The EU works to ensure prosperity and sustainability for the Arctic inhabitants, many of whom are also EU citizens. It shares the responsibility for the protection of the Arctic environment for current and future generations whilst promoting the sustainable development of the region, and ensuring the livelihood of inhabitants, including Indigenous peoples.
In a changing geopolitical landscape, the EU supports maintaining a peaceful and constructive dialogue and cooperation addressing common areas of interest with all the actors in the region.
The EU pursues an Arctic policy addressing the many interrelated challenges in the region, a significant part of them due to rapid climate change and its impacts. Climate change is the most comprehensive threat to the Arctic, increasing different vulnerabilities across the region. The EU is playing its full part in addressing this issue, for example through its new climate law and the “Fit for 55” package, and different proposals outlined in its Arctic policy.
The EU’s Arctic policy was first defined in 2008, and updated in 2012 and 2016 through the Joint Communication on an integrated European Union policy for the Arctic. The present Joint Communication “A stronger EU engagement for a greener, peaceful and prosperous Arctic”, by the European Commission and the European External Action Service reflects its most recent update, focusing on three main pillars:
- supporting the inclusive and sustainable development of the Arctic regions to the benefit of its inhabitants and future generations, focusing on the needs of Indigenous peoples, women and the young, and investing in future-orientated jobs and the blue economy
- addressing the ecological, social, economic and political challenges arising as a consequence of climate change and take strong action to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, making the Arctic more resilient, through environmental legislation, concerted action on black carbon and permafrost thaw, and by pushing for oil, coal and gas to stay in the ground, including in Arctic regions
- contributing to maintaining peaceful and constructive dialogue and cooperation in a changing geopolitical landscape, to keep the Arctic safe and stable, by raising Arctic matters in its external contacts, intensifying regional cooperation and developing strategic foresight on emerging security challenges
Engagement with Arctic stakeholders
The European Commission regularly organises high-level events on the Arctic, including the EU Arctic Forum and the Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Dialogue. The EU also actively takes part in the work of the Arctic Council and its working groups, and in the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation (BEAC); it participates in major international Arctic events, and regularly discusses areas of common concern in the Artic in its dialogues with international partners. The stakeholder consultation process organised in 2020 also provided useful input into the new joint communication.
Agreement to prevent unregulated high seas fisheries in the central Arctic Ocean
The agreement signed in 2018 by the EU and nine countries (Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America), entered into force in 2021. The aim of this agreement is to prevent unregulated fishing in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean through the application of precautionary conservation and management measures as part of a long-term strategy to safeguard healthy marine ecosystems and to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks. The EU’s contribution to the successful implementation of the agreement is also an important action under the EU’s international ocean governance agenda.
The EU is working to implement the actions set out in the new joint communication. Some of the proposals, such as the opening of a European Commission office in Nuuk, Greenland, could be implemented as early as 2022.
The EU plans to continue and reinforce its engagement in the Arctic as well as with local, regional, national and pan-Arctic stakeholders, for example through future editions of the EU Arctic Forum the Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Dialogue.
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An integrated European Union Policy for the Arctic
The European Union is stepping up its existing action and engagement in the Arctic region. Be it a frontier or a gateway to Europe, the Arctic is a region of vast importance not only to the 4 million people living there, but also to the European Union and to the rest of the world. The region has a significant impact on our oceans, ecosystems and biodiversity, and has huge potential for research, development, and for international cooperation.