The EU has strong links to the Arctic, as three EU member states - Denmark, Finland and Sweden - are full members of the Arctic Council. Seven other EU members - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK - are observers.

As the EU is also the world’s leading funder in the Arctic, we should seek to have more influence in the region. It would only make sense that the EU could upgrade its status in the Arctic Council to become an observer.

Also, respect for international law in the Arctic is essential and Europe could have a stronger role in promoting effective multilateral arrangements and a global, rules-based order through the strengthening and consistent implementation of relevant international, regional and bilateral agreements and frameworks.

Another important topic we must focus on is the protection of the Arctic environment. The costs of inaction become greater with every day that passes. If we wish to stick to the Paris agreement, immediate emission reductions are necessary.

The responsibility of climate action cannot be in the hands of the Arctic countries alone. Pollution that appears in the Arctic climate is mostly from Asian, North American and European emitters. Emission reduction measures in the EU have an important role in tackling climate change in the Arctic.

In conclusion, the main goal of our report is to show the European Commission what kind of approach we would like the EU to take towards the Arctic. The most important message is that the EU can and should contribute more to maintaining a peaceful Arctic and to protecting its environment.

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