EU and Canada can grow Arctic relations

by Cecile Pelaudeix

First published by Embassy, 28 Sept 2011, Canada’s foreign policy news weekly.

When it comes to the Arctic, co-operation between the European Union and Canada dates back to the 1990s, when the two entities developed Northern policies. Over the years, these relations evolved in parallel, and at times interconnected ways—and it was only in the late 2000s that they became hindered by the seal hunt.In the 1990s, a shift from confrontation to co-operation took place in circumpolar geopolitics. In 1993, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council was created in which the European Commission still stands as a member. Two years later, Sweden and Finland joined the EU.

In the late 1980s, Canada was not yet considering itself as an Arctic country. On the initiative of Canada, the Arctic council was founded in 1996, and in 1997 a report of the standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade—emphasizing the lack of a Northern identity—developed the basis for a Canadian foreign policy for the circumpolar North.

In particular, the report underlines the growing importance of the EU in Arctic regional political cooperation. “Not only do EU regional and foreign policies now include an Arctic component, but the Nordic states are in some sense becoming a crossroads for that pan-Arctic cooperation,” it read.

In 1999, the Northern Dimension Policy associating the EU, Iceland, Norway, and Russia is launched, with Canada and the US performing the role of observers. The following 1999 EU-Canada summit resulted in the release of the Statement on Northern Cooperation “with a view to promoting sustainable development as well as environmental and human security.”

On the occasion of the 2002 Canada-EU summit, a Progress Report asserted that “the European Commission actively participates in the work of the threemost important regional bodies of the Northern Dimension region; the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.

The involvement of the EU in Arctic governance at that time was taken for granted: the EU, as an Arctic entity, has de facto territories, concerns, responsibilities, interests and commitments in the Arctic. Three EU memberstates are Arctic countries (Sweden, Finland, and Denmark). TwoArcticstates are members of the EuropeanEconomic Area (Norway and Iceland).

As for concerns, climate change has been stated in the LisbonTreaty as the main global environmental problem and a directorate in the European Commission is specifically dedicated to this issue. The EU has responsibilities when it comes to the environment: the EU has commissioned a report on its Arctic footprint, which is so far the sole initiative of this kind in the Arctic arena.

The interests of the EU lie in Arctic resources, since the EU is the main consumer (oil, fish, and minerals). As for commitments, since 2008, 19 key EU research projects with an Arctic dimension have been implemented, each funded from two million euros to more than 16 million euros.

Seal hunt hinders relations

This first stage of cooperation between the EU and Canada on the Arctic, which reached its peak at the end of the 1990s, contrasts dramatically with the end of the 2000s. The first steps toward defining an EU Arctic policy caused some irritation.

The adoption by the EuropeanParliament of a regulation banning the trade in seal products in the EU in 2009, and the suggestion of the adoption of an international treaty for the protection of the Arctic in a 2008 resolution, has hindered EU-Canada co-operation on the Arctic.

The ban has generated a feeling of interference in Canadian affairs. It has been considered as a hasty decision, and Canada has requested a consultation procedure under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.

The ban still, somehow, sometimes, thwarts EU-Canada relations. The extent to which it has weighed in the refusal of the Arctic Council to the European Commission’s application to become a permanent observer is nevertheless to be put in perspective with other factors, like the position of Russia, which has not been particularly in favour of extending the number of permanent observers in the Arctic Council.

A cautious approach is also required when it comes to the Northwest Passage. The Council’s conclusions on Arctic issues of 2009 are clear: “The Council reiterates the rights and obligations for flag, port and coastal states provided for in international law, including the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], in relation to freedom of navigation, the right of innocent passage and transit passage, and will monitor their observance.”

This does not necessarily meant hat the EU sides the United States, which has not ratified UNCLOS, on this sensitive matter. Since 2008, a better understanding of Arctic realities has allowed the EU Arctic policy to move towards a more integrated and balanced approach. The 2011 resolution of the European Parliamentconsiders “that the Arctic region is not to be regarded as a legal vacuum, but as an area with well developed tools for governance.”

The European Commission programme of research dedicated to the Arctic includes a scientific and ethical evaluation of the impact of indigenous seal hunting, and the European Commission has established a dialogue with Arctic communities.

EU-Canada relations, dating back to the 1950s, go on developing. An important agreement is being negotiated: the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Some successes need to be highlighted such as the collaboration between Canada and the European Space Agency that has been lasting three decades.

When it comes to the Arctic, communication, information, sharing of expertise are certainly very important. The European Commission has launched several programs to improve the understanding of European perspectives on the Arctic. The EU ARCTIC Forum, a platform playing an increasing role in providing expertise in the Arctic, organized last year with the Mission of Canada to the EU a round table discussion of challenges faced in the Arctic.

Considering the recent evolutions on Arctic issues, there are reasons to believe that EU-Canada relations can go on developing to improve collaboration on common interests such as the key issue of the promotion of sustainable development in the Arctic.

Cecile Pelaudeix is a research associate at PACTE Institute of Political Studies, member of the Centre for Canadian Studies in Grenoble, France and research fellow at EU ARCTIC Forum.


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