No Rovaniemi declaration, but the Arctic spirit still prevails. The 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting ended with mixed feelings but with sincere wishes for the cooperation to continue.
Disappointment is the word to describe the reactions of both the meeting participants and spectators when Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini opened the Ministerial Meeting and immediately proceeded to make changes to the agenda. Instead of a solemn declaration, there was to be just a joint ministerial statement.
“Two years ago I asked, whether there would be smooth sailing ahead of us, or whether we would be facing a stormy Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. We have been able to sail together, perhaps we sometimes had windy conditions – but that is what keeps the ship moving”, Timo Soini said in his speech where he listed the many accomplishments of the Finnish chairmanship.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs also gave the first ever Statement by the Chair, which includes phrases that would probably have figured on the declaration if the members could have agreed on one. “A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience”, it reads.
The Foreign Ministers of Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States spoke in turn. Canada’s Chrystia Freeland joked that a Canadian will always feel very much at home in a hockey rink, and reminded that the Arctic Council is “a pretty special club for all of us to be a part of”.
The indigenous Permanent Participant organizations expressed their views with more passion, and in part proudly in their own languages. The International Chair of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Bill Erasmus expressed an ardent plea. “Our children depend on us; we have a duty to provide them with the best opportunities.”
The chair of the Cwich’in Council International Grant Sullivan greeted the meeting in Gwichʼin language with the words “my relatives”.
"In the Arctic Council and the Arctic region, we must care for each other like a family”, he urged.
All the speakers thanked Finland for a productive and constructive chairmanship.
The meeting preparations had been a walk on eggshells, but the meeting was also an occasion for meeting old friends and making new ones. The circles in the Arctic community are small; many of the participants know one another from years back, and the smiles exchanged were genuine.
“We all play a role in the functioning of the Arctic Council. We may not agree on every single issue, but we do agree that the Arctic is valuable to each of us”, said Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson who took the gavel of the chair from Timo Soini.
Top of page: Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Timo Soini greets Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Chrystia Freeland. Photo Jouni Porsanger/Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
End of page: Family photo of the Finnish Chairmanship Team. Senior Arctic Official René Söderman. Photo Vesa Häkkinen/Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland