EU-Artic Policy: Keeping cool heads

EU policymakers must work to ensure that existing geopolitical frictions aren’t transferred into the Arctic, warns Andreas Schieder.
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By Andreas Schieder

Andreas Schieder (AT, S&D) is a member of the Special Committee on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the European Union, including disinformation (INGE 2)

02 Jun 2021

The Arctic is often portrayed solely as an untouched ice-bound wilderness, where polar bears roam free. However, in reality it is a rapidly developing region with vivid urban cities, universities, dynamic industries and growing tourism.

However, the accelerating effects of climate change and the opening of the northern shipping passage, as well as related developing economic opportunities, have seen the region shifting slowly into the focus of world politics. This can be clearly seen in the renewed interest and ambition of countries such as Russia, China and the US in the region.

Unfortunately, this also creates the chance of conflict. For this reason, it is important not to view the Arctic only through a security policy lens and ensure we don’t transfer existing geopolitical frictions into the region.

“We must ensure that any military activity in the Arctic is carried out in a way that promotes security and stability in the region and is based on multilateral coordination”

The European Union should focus on two main objectives. First, it must take a leading role in ensuring that the Arctic continues to be an area of peaceful international cooperation; one where organisations such as the Arctic Council are strengthened.

Such organisations must continue to play a vital role in securing peaceful and constructive cooperation between the Arctic states, while also functioning as platforms to maintain and continue open dialogue with other global players.

We welcome the fact that the stability of the Arctic has long remained relatively unaffected by conflicts in other areas of the world. We must ensure that any military activity in the Arctic is carried out in a way that promotes security and stability in the region and is based on multilateral coordination.

Therefore we have to call on the Arctic States to reduce any tensions by ensuring the predictability and transparency of any such activity. Here it is vital that the Arctic continues as a low-tension zone, of peace, constructive dialogue and cooperation. 

In addition, we have to forge an ambitious climate action plan, one which addresses the global mitigation of greenhouse gases emissions and adaption to climate change, while also supporting innovative solutions relevant to the Arctic.

The impacts of global climate change are particularly pronounced in the Arctic. The region is warming at three times the rate of the global average. Dramatic changes in ice conditions, sea levels and air temperatures are taking place, resulting in rapid social, environmental, and economic impacts that affect not only the region but will have devastating social and ecological effects worldwide.

Therefore a sustainable and strategic use of the Arctic’s natural resources must be accompanied by the development of key digital and transport infrastructure and the promotion of innovation and economic development. This must be based on the use of renewable energy, while taking into account the needs of the local population.

The EU is inherently part of the Arctic. Climate change, biodiversity, shipping, connectivity and minority rights are issues that concern us all. As European Parliamentarians, we therefore have to take a close interest in the region. What happens in the Arctic effects the EU and vice versa. We must engage with all Arctic partners in a policy dialogue, and should call for intensified cooperation to promote a stable and peaceful development of the whole region. 

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