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The European Union in the Arctic

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EURARCTIKA (The European Union in the Arctic)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-08-31

The aim of the project EURARCTIKA was to analyse the geopolitical and legal engagement of the EU to protect the Arctic environment. The EU is important for the Arctic and the Arctic is important for the EU. The EU engagement in the Arctic has its roots in the EU’s geopolitical and economic interests in the region. From a geopolitical perspective, the importance of the Arctic for the EU essentially lies on the presence of states like the United States and Russia, which are key actors also in the international arena. From an economic perspective, the EU has strong interests in the region. Indeed, half of the fish caught in polar waters and one quarter of the oil and gas extracted go to the EU. Also, the EU is a large contributor to Arctic research with around 200 million euro committed to research projects in the region. Therefore, for the Arctic the EU is important economically but also geopolitically as the latter is one of the most important actors internationally. Additionally, the European Union has a distinct negative impact on the Arctic environment with its greenhouse gases and black carbon emissions while environmental challenges and economic opportunities in the Arctic have significant repercussions on the life of European citizens for generations to come. For this reason, the EU should play a key role in the protection of the Arctic environment. Over time, the EU has strenghtened its relations with the states in the region as well as with the Arctic Council, which is the most important intergovernmental forum guiding cooperation in the Arctic. The EU is an ad hoc observer in the Arctic Council. Furthermore, the EU is a full-fledged member of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council through the European Commission. In both forums, the EU contributes to the protection of the environment and to sustainability in the region by being involved in a number of projects. Additionally, the EU environmental legislation impacts the region only indirectly. The three EU member states that are Arctic states - namely Denmark, Finland and Sweden - must abide by the EU legislation when they sign an international agreement. Also, Iceland and Norway are part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which means that the EU legislation is also taken into consideration there.
I have continuously searched for literature and data on the EU and international environmental law, international relations and the interaction between international law and international relations as well as on geopolitics and regional cooperation in the Arctic. In this context, the topics that I have privileged were the environmental and energy sectors, which are strictly intertwined. The relations between the EU and Russia in the Arctic is another topic that I have investigated. I have published several articles, two peer-reviewed, two newspaper articles. Another article is under review.
Because of Covid-19: 1) I have not had the possibility of conducting interviews in person in 2020 and 2021. Therefore, Zoom and Teams are the platforms that I have used to interview EC administrators, academics and experts from several countries. I have presented my research in seminars and conference both in the Netherlands and abroad and I have attended several conferences where I had the possibility to exchange ideas, information and opinions with experts of other countries, especially of the Arctic; 2) in 2020 and 2021 I attended conferences online in order to be very well informed on what was currently happening in the region. However, in 2022 I have had the opportunity to attend conferences in person in Norway, Greenland and Iceland. The most important political personalities, academics and experts gather every year in order to discuss the most relevant and timely issues in the Arctic. These conferences, which last several days, are divided into many panels (50 or more) discussing specific topics concerning political, economic and social issues in the region.Also,I have add the opportunity to attend the Just North Conference in Akureyri.It is an EU-funded climate action project exploring the perspectives and values that stakeholders can bring to Arctic economic decision-making. These conferences have been very useful to do valuable networking.
I have spent almost 2 months in Norway as Guest Researcher at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø.Here, I had the opportunity to discuss geopolitical and economic issues concerning the Arctic with professors and academics researching on law and politics in the region.Rasmus Bertelsen, the Professor hosting me at the University, introduced me to the people working in the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities and the Department of Law. This has been very useful for my research as I have had the possibility to have direct access to information about political, economic and social issues in the Arctic.
Furthermore, working at ACELG has been a very valuable experience both from a human point of view as I have been immediately integrated in the Department in spite of the limitations imposed by COVID-19 and because I have learnt a lot. I have enormously deepened and widened my knowledge of EU law especially in relation to the environment, which was crucial for my project. Additionally, participating in the seminars organised by ACELG has given me the possibility to learn about many other aspects of EU law. The support of Prof Christina Eckes has been very valuable as she has read and commented my work. This has helped me to improve my research project. My project has benefited ACELG as I have transfered my knowledge on the geopolitical and economic relevance of the Arctic for the EU to the staff that has read and commented my work. As research at ACELG focuses on the EU, my research has been important to better understand the actions of the EU in the Arctic whose geopolitical and economic relevance is increasing over time.
My research has shown that the EU should take more action in order to deepen its environmental engagement in the Arctic.Indeed,the EU is a strong environmental actor internationally while it is a weak one in the Arctic. The EU is a leading actor in environmental protection globally and thus it is a Party to a number of international environmental agreements. Some of them also apply to the Arctic. By contrast, in the case of the Arctic, the EU is a marginal actor as it is not a Party to regional agreements although it participates and finances a number of projects iming at protecting the environment in the region. Therefore, a deeper geopolitical involvement in the Arctic would mean a stronger role for the EU not only in the region but also on the international scene. Indeed, the geopolitical and economic importance of the Arctic has been increasing over the last decades because of ice melting that is making natural resources and transportation routes increasingly accessible.For these reasons, measures aiming at reinforcing the EU's actions in the region would translate into a major role as a soft power internationally. From an economic perspective, stronger links with the countries in the region would benefit the EU in terms of trade and economic cooperation.From a legal perspective, the EU law only indirectly affects the region. Therefore, a major involvement through more action is needed.
Image from the North Pole