Unlocking the Arctics Potential

The Commission wants to see the exploitation of natural resources and possible new transport routes in the Arctic region carried out with the utmost care, and for EU investment in climate change research in the region to be increased.

These issues are addressed in a new Communication, which examines progress made since the first Commission Communication on the Arctic in 2008 and identifies the next steps.


Climate change and economic development are accelerating the EU’s engagement in the Arctic region, which offers great economic potential. Possible northern sea routes and oil and gas exploitations in the region have presented good economy opportunities.

The Commission is determined however to ensure the sustainable management of Artic natural resources. This is why it has put forward a Communication, to raise awareness of the Arctic environment and to identify possibilities for sustainable development.

EU Arctic policy since 2008

The Communication examines the success of EU Arctic policy since 2008. Here are some actions that have been taken which have had a positive impact on the region.

Protecting and preserving the Arctic

The Commission states that the EU is on track to meet its Kyoto climate change commitments, and has incorporated into law the commitment to reduce 20% of its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, the Commission published a Communication on a “Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, along with the “EU Arctic Footprint and Policy Assessment” report.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has also agreed with Russia on a number of initiatives on joint environmental monitoring, particularly in the Arctic, including the creation of a system to collect and share pollution data from water and air.

According to the Commission, the EU has been actively involved in working on the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Commission is also actively discussing with indigenous communities of the Arctic. In March 2010, the Commission hosted an “Arctic Dialogue” and in January 2011, the Commission met again with representatives of Arctic indigenous peoples.

The EU has also provided a significant amount of funding through various initiatives - EU or transnational programmes - to indigenous groups and local populations. These include a € 4.3 million grant to support the Sami population from the 2007-2013 European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).  According to the Commission, around €200 million has been allocated to Arctic research. Furthermore, 12 projects have been launched since 2008 under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7).

Promoting sustainability

In February 2011, the Commission presented a Communication on Commodities and Raw Materials, which aims to promote sustainability. More recently, the Commission adopted the Communication on “EU Energy Policy: Engaging with Partners beyond Our Borders", which sets out a strategy for the EU’s external relations in energy.

The Commission has also made efforts to develop Trans-European Networks, which also cover Europe’s northern-most regions.

International cooperation

As a result of the EU’s engagement with the Arctic Council, the EU has tried to increase its involvement in Arctic cooperation. The EU is a member, together with Iceland, Norway and Russia, of the Northern Dimension, which is a common policy of the EU. EU Delegations in Arctic states also have an important role in communicating relevant EU policy to governments and citizens.

The Future of EU Arctic policy

The Communication also identifies key actions that must be undertaken in order to further develop an effective Arctic strategy. The actions are divided into three groups: Knowledge, Responsibility and Engagement.


The Commission is concerned about global warming and the effects of human activity in the Arctic. In order to better understand the Arctic and possible threats, the Commission plans to take carry out more Arctic research, monitoring from space, and building up technical expertise.

The Commission states that the EU will support every effort to ensure the effective protection of the Arctic environment. For instance, the EU is committed to creating a legally binding global instrument to cover the life-cycle of mercury, which is of very importance to the Arctic. The proposed funding for Horizon 2020 (€80 billion), the “Innovation Union” programme and the proposed investment programme for research and innovation for 2014-2020, would help fund projects on climate change, energy and resource scarcity.

The Communication also outlines a series of actions that the Commission would take in order to coordinate actions and to cooperate with the Arctic states. In order to ensure that policymakers are well informed, the Commission will support actions aimed at bringing together existing information sources.

The Commission will also implement a preparatory action (1€ million) for a strategic assessment of the impact of development in the Arctic. This project will follow up the suggestion in the 2008 Communication to consider the possibility of creating a European Arctic Information Centre. Monitoring and surveillance capabilities would be enhanced, including the use of satellites. The EU is also currently developing a platform to pool data on the state of the seas that by 2020 would provide assistance in creating safe transport routes in Arctic waters.


The EU, apart from investing in research and knowledge, is also committed to acting responsibly, with funding programmes aimed at the promotion of a safe and sustainable management and use of resources.

Several EU cooperation programmes and agreements cover not only EU Member States but also other Arctic states, such as Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia. For instance, the EU is a contributor to the Support Fund of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership, which provides grants to projects in the Barents region of the Arctic (located at the northernmost coast of Norway and part of Russia) for environmental and nuclear clean-up activities.

The Arctic is a region rich in natural resources. The EU is interested in exploiting these resources sustainably, without compromising the environment and the lives of local communities.

To this end, the Communication states that the EU will work with Arctic partners and mining private sector to develop environmentally friendly, low risk technologies to be used by extractive industries. A letter of intent on cooperation between the EU and Greenland in the field of mineral resources was signed on 13 June.

The possible development of shipping in Arctic waters is being examined by the EU. The Commission and Member States also support the development of a mandatory “Polar Code” by the International Maritime Organisation. The European Maritime Safety Agency is supporting the work of the Arctic Council on emergency preparedness, prevention and response measures. The EU also plans to deepen diplomatic relations with relevant Arctic states with the purpose of securing access to raw materials.

According to the Commission, a third of the fish caught in the Arctic is sold in Europe. However, studies show that this figure may increase because of the movement of fish stocks as a result of warming seas. The EU would therefore be keen to ensure good cooperation with Arctic states in the sustainable management of marine biological resources.

Before the end of 2012, the Commission is expected to present a report on the implementation of the Sealing Regulation, which bans the marketing of seal products in the EU with an exemption of seal products from seal huts conducted by indigenous communities. A panel on the WTO has been constituted to review the ban at the request of Canada and Norway. The EU also plans to explore further potential for different economic activities such as sustainable tourism and renewable energy sectors.


In 2008, the EU applied to become a permanent observer to the Arctic Council, a regional body representing all Arctic states. The EU has three Member States - Denmark, Finland and Sweden (and with Iceland potentially four) - represented in the Arctic Council. Observer status would enable the EU to deepen its commitment to the region.

This would allow the EU to ensure that representatives of Arctic indigenous peoples are informed and consulted on the EU policies that affect them, and would enhance cooperation on Arctic matters in its bilateral dialogues with its Arctic partners. As regards Greenland, on December 2011 The Commission would also like to renew the EU-Greenland partnership for the period 2014-2020.

The EU will continue working through the Oslo and Paris Conventions on the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. The aim is to create a network of marine protected areas in the Arctic and to assess the sustainability of existing measures to manage oil and gas extraction.