EU Looks North to Arctic for Maritime Shipping, Resources at the Frozen Frontier, More

by Georgi Ivanov

In 2013, the Arctic Council admitted six new observer states in its structures, but the European Union bid didn’t get through. The EU has three members who are also members of the Arctic Council: Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Additionally, a number of European countries serve as observers: France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain, United Kingdom and Italy. The prevalent reality, therefore, is that Europe’s most influential countries have either a direct or an indirect connection to the Arctic, and this critical mass has to be used for the development of a viable EU stance and policy on the region.


The EU’s Arctic policy is a work in progress, built around three main areas: a) protecting and preserving the Arctic in unison with its population, b) promoting the sustainable use of resources, and c) international cooperation.


The primary focus on these three areas accents scientific research and environmental monitoring, socio-economic development and the security of shipping. As a politico-economic union, the EU’s primary interest in the region is economic, as 90% of its trade also happens via maritime routes. Formats of cooperation include using the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas as a foundation for Arctic relations, expanding the prominence of the Arctic Council, or an ad-hoc multilateral intergovernmental arrangement that would negotiate the scope of EU involvement in the Arctic.


Much of the EU’s contribution to the Arctic is in terms of monitoring and scientific research, most significantly in terms of Space-based monitoring and the use of the European Space Agency’s resources to both manufacture and launch satellites for the purpose, as well as analyzing the data that is received. The information is extremely valuable not just for scientific forecasting and understanding how the Arctic environment changes, but also with respect to real-time weather forecasting, shipping access, and investment planning, among others.


The larger rationale for including the EU as a player in the Arctic is because it is a net energy importer and a large exporter of goods and services. Already, it is estimated that 13% of oil supplies and 30% of undiscovered gas supplies are above the Arctic Circle. As recent events in Ukraine, Syria and North Africa demonstrate, the security of energy supplies is very much reliant on the geopolitical and political stability of a region – a fact that gives the Arctic yet another advantage in the way of considering further EU involvement.


As mentioned prior, 90% if EU trade happens via maritime routes. On economic rationale alone, shipping via the Mediterranean, Suez and Indian Ocean on the way to Asia is a route that is up to 30% longer than shipping through the Northern Sea Route. Even part-time access in the near future, with a longer-term perspective on year-round access to the Arctic will lower prices along the entire supply chain and increase the business efficiency relations. In this perspective, it is not coincidental that India, Japan, South Korea and China have all become observers of the Arctic Council, as the benefits of access are global, not just local.


Already, much of Europe is involved in Arctic affairs on the state level, as well as the intergovernmental level. A coordinated EU policy on the Arctic would not only streamline and canalize interests, but also improve Europe’s overall capacity to be a productive member in the region’s politics. On a larger scale, the benefits and costs of the Arctic have a global impact and they can only be addressed through a deep horizontal and vertical effort, in order to preserve the sustainability of the Arctic.


The next article will address how the EU can help in ensuring the sustainable development of the Arctic, with an extra-regional dimension to the problem.

Georgi Ivanov is a political scientist with a focus in political economy and the governance of emerging geopolitical environments. His expertise is on polar governance, and he currently works as a contributing researcher for Wikistrat and Squawkonomics. For more information, respectively: and

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