On January 25th the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries published, with the European External Action Service (EEAS), a summary of the results of the public consultation on EU’s Arctic policy. 71,6% of the respondents in the public consultation responded that the promotion of sustainable development in and around the Arctic is still very relevant. A clear message that sustainability is of great importance in the Arctic region, and that it is believed that the EU can make a difference here.
With the results from the public consultation, Arctic Consensus invited to a dialogue meeting on February 23rd, where the EU Arctic policy update and sustainable development were the main topics. Among the invited presenters was Michael Mann, EU’s ambassador for the Arctic, who gave the participants an insight into the background for the EU Arctic policy update as well as the process for the public consultation. If things go as planned, the EU commission will publish the updated EU Arctic policy in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Michael Mann emphasized that the EU’s Arctic focus has increased. He referred to Josep Borrell , EU Minister of Foreign Affairs, who highlighted in his speech at Arctic Frontiers that the Arctic region is a very good example on why there is a need for the EU’s Green Deal. Josep Barrell elaborated in his speech the importance of a secure, stable, and sustainable Arctic for not only the Arctic but also for the EU and the rest of the world. Similarly, Michael Mann pointed out during the dialogue meeting that climate change is the biggest challenge for the Arctic and the rest of the world. Sustainable development is an essential piece in the fight against climate change. The results from the public consultation also reveal that the respondents find it essential for the EU Arctic policy to commit to the Green Deal, that the development of economic activities should occur sustainably, and that the promotion of sustainable regional development in favor of the Arctic populations is vital.
In this context, Michael Mann emphasized that the regional collaborations in the Arctic are one of the most favorable paths towards sustainable development in the Arctic, and that the EU can contribute in creating beneficial conditions to make this happen. Opportunities for financing and funding of regional projects are one of the tools the EU can offer, in this context.
The dialogue meeting revealed that it can be difficult for local, regional, and smaller actors to get access to this funding due to the amount of resources it requires to run, for instance, a Horizon2020 project. This is a point that Arctic Consensus also highlighted in the public consultation. In relation to this, Michael Mann mentioned Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, who grant funding in smaller sums and are therefore also less resource-demanding for the project partners to be a part of. He also mentioned that there are several EU programs that offer opportunities for funding for Arctic projects, and that the EU should work to make them more accessible.
Elin Mortensen, Head of Mission, Mission of the Faroe Islands to the EU, who was also a presenter at the dialogue meeting, highlighted the importance of continued dialogue and collaboration with the Arctic states from the EU side. Although the Faroe Islands is not an EU member, a close partnership between the two exists and is highly valued by the Faroese. However, she also emphasized that the EU does not have a formal delegation to handle the EU-Faroe Island partnership, which does not work in favor of further developing this partnership. In terms of business areas where the EU can contribute to the sustainable development, Elin mentions, among other things, tourism and the start-up environment as interesting areas.
A concrete example on the sustainable development in the Arctic was presented by Asmus Rubæk, a consultant in Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq. Asmus gave insight to Nuuk’s process towards becoming the first certified sustainable capital city. It is a process that involves requirements on several areas such as energy, waste management, sustainable economic development, and tourism. Asmus emphasized, with great awareness, that the Arctic is heterogenous and that there is no “one fits all” solution when it comes to sustainable development. Therefore, it is important to explore the opportunities for sustainable development and how to best implement these. This was another point shown from the results of the public consultations on the EU Arctic policy. There is a clear wish from the respondents for the EU to increase its investments and funding to projects that identify the opportunities for sustainable development as well as projects to implement these.