Iceland's probable accession to the EU, new Arctic oil and other natural resource opportunities, and the effects of pollution, notably on sea-level changes in Member States, all strengthen the case for placing the High North at the top of the EU policy agenda and pushing for greater EU involvement in the Arctic Council, said MEPs on Thursday.
Despite having three Member States with Arctic territory (Denmark, Finland and Sweden), the EU still lacks a common and ambitious policy towards the High North. In a resolution by Michael Gahler (EPP, DE), MEPs propose basic guidelines for striking a balance between environmental concerns (global warming, vulnerable natural resources) and not being left out of the race to exploit natural resources such as oil, gas and fisheries.
The resolution recognizes that the effects of the melting ice are not only displacing indigenous populations and threatening their way of life, but also creating new opportunities for economic development and for the opening of new faster and safer sea routes in the Arctic.
Preventing another BP
Research suggests that about one fifth of the world's undiscovered hydrocarbon resources may lie in this region. Yet it is the responsibility of Arctic states to ensure that oil international companies use the technology necessary to prevent oil spills like the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year, MEPs warn. They call for an international ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil on vessels operating in the Arctic, like that which is to apply to the Antarctic from August 2011, and ask the EU to impose a strict regime limiting soot emissions and the use of heavy fuel oil by vessels calling at EU ports prior to voyages through Arctic waters.
An alternative resolution by the GUE/NGL group calling for a moratorium on industrial exploitation of the Arctic region for environmental reasons was rejected.
Participating in the Arctic Council
MEPs stress the benefits that would flow from Iceland's joining the Union, which would make the EU an Arctic coastal entity and consolidate its presence in the Arctic Council (AC), a key intergovernmental forum whose members already include the USA and the Russian Federation. Denmark, Sweden and Finland are the three EU Member States represented in the AC. The EU currently attends the Council an ad hoc observer, a status which MEPs would like to see turned into that of "permanent observer", so as to enhance the EU's presence in an international organization which plays a privileged role in managing the region.
Rights of Sami people
The need to protect the right of the Sami people (the only EU indigenous population, living in the Arctic regions of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia), to unpolluted natural resources and to involve them directly in policy-making for their region are highlighted by MEPs, who are particularly concerned to promote culture and language rights of Finno-Ugric people in Northern Russia.