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Athena Tacet

Athena Tacet is a journalist and editor specializing in foreign affairs, human rights and socio-political issues. Her writings have appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Huffington Post, Slate Magazine, and Embassy Magazine, a weekly Canadian foreign policy newspaper. She holds a BA in political science, a Certificate in Modern Arabic language and culture, a Graduate diploma in journalism and undertook a Master's degree in public policy at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her interests include the EU foreign policy, issues related to immigration and asylum policies, as well as nationalism and identity politics in Europe.
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The European Union, which started a process of legitimizing itself as an Arctic actor, and created a basis for its own foreign policy in the Arctic in 2008, was once again denied the status of full Arctic Council observer.

Author: Athena Tacet


In late April this year, the ninth Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting took place in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada to discuss issues pertaining to the Arctic region, including finding a balance between economic development and sustainability.

The European Union, which started a process of legitimizing itself as an Arctic actor, and created a basis for its own foreign policy in the Arctic in 2008, was once again denied the status of full Arctic Council observer.

After settling the dispute with Canada over the 2010 import ban on Canadian indigenous seal products, the EU received this year the backing of Canada for its application as a full observer at the Arctic Council. Russia, a strong opponent to the EU’s involvement in the Arctic, vetoed the application as a result of last year’s sanctions on Russia over its involvement in Crimea.

This was not the first time that the EU’s role in the Arctic was questioned. Following the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia had already argued that: “The EU is as dependent on the Arctic as the Arctic is on the EU. It therefore cannot expect to be given special concessions, and we don’t see the apparent need for a European policy for the Arctic.”

Both examples clearly illustrate the external challenges that the EU has been facing in developing a comprehensive Arctic policy, as well as establishing itself as a legitimate actor in the debate over resource extraction, fisheries, shipping and tourism in the region.

Increasingly concerned over the impact of climate change on ice melting, energy security and economic development, the EU as well as a wide range of non-Arctic states and international organizations, including NATO, China, Japan and South Korea, have expressed a rapidly growing interest in the Arctic region and the tremendous amount of natural resources it has to offer.

The EU is highly dependent on crude oil and gas imports from Russia and Norway, which originate from onshore fields located inside the Arctic Circle. Russia and Norway account respectively for more than 30% and 20% of the EU’s natural gas imports.

The future discovery of new fields could supply the energy needs of the EU, which are only expected to increase in the future. At the same time, there has been an ongoing debate among the European institutions on the necessity to ban Arctic oil and gas production, highlighting the difficulty for the EU to find a clear balance between environmental concerns and geopolitical and economic interests.

Energy-related issues and foreign policy have often been associated with matters of national sovereignty. As a result, it is extremely difficult for the EU to achieve unanimous decisions on foreign policy matters, including the implementation of a cohesive Arctic policy.

A case in point would be that the EU’s interests mostly tend to be environmental in nature taking into account the rights of indigenous populations in the region, and focusing on sustainability and development, as well as protection over exploitation, an argument that may very well go against the policy of a member-state like Denmark.

The EU is already actively present in the Arctic. One example is its extensive research in the region. Another one is the Northern Dimension policy signed with Russia, Norway and Iceland, which tackles Arctic-related issues such as nuclear safety, the environment and natural resources. The EU also counts three Arctic Council states among its members (Denmark, Sweden, Finland), with Denmark having a special legal status as an Arctic coastal state.

Whatever hopes the EU had in expanding its zone of influence were put to an abrupt halt when Iceland withdrew its application for membership earlier this year. Iceland is part of the European Economic Area and cooperates with the European Union on various matters, but the country’s EU membership would have reinforced the geographical argument according to which the EU should be recognized as a legitimate actor in the Arctic debate.

Overall, the EU’s interest in the Arctic region and necessity to be recognized as an actor in the debate is undeniable. However, its clearly flawed foreign policy is once again hindering its ability to act as a cohesive regional force where national interests seem to prevail over the bloc’s objectives.

 

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Athena Tacet is a journalist and editor specializing in foreign affairs, human rights and socio-political issues. Her writings have appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Huffington Post, Slate Magazine, and Embassy Magazine, a weekly Canadian foreign policy newspaper. She holds a BA in political science, a Certificate in Modern Arabic language and culture, a Graduate diploma in journalism and undertook a Master's degree in public policy at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her interests include the EU foreign policy, issues related to immigration and asylum policies, as well as nationalism and identity politics in Europe.

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