”As a geopolitical power, the EU has strategic and day-to-day interests, both in the European Arctic and the broader Arctic region… The EU’s full engagement in Arctic matters is a geopolitical necessity.”
EU Joint Declaration on the Arctic (13th October 2021)
Almost daily there are reports of the impact of climate change on Arctic sea ice, and thus the geostrategic implications of greater freedom of navigation. In a very real sense the region has become the new frontier for global competition.
The European Union is renowned for grand statements which take an age to come to pass, and are often disappointing. Its latest policy pronouncements in October (see Data Source 1 at the footnote for source) – supporting a Resolution by the European Parliament in September (Data Source 2) – on the Arctic – are mainly vague, wide ranging and worthy.
But they also offer an opportunity which, if the EU deploys mechanisms already in its armoury, allow it to take significant actions which will establish it as a geopolitical actor; which will support Member States, their interests, and associated territories in the Arctic region; and which will help fulfil the commitments it is making therein to international safety, stability and sustainability.
”The EU’s Arctic strategy must reflect the region’s new security reality, growing geopolitical tensions and new regional players, like China …together… we can build a prosperous and peaceful future.”
Anna Fotyga MEP, European Parliament Rapporteur for the Resolution (7th October 2021)
To assist in effective, efficient and rapid implementation of necessary measures to achieve policy objectives set out in the Declaration, existing institutions and powers can be utilised, which will also have the benefit of strengthening those institutions and the European Union.
Central to this is the European Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex – Data Source 3) which should be tasked with practical projects to bring the EU’s updated Arctic policies about in the shortest possible time, under its existing status, using its own and Member States’ personnel and equipments. This could require faster recruitment within existing targets, and the purchase or leasing of necessary communitaire assets such as search and rescue helicopters; maritime patrol aircraft; long range communications and ice capable coastguard cutters.
Political actions required include obtaining membership of the Arctic Coast-guards Forum, the credibility of which these proposals justify; reaching basing / support agreements with Arctic countries; and overflight arrangements.
”The EU will establish a European Commission office in Greenland, which will raise the profile of Arctic matters in the EU’s external relations.”
Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs
and Security Policy, Vice-President of the Commission (13th October 2021)
DECLARATION AND RESOLUTION COMMITMENTS
TO WHICH FRONTEX IS THE ANSWER
”The EU is committed to make the Arctic safe, stable, sustainable and prosperous.”
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
(13th October 2021)
Search and rescue: (The EU should) promote and exchange best practices in terms of SAR and contribute to the interoperability of SAR units through joint exercises; recommends that Member States consider creating new Permanent Structured Cooperation projects, for example concentrated on SAR or environmental response, which aim to enhance common security and defence policy capabilities in the Arctic (The Resolution)
Appropriate equipments and basing would enable the EU to provide search and rescue for the increasingly utilised Northern Sea Route in the Arctic Ocean, as well as North Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea.
Locations and directly interested parties: …intensifying regional cooperation and monitoring and anticipating emerging security challenges (The Declaration);
Iceland, Ireland and Norway participate in Frontex Management Board. There is a Frontex Liaison Office in Stockholm. The Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden- is intended to strengthen the participants’ national defence, explore common synergies and facilitate efficient common solutions.
Environmental damage: the monitoring of ice evolution and the sustainable management of marine resources, the detection of pollution, emergency warning systems, the identification and tracking of maritime movements, and search and rescue services; supports continuous investment in the development of these capabilities and advises that they be applied in the Arctic in cooperation with and under the leadership of the Arctic states that are members of the EU and/or NATO (The Resolution)
Equipment: Helicopters and drones (search and rescue; airborne recon-naissance and environmental surveillance: there is already significant cross-border cooperation on search and rescue operations; encourages the EU to enhance its contributions to emergency prevention, preparedness and disaster response within the Arctic Council, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (The Resolution)
Equipment: Coastguard cutters and ice capability: (The European Parliament) considers that the EU should promote the construction and deployment of more icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships under an EU flag – 7 October 2021 (The Resolution)
Funding (European Parliament) calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to improve inter-service cooperation and coherence between different programmes and investments in the Arctic and urges them to allocate adequate resources to reflect the ambition of the EU’s Arctic policy (The Resolution)