Thursday April 27, 2017

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REGIONAL JOURNALISM, GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE.

Politics
Foregrounder

Europe takes the stage

Brussels wants its Arctic policy to bolster its profile in the region. There jury is still out on whether it can

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The Foregrounder is the The Arctic Journal’s series of occasional articles offering insight into events and topics that will be in the news in the coming days. If you have a subject you think should be addressed, please contact us.

All eyes will be on Brussels this week, as we await the presentation of the EU’s ‘Arctic Communication’ on Wednesday. Though popularly known as its ‘Arctic policy’ it will live up to its less enthusiastic official name.

The document, according to the European Commission, is intended as a guideline for Brussels as it seeks to bolster its profile in the region. But, even though it will be presented by Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign-policy chief, the topics it will address will stay far away from high politics, choosing instead to focus on climate change, the environment and sustainable development and international co-operation on regional issues.

The more challenging political issues are instead due to be taken up in another forthcoming EU document that will identify Brussels’ foreign-policy priorities.

Much ink has been spilt on the EU’s Arctic communication, including a commentary by the WWF, a conservancy, on our website today. More will certainly be spilled once it is made public. Rather than beating a dead horse, here are several links to some recent articles we think will put our readers in a Brussels state of mind.

Will the EU map a better Arctic future?

Quest for coherence

Arctic spring

Airing their concerns

Editor’s Briefing | The EU

Moving to Denmark, but keeping in the foreign policy area, this week should see the presentation of a report by Peter Taksøe-Jensen, a heavy-hitting diplomat now serving as the ambassador to India, about how Copenhagen can reorganise its foreign-policy strategy.

The report, due by May 1, is is expected to include recommendations that Denmark focus its efforts on foreign-policy issues in areas where the country has a distinct national interest. This is expected to result in a slimming of the foreign service and a decrease of its activities in far-flung corners of the world.

On the other hand, Mr Taksøe-Jensen told the Danish media in January, Copenhagen should be concentrating far more on its near abroad. This, thanks to Greenland’s membership of the Kingdom of Denmark, will include the Arctic.

“Denmark is, together with Greenland and the kingdom, a great Arctic power. We must do even more to ensure that development in the Arctic meets Danish interests. That is why this is something I will propose we look into placing even more effort into,” Mr Taksøe-Jensen told Politiken, a news outlet, in January.

Denmark, in recent intelligence assessments, has noted that Russia and China pose a potential and growing threat. Copenhagen has also lodged a claim to Arctic Ocean sea bed that competes with Moscow's own. Sorting out the matter may take decades. Plenty of time for the Danes to draw up still more foreign policy statements should Mr Taksøe-Jensen's suggestions not suit them.

SEE RELATED: Foreign relations in the Kingdom of Denmark

Our third and final topic of the week is the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 26. The power plant itself still remains a danger to those living in the region, and the radiation it spread to northern Scandinavia remains visible in the soil and in plant and animal species.

Another legacy of the Chernobyl accident was a decision by Scandinavian states to actively monitor Russia’s nuclear power activities, effectively making them an early-warning system for the rest of the world in the event of a new incident.

Chernobyl lingers, but a more immediate source of concern for northern Scandinavia is the threat that the Kola Peninsula could become the site of a new nuclear disaster. The peninsula is home to two nuclear power plants, both within 200km of the Norwegian border (Chernobyl is 1,500km away). The older of these has been operational since the 1970s, and has several times have been slated to be shut down.

The other, though newer, is built using the same graphite cooling system that is blamed as the cause of the Chernobyl disaster.

Other radiation risks are also present. Russia continues to use radioactive batteries in Soviet-era lighthouses, despite the fact that it received help from the Norwegian state to clean up some 1,000 abandoned such power source last year. Moreover, Statens Strålevern, Norway’s nuclear protection authority, has its eye on nuclear waste piling up at Andreyeva Bay, near Murmansk, less than 50km from the Norwegian border.

Another potential concern is the 19 ships, containing 14 reactors and some 17,000 barrels of radioactive waste, that were scuttled off Russia's northern coast during the Soviet era. Some scientists also worry that refuelling of nuclear-powered ships could lead to an accident.

The upside is that Norway and Russia in 1993 reached an agreement that would permit Norwegian authorities to observe Russian nuclear-response exercises. This year, the two countries renewed that agreement by establishing a notification procedure in the event of an accident.

This appears to be the sort of collaboration Moscow values with the West. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in October, suggested that co-operation on nuclear security was in the best interest of both countries. Mutually assured collaboration.