With The EU Poised, The Arctic Awaits- Evolving Rulesets and Emerging Polar Industries

by Georgi Ivanov

The last piece in this series focused on the EU’s Arctic policy and the justifications on why Brussels could be an active player in the region, significantly so because some northern European countries overlap EU with Arctic Council membership, and others participate as observers on it. The Council is primarily concerned with areas in socio-economic and sustainable development, environmental protection, as well as search and rescue, but largely avoids matters of security and national sovereignty. In the areas that the Council is involved in, however, the EU can be a worthwhile partner, especially in environmental protection and socio-economic development. As the EU is already a littoral Arctic actor via Denmark, the fact makes it a consequential political player in the region.

Socio-economic convergence and social inclusion in the EU happens via a complex grant system – thematic structural funds – aimed at general portfolio areas, such as administrative capacity, environmental protection and infrastructure. The applications for project approval come from member states, and any level of government or private sector entity can apply for funding along a thematic line along the corresponding criteria. Environmental protection is one of the most complex areas of EU policy, because it covers a network of ecologically sensitive regions along all member states, and enforcing against development encroachment, illegal logging, poaching or pollution are among the ongoing activities that member states need to address, often with EU funding.

Socio-economic convergence takes on a more fundamental perspective in the EU, in terms of creating local and strategic infrastructure, as well as building capacity for the inclusion of marginalized regions and groups in the mainstream economy. These initiatives might include subsidized job creation programs, education programs and the implementation of employment strategies on the national level.

There are several major sectors that can benefit from settling the rules of Arctic access and membership: primarily, shipbuilding for ice-strengthened vessels, oil and gas exploration companies, mining companies, and port infrastructure companies. When it comes to new technologies, developing the Arctic can present new opportunities for European companies to test environmentally-friendly technologies for power generation, emission capture, waste management and construction methods with a smaller ecological footprint. With a more predictable environment and greater involvement would also benefit credit-lending institutions and could spur the growth of grassroots business support development in indigenous communities to service large-scale infrastructure projects. In sum, formal EU entry into Arctic affairs carries with it a powerful value-added economic chain, from which not only Europe, but the wider Arctic will benefit.

On the jurisdictional level, what could turn the EU into an Arctic player are the changes in the 2010 Lisbon Treaty, allowing the EU to sign treaties as a single entity, alongside its support for UNCLOS, which serves as the foundation for negotiations in the Arctic.

In an overarching perspective, the EU’s reform into a bloc with a single foreign policy couples with its multilevel governance model to offer support and policy-making with direct connections to the local level along the structural fund model. As a number of European countries already have roles in the Arctic, some of which are EU members, the influence of the Union could help with bolstering their respective influence and capacity to be constructive members of the Arctic space. While it is unlikely that the EU will touch sensitive areas relating to security and defence initially, socio-economic and sustainable development, monitoring and scientific research are areas in which the EU contribution can be significant and influential in a very positive way. However, it will be up to the next round of admissions review by the Arctic Council to determine whether Europe’s bid to enter a region, of which it is a part, will become a reality.

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