France wants to spearhead EU strategy on Arctic region

ice cap

The Greenland Ice Sheet [Doc Searls/Flickr]

The Arctic’s melting ice caps do not just have serious environmental consequences, they also unearth economic opportunities. France wants Europe to secure a more important bargaining position, next to large northern countries like Russia and Canada. EURACTIV France reports.

The Senate reviewed a report on 10 July, outlining the stakes involved for France and Europe in the Arctic. France has been trying to find the right balance between economic and environmental interests. The government will present its roadmap by the end of this year, and hopes to spearhead an EU strategy.

The Arctic Council is a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states. France is currently an observing member of the Council, but because numerous EU member states are permanent members, the European Union could take on a more important role.

Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden, being Artic states, are members of both the Arctic Council and the European Economic Area (EEA). Thanks to Greenland, Denmark is also a member. This means that five of the eight permanent members are European countries.

EU must speak up

Finland and Sweden only play a minor role in the Council, which is dominated by large countries like Canada and Russia. The European Union is taking measures to increase its influence. The European Council asked the EU Commission to make proposals by the end of 2015.

Although France is not geographically an Arctic state, the Senate’s report believes it could spearhead the European strategy thanks to its highly recognised scientific research.

“We are in talks with major actors of the region. Each have their own interests. All countries are also involved in research, but to different extents,” said Senator André Gattolin, from the Green Party.

Some countries are more interested in the economic opportunities that lay hidden under the ice caps, like China, India, South Korea and Japan, which have already put in place Arctic strategies.

Natural resources

“The Arctic contains a lot of natural resources, and there is the possibility of exploiting them,” said Gattolin. Rising sea levels could be an economic asset. An extractive industry could operate during some months of the year, and would require new transport and communication infrastructure.

Many French companies are already conducting research in the Arctic, such as Total, GDF Suez and Areva. France is recognised globally for its expertise in sustainable development and precautions relative to the extractive industry.


The French Ministry is trying to integrate Arctic issues into the agenda for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. In 2009, the French government appointed Michel Rocard as ambassador for all international negotiations regarding the Arctic and the Antarctic.

André Gattolin is cautious: “We cannot deny that there is a will for economic and resource development. We will need to find sustainable development methods for Arctic resources […], but also prevent the destruction of the planet’s entire climate and environmental system.”

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that by 2100, Arctic temperatures will increase by 4-5°C, and temperature will increase to above freezing (2°C) in temperate regions. “2014 will witness record high reductions in Arctic pack ice,” said Gattolin.

Projected change in global mean surface air temperature and global mean sea level rise for the mid- and late 21st century relative to the  reference period of 1986–2005. [IPCC]Projected change in global mean surface air temperature and global mean sea level rise for the mid- and late 21st century relative to the reference period of 1986–2005. [IPCC]

Climate change over the past few decades has brought great attention to the Arctic. Arctic pack ice is melting twice as fast as in any other region in the world.

Although climate concerns are part of the reason that countries are so interested in the Arctic, there is no denying the economic motivations. Natural resources buried under ice, new trade routes and even novel fishing opportunities could lead to some sort of Arctic gold rush.

Due to the presence of some EU member states in the Arctic region, the European Union is a legitimate actor and wants to convey its opinions and ambitions. On 12 March 2014, the EU Parliament passed a resolution on an EU Arctic strategy. On 12 May 2014, the Council of the European Union released a press release in which it supported “the intention of the Commission and the High Representative to intensify dialogue on Arctic matters with all the EU’s Arctic partners.”

Late 2014: publication of France’s strategy on the Arctic

October 2015: 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference

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