While the European Commission is currently working on an update of the EU’s Arctic policy, MEPs are concerned about emerging threats to stability in the area.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been a zone of peace and international cooperation, but in recent years the situation has changed. The region has witnessed an increased Russian military presence, while China aspires to integrate the Arctic’s northern sea route into its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Commission is re-examining the EU’s role in the Artic ahead of an integrated EU policy by the end of 2021. Parliament debated and adopted its own report in October 2021.
The Arctic is home to half a million EU citizens from Finland, Sweden as well as Denmark through Greenland.
“A shift in the perception of the Arctic is urgently needed as an increasingly tense international situation forces us to review our Arctic policy,” said Anna Fotyga (ECR, Poland), author of the Parliament report.
The Arctic will no longer be a remote or inaccessible region, she said, but will in fact play a critical role in Europe’s future.
“The EU’s Arctic strategy must reflect the new security realities in the region, rising geopolitical tensions and new players such as China,” said Fotyga. “Moscow looks at the Arctic in the long term, striving to impose a series of legal, economic and military facts. In this way, it introduces global tensions to a region that we want to preserve as an area of peaceful and fruitful cooperation.”
The report urges Russia to fully respect international law and to be mindful of the consequences of its actions. It also says that potential EU cooperation with Russia in the Arctic must not jeopardise the goals of sanctions against Russian action elsewhere.
License to drill
The increasing role of the Arctic in trade, navigation, environment and climate, issues related to local communities, in particular indigenous people, must also be taken into account, said Fotyga.
There is growing interest in the Arctic and its rare earth mineral resources, which are crucial in the development of new technologies: both green and military.
“Europe must reduce its dependence on China for these minerals and the Arctic should play a central role in the European Raw Materials Alliance,” said the Polish MEP.
MEPs are worried that Russia and China will exploit the region without proper environmental impact assessment. China’s investments in strategic infrastructure projects and efforts to obtain mining rights are of concern as they are reminiscent of how the country operates in other parts of the world. MEPs therefore urge the Arctic states to carry out thorough screenings of foreign investments.
As China is developing icebreaker programmes, the report suggests that EU countries and partner countries could build icebreakers under an EU flag.
Fotyga, who was part of a Parliament delegation to Denmark, Iceland and Greenland in September, said Parliament wants greater EU visibility in the region, greater EU coordination, as well as cooperation with partners committed to respecting international law, developing peaceful cooperation and guaranteeing freedom of navigation.