EU prepares Arctic action plan as ice melts
EU Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Joe Borg announced that Brussels is preparing proposals to safeguard the Arctic, a region on the front line of global warming and increasingly at the centre of sovereignty conflicts. He was speaking at a three-day Arctic conference in Ilulissat, Greenland, which ended today (11 September).
The action plan will cover three broad fronts: measures aimed at safeguarding the Arctic and its ecosystem, promoting the sustainable use of resources and addressing "the broader question of governance," Borg said.
Speaking to EurActiv, a Commission spokesperson explained that the EU was not about to press for new international legislation for the Arctic, but rather for "enhanced cooperation between the interested parties". But he was careful not to rule out new legislation at a later stage.
"We are not convinced either that we need, or we don't need, new legislation" with respect to maritime routes, fishing and access to resources, he said. A clearer picture may emerge following an EU conference on the Arctic (scheduled to take place in Monaco on 9 November) and a Commission Communication on the Arctic Region to be published afterwards, he explained.
In fact, this is the first time that the EU has been invited to such a conference, organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland). The EU's interest in the Arctic stems from the challenges of climate change as well as from new opportunities to draw upon the wealth of untapped natural resources in the region. The Union was represented in Ilulissat by Commissioner Borg, a vice president of the European Parliament and a French ambassador representing the EU Presidency.
Russia not the issue
Asked if the EU saw this as an occasion to respond to Russia's planting of its flag on the seabed of the North Pole, the Commission representative made clear that the conference was not a response to events, but rather a response to climate change.
Russia was represented at the conference by an ambassador-at-large, but Commission representatives left Greenland before he made his contribution and did not have bilateral contact with him.
Canada and US warn of possible conflict
Canadian Foreign Minister David Emerson recently expressed concern about illegal overflights of Canadian airspace by Russian jets, adding that his country treats such actions in the context of recent Russian actions in Georgia.
Similar concerns were expressed yesterday by a senior US coastguard commander. Speaking to the BBC, Rear Admiral Gene Brooks, in charge of the coastguard's vast Alaska region, appealed for a diplomatic deal to be struck, warning of a risk of conflict in the Arctic unless disputes over international borders are solved.
The resource-rich Arctic is becoming increasingly contentious as climate change makes the region more navigable.
The Northern Sea Route - the passage through the Arctic Ocean near the coast of the American continent – has been navigable since last year. This translates into shorter transportation routes and greater trading possibilities. What's more, the ice above Siberia is also melting. Formerly frozen territories are now accessible, triggering sovereignty disputes.
No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic surrounding it. The surrounding Arctic states of the USA, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland) have a 200 nautical mile economic zone around their coasts.
In August 2007, a Russian icebreaker reached the North Pole and a Russian mini-submarine planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed. The move was widely seen as a claim by Russia to the North Pole seabed and its resources.
At the time, Vladimir Putin, then president of Russia, said climate change in the Arctic was not to his displeasure.
- 9-10 Nov.: EU conference in Monaco entitled 'The European Union and the Arctic'.