Oops, they’ve done it again: the European Union’s Arctic policy update in 2021



Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, presenting the EU’s new Arctic policy (note: this is not a strategy) on October 13, 2021 in Brussels. Photo: European Commission

Don’t worry, this won’t be a suggestion to join the #FreeBritney movement, nor a recommendation to watch Britney’s latest documentary (or maybe you should). This will simply be an analysis of the latest Arctic policy update of the European Union, the Joint Communication on A stronger EU commitment to a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic , published by the European Commission and the High Representative (HR) of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy on October 13, 2021.

In this analysis, which can be downloaded below, we offer you our thoughts on this recent development. The European Union presents itself as a more secure actor in the Arctic, taking stock of its economic and environmental impacts in the region, while retaining the previous definition of the scope of its Arctic engagement. This includes climate and environment, development issues in the European Arctic, as well as international cooperation within and relevant to the region. At the same time, however, one of the key objectives of the new policy statement is to position the EU’s engagement in the Arctic within the landscape of the European Green Agreement (EDG) and the new auto -representation of the EU as a geopolitical actor (the van der Leyen commission being presented as a “geopolitical commission”, for example). Since Arctic policy is first and foremost a compilation and manifestation of the EU’s broader political agendas, it is these that largely determine the content of EU Arctic documents, including the communication of the EU. 2021. The influence of Arctic concerns on these larger settings is minor at best. Among the consequences of the new comprehensive EU policy is a strong focus on the development of Arctic resources, discouraging those who contradict global climate goals (opening up new hydrocarbon operations) and encouraging those who support the transition (critical and important minerals). In particular, the new proposal for a moratorium on hydrocarbon exploration is controversial, already causing negative reactions among many states, actors and stakeholders in the Arctic. The proposal from the Commission and the EEAS seems to designate the Arctic as a resource region, although the message could mainly be aimed at preventing all – or as much as possible – new hydrocarbon projects. There is also no distinction between oil and gas, while the latter is still discussed, including in European Union decision-making circles, as a transitional fuel. The presence of the idea of ​​non-new hydrocarbons is mainly the manifestation of the new level of confidence that EU officials have chosen to project. While problematic in many ways, there is certainly an intrinsic value in clearly stating that the fight against global climate change requires a determined policy, which may damage some international relations and abandon some development paths, especially before that the first steps are taken.


We also examine whether Arctic policy could be seen as a testing ground for EU foreign policy in general. First, the Arctic could in principle offer opportunities to experiment with more effective bridges between internal and external actions. Indeed, the authors believe that the EU’s Arctic engagement portfolio and its tangible influence on Arctic affairs (including, but not limited to, issues mentioned in Arctic policy documents) include mainly the Arctic implications of EU internal policies and actions. Second, the EU is positioning itself as a more outspoken and confident geopolitical actor in the Arctic context. It is unclear how this would reframe the EU’s interactions with Arctic states and other stakeholders – so far often supported by the EU taking a supporting role for the actors’ own objectives. Arctic when they align with those of the Union. What if that would ultimately make the EU a more effective Arctic actor? Even if partially bearing fruit in the Arctic, such confident interaction with international actors, based on climate and strategic autonomy agendas, may not work in other areas and directions of foreign policy in the EU.

By the way, it looks like Britney has fans in Finland too.


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