Thursday April 27, 2017

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The EU

Arctic spring

In the coming months, Brussels will release two documents defining its role in the Arctic. A change is in the air
Europe does not stop here (Photo: Miles Sabin)

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When the EU releases the first-ever update of its foreign policy in June, the aim will be to show that Brussels does not react to crises, but instead has a plan for where it is going. According to Nathalie Tocci, who is co-ordinating the efforts to draw up the new policy, the Arctic is one place where it expects to be spending more time.

The update, called the Global Strategy, will be the second iteration of the EU’s foreign policy, and Ms Tocci, addressing an audience in Copenhagen on Wednesday, explained that this is in part due to the fact that unlike its predecessor it would include more than just security issues.

Incorporating soft-power issues, such as science, and infrastructure investment, she said, would give Brussels a wider range of tools for achieving foreign-policy goals, many of which focused on ensuring stable populations in surrounding countries.

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When it comes to the Arctic, Ms Tocci made it clear that the region “would have a role” in EU foreign policy, and that it would continue to pursue full observer status on the Arctic Council.

“Our starting point,” she said, “is that we want to ensure that this is remains an area of co-operation, but our position in what we are doing is to really sort of think about what can the EU do to support, and, in a sense, earn, its place at the table.”

Specific areas where Brussels would like to play a role include environmental protection, maritime safety and supporting Arctic populations.

This last may be greeted with scepticism by those very same populations, given the on-going dissatisfaction among the Inuit over the EU’s ban on seal imports. Although she did not mention the ban specifically, Ms Tocci explained the new foreign policy would seek to accept that “there are other paths to development”.

“The approach,” she said, “has to be one in which we don’t necessarily hold the Holy Grail of truth in terms of what should and should not happen in other parts of the world.”

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Before Ms Tocci’s work is finished, the EU and its intentions in the region will be laid out in an update of the European Commission’s Arctic Communication. The document, popularly known as the EU’s Arctic policy, is due in March, and will explain what Brussels is currently doing in the region and how it would like its role to develop over the next four or five years, according to Terkel Petersen, of the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic corps.

“This is a signal for how we can approach Arctic matters,” he said. “We will basically be saying the same thing as the current policy: the EU is an Arctic player and we need to engage forward in the years to come.”

Most of Brussels’ attention, he said, will continue to be placed on issues like climate change, environmental protection and sustainable development, particularly in the parts of the Arctic that are either within the EU (Sweden and Finland) or which are closely associated with Brussels (Iceland, Norway and Greenland).

He, like Ms Tocci, reiterated that Brussels was aware of the need to involve local populations in is policies in the region.

“The communication is clearly a signal that we believe there will be more activity in the region, but that we need to go cautiously forward.”