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Markku Heikkilä: Finland is seeking a new Arctic direction

After the Arctic Council chairmanship and the change of government, Finland's Arctic activities have been on a summer break. In the autumn, things are starting to happen again.

In its program, the new Finnish government led by Antti Rinne has promised to develop a new Arctic strategy for Finland. The work has not yet started and the strategic guidelines have not been publicly outlined. Prime Minister Rinne will address a large international audience at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik on 10 October, which will also provide an opportunity to present the Arctic policies of the current government.

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen will be the keynote speaker at the Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit conference on 12 November in Rovaniemi, which will focus on Arctic climate change and he future generations. The conference panel on 13 November is an opportunity to discuss the direction of Finland's Arctic policy. The panel will also feature Petteri Vuorimäki, who began as the new Ambassador for Arctic & Antarctica in early autumn.

Aleksi Härkönen, who previously held the position, was the Arctic Ambassador. Antarctic issues have now been added to the job description. In the spring of 2020, Finland will host a major Antarctic meeting in Helsinki. The meeting takes place annually in different countries.

The Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit conference is an ancillary event to Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. Finland decided that all high-level meetings of Finnish Presidency will be held in Helsinki. Indeed, at the end of November, the Clean and Global North event, which focuses on regional cooperation in the North, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of EU's Northern Dimension internationally. The national Northern Dimension anniversary celebrations will take place on 18 October at the House of the Estates.

EU Arctic policy will also be discussed on a forum in Umea on 3-4 October, with a group of foreign ministers and retiring EU Commissioners attending. At the same time, Sweden has also organized a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, during which the BEAC chairmanship will be transferred to Norway and the chairmanship of the Barents regional council from Finnmark to Västerbotten. This is the first time that the Barents Ministerial Meeting has been linked to an Arctic event.

The Arctic is not specifically identified in the tasks of the new EU Commission to be appointed in the autumn, but traditionally a big part of the Arctic issues have traditionally been the responsibility of the Commissioner for Maritime affairs and Fisheries. 28-year-old Lithuanian named Virginijus Sinkevičius is proposed for this position. Chair of the Finnish delegation to the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region Mikko Kärnä has proposed that Arctic affairs be transferred to the Finnish Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, who will be responsible for the EU's partnerships, especially for Africa.

During the government's September budget workshop, CEO Tero Vauraste introduced in the Finnish Broadcasting Company news the idea of "EU Arctic Office”, which would respond to the Arctic needs of businesses and co-ordinate other Arctic activities in Finland. Public debate on this was mainly carried out in the Lapin Kansa newspaper, where Jari Vilén, who is in charge of Arctic affairs in the EU, stated that the EU is not about to set up a new office. The director of the Arctic Centre Timo Koivurova reminded that the Arctic Centre already has a national mission. In his blog, Koivurova said that it is essential to strengthen the operational capacity and resources of the existing Arctic actors in Finland and that the role of coordinator is best suited for the Prime Minister's Office. This does not eliminate the possibility of reinforcing the Arctic activities of the business world, if that is deemed necessary.

In May, the Arctic Railway came to the fore in the Arctic Business Forum in Rovaniemi when businessman Peter Vesterbacka presented his own initiative to build the railroad. The ensuing debate was fierce for a while, but since then the railway project has vanished from the public eye. There is no mention of Arctic Railway in the program of Antti Rinne government. In a story published in the Barents Observer on 19 September, however, Vesterbacka insists that he is still running the project.

Markku Heikkilä
Editor of
Head of Science Communications
Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland

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