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Switzerland will seek to become a permanent observer to the Arctic Council when the circumpolar organisation gathers for its biennial summit in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in April.
The country’s application is the culmination of its “long-lasting commitment to peaceful international co-operation and to research excellence”, material submitted by the Swiss foreign ministry states.
Switzerland, the documents continue, has “a long tradition of co-operation, especially in the field of science, with all the member states of the Arctic council”.
Although the Arctic Council, head-quartered in Tromsø, Norway, reserves full membership to the eight states with territory inside the Arctic Circle, the organisations ranks include several other types of participants.
Should Switzerland’s application be approved by member states, it would join a list of 12 non-Arctic countries already approved as permanent observers.
Observers are permitted to attend council meetings and are expected to contribute to the work of the organisation. Organisation guidelines, however, make it clear that they must not overshadow the presence of member states.
This was something the Switzerland said it would respect.
“With Switzerland’s candidature for observer status to the Arctic Council, Switzerland recognises the common responsibility of all interested states, both Arctic and non-Arctic, to ensure peaceful co-operation in the Arctic region and to preserve the environment for future generations.”
To be approved, candidates must meet political and financial requirments, and be deemed able to contribute to the technical work of the council. In addition, candidates’ policies towards the Arctic are also taken into consideration. For example, in 2013, the EU, which had ran afoul of some members for its 2010 ban on seal imports, saw itself accepted only on a conditional basis. Meanwhile, other powers, such as China and India, were let in as permanent observers.
In its application, Switzerland singled out its stewardship of environmental causes, the similarity of its alpine environment to the conditions in the Arctic and support for indigenous rights as arguments in favour of it being let into the Arctic club.
“Over the past decade, Swiss researchers have participated in some 50 international Arctic projects involving several Arctic Council member states.”
As part of Switzerland’s Arctic research activities, its Federal Institute of Technology has operated Swiss Camp, 70km from Ilulissat, Greenland since the 1990s. In the early 2000s data it had collected helped confirm that global temperatures were rising and that ice sheets were receding.