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Where are Finland and the EU heading in Arctic affairs?

Finland is reviewing its Arctic policies after an extremely active period in Arctic affairs. High-level experts urge the European Union to do the same.

During the second day of Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit conference, an eminent panel discussed the future of Arctic policies in Finland and in the EU. After two years at the helm of the Arctic Council and currently presiding the Council of the European Union, Finland’s new government is now drafting a new Arctic strategy for the country. Senior Specialist Nina Brander works at the Prime Minister’s Office and is one of the key persons planning the new strategy.

“The government program has a strong focus on the Arctic and on Arctic cooperation. The new strategy of Arctic policy will set out Finland’s long term objectives and consider what resources are available. Finland has had a strong role in EU Arctic affairs and hopes to strengthen the roles of the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council.”

Nina Brander noted that climate change will be the driving force for the new strategy. Ecology and indigenous peoples must always be considered before any steps are taken.

Finland’s new Arctic strategy should be completed by the beginning of 2021. The drafting period will include extensive expert consultations plus two stakeholder meetings. The new Arctic Advisory Board will start its work next month, and it will support the preparation of the Arctic strategy.

MP Satu Hassi emphasised environmental and climate issues in Arctic affairs. She was involved in writing the climate part of new government program. Finland now has a very ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2035.

“All our policies, not just energy but also transport, industrial, agriculture, tax and economic policies need to be climate friendly. There is much interest in the Arctic as a potential source of fossil resources, but we need to keep those resources in the ice. And we always need to consider the rights of indigenous peoples.”

Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs Petteri Vuorimäki pointed out that Finland is a key global actor in Arctic and even Antarctic affairs. Finland has kept the Arctic discussion alive in the EU, now EU needs to update its own Arctic strategy.

“Arctic Council is the most important forum as regards Arctic cooperation. The council is in extremely capable hands with Iceland chairing and we full heartedly approve of their priority on people.”

Ambassador on Northern Policies Harri Mäki-Reinikka looked back on Finland’s Arctic achievements.

“Meteorology is a success story, and the work we have done on Arctic issues on a practical level can be used in the EU and elsewhere.”

Harri Mäki-Reinikka reminded that EU is the biggest investor in the Arctic. Climate change concerns everyone, but it can also provide new opportunities that we need to seize.

“I do not see contradiction between environmental protection and economic opportunities, need to find the right balance.”

The moderator Markku Heikkilä, Head of Science Communications at the Arctic Centre, asked whether old structures and policies are losing out as Arctic is becoming the centre of interest. The panellist assured that different forms of cooperation do not weaken one another.

“There are cooperation projects under the Northern Dimension (a joint policy between the European Union, Russian Federation, Norway and Iceland) that could support some elements of Arctic cooperation. Several structures could benefit from closer synergy and from more understanding and knowledge-sharing. Overlap is not necessarily negative, even the contrary”, Petteri Vuorimäki said.
Text: Maija Myllylä
Photo: Marko Junttila

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