The European Parliament Has Not Forgotten the Arctic

This year, 2016, could very well go down in history as the European Union’s “Arctic Year,” with the various institutions launching several Arctic policy statements, writes Andreas Raspotnik in this commentary.

Written by Andreas Raspotnik Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
The European Parliament has called for the development of an Arctic Environmental Impact Assessment.Flickr, CC BY 2.0/francois schnell

Not only have the E.U. and 24 countries recently brokered an international agreement to create a marine park in the Ross Sea around Antarctica this year, but the E.U. has also launched several Arctic policy statements.

In April, almost four years after their last policy update on Arctic matters, the European Commission and the High Representative (H.R.) of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy published their Joint Communication on “An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic.”

In June, the Council of the European Union – the E.U. institution that represents the governments of the E.U.’s member states – expressed its circumpolar views by adopting its new Arctic Conclusion.

Presently, the European Parliament (E.P.) is drafting its new resolution on “an integrated European Union policy for the Arctic.” This will be the E.P.’s fourth policy statement on Arctic issues since its first resolution in 2008. The latest draft document from October 12 is currently being debated by the two responsible committees: the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. According to the E.P.’s legislative observatory – the institution’s database for monitoring the E.U. decision-making process – a plenary of the first reading of the document is envisaged for March 1, 2017.

What Does It Entail?

The 12-page draft document includes both the motion for the E.P.’s resolution and an explanatory statement that broadly highlights the Arctic’s international uniqueness and the E.U.’s related engagement. Initially, the policy statement does not really reveal any new information. The E.P. re-emphasizes the Union’s role as a global actor with longstanding Arctic engagement and a gradually built and enhancing regional policy.

It further and particularly stresses the need for the E.U. and its member states to take a stronger role in the effective implementation of international conventions that could have a positive impact on the Arctic’s future and the region’s sensitive environment.

Additionally, it advocates a strong role for the E.U. in promoting multilateral arrangements and a global rule-based order by simultaneously underlining the importance of the broad international legal framework already applying to the Arctic.

The E.P. also does not give up on a particular unit for Northern policies within the European External Action Service (EEAS) or the development of the E.U. Arctic Information Centre. The European Arctic stakeholder forum, proposed in the latest joint communication, should further help to enhance synergies between existing financial and cooperation instruments and is, in principle, welcomed by the E.P.

To a major extent, especially for the community interested in the E.U. and the Arctic, these expressions are rather yesterday’s news and come within the ambit of diplomatic courtesy, proper policy introduction or as a simple reminder of E.P. Arctic agency.

The Nitty-Gritty Details

Yet some aspects catch the reader’s careful eye. For example, the E.P. calls on the Commission and the Union’s member states to particularly support the development of an Arctic Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Such an EIA should eventually be deployed when evaluating projects taking place in the Arctic. The E.P. emphasizes that an EIA should eventually be made mandatory and asks for an international liability and compensation regime for contamination of lands, waters and marine areas resulting from offshore oil exploration and exploitation.

[pullqote]The European Parliament still wants the European Union to take a much more activist Arctic role.[/pullquote]

Based on the E.U.’s and E.P.’s Arctic policy history and the strong notion of Arctic sovereignty in (most of) the region’s states, one can only assume the potential outcry by related policymakers, political commentators and/or newspapers. However, such a proposal matches previous statements of the E.P. (and some of the members of the European Parliament) and well illustrates its distinct character – as an institution that brings together many internal and external voices, constituencies and political parties. Moreover, it remains debatable how a compulsory Arctic EIA – envisaged as a prerequisite for goods marketed in the E.U. – could be implemented, considering existing trade rules or the issue of energy security.

Additionally, the draft document emphasizes the region’s geopolitical importance – a term that has almost disappeared from the E.U.’s Arctic vocabulary – and simultaneously notes the increase in the stationing of Russian military forces in the region. Neither the joint communication nor the conclusions have specifically mentioned this Arctic fact. Accordingly, the E.P. stresses the importance of engaging with Russia in Arctic cooperation, directed by the use of selective engagement in order to seek progress on issues of common concern – a proposition already made by High Representative Federica Mogherini in June 2016. The E.P. urges for this issue to be included in the Union’s policy on the Arctic.

What Is Next?

The E.P.’s new resolution is still a work in progress. Yet the available draft document highlights the direction in which the E.P. envisages the Arctic to go. Most of it is the logical continuation of an eight- to nine-year-old Brussels-based policy process.
In comparison to the Commission, the EEAS or the Council, the E.P. still wants the European Union to take a much more activist Arctic role and position. Accordingly, some details of the final policy product may lead to intensified discussions between the E.P., its institutional counterparts and Arctic states and stakeholders.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Arctic Deeply.

A version of this commentary was originally published by the High North News, and is reprinted here with permission.

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