Still a Green Power? EU Arctic Policies Between Economic Interests and Environmental Protection.

Friday, June 24, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
205 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Marianne Riddervold, Arena - Center for European Studies, University of Oslo, oslo, Norway
The Arctic is becoming one of the hotspots of international relations. With the ice melting, the prospect of controlling strategically and economically important new sea lines and untapped natural resources is creating a race between states who want territorial control or equal access. Russia is making territorial claims, China demands access and a seat at the table, while the USA, Canada and the European states – some of which have borders to the Arctic – are struggling to find ways of dealing with this new and rapidly changing reality. From an analytical perspective, there are two main solutions to future regulation in the Arctic region: Territorial control by a few states, or some sort of common global regulation. In the face of this changing environmental and geopolitical reality, since 2007, also the European Union (EU) member states are developing a common Arctic policy. But what kind of foreign policy actor is the EU becoming in relation to the Arctic? The EU is often referred to as a humanitarian or soft foreign policy actor due to its limited military capabilities and its focus on promoting norms rather than material interests. An important part of this description is the active role it has taken to fight climate change through global regulation. With environmental changes happening two to three times faster in the Arctic than the rest of the world, one might thus expect this to be an area where the EU would act as a “green power”: Promoting environmental protection and sustainable development through binding global regulation enforced through common institutions. This would also be in line with how the EU often describes itself. According to the EU’s new foreign policy service, the European External Action Service, EU Arctic policies are underpinned by three policy objectives: Protecting and preserving the Arctic in cooperation with the people who live there, promoting sustainable use of resources and increase international cooperation. But what happens to EU foreign policy in a rapidly changing and more insecure economic and geopolitical context? Increased Russian aggression, in Ukraine and beyond, has put energy-security on the top of the EU member states’ agenda. At the same time, many EU states are still struggling with economic recession. Against this background, ice-melting in the Arctic also comes with many opportunities: Economically, it opens up for new and much more efficient routes for international sea-based trade. And according to the US Geological Survey from 2009, the Arctic holds 13% of the worlds untapped oil and 30% of untapped gas supplies, promising to help the EU member states gain control of their future energy-sources. Faced with these opportunities - will the EU be true to its claims and conduct a “green” Arctic policy, even at the expense of economic and security-related interests? Several of the EU member states have expressed strong interests in the Arctic – some even making territorial claims themselves and/or developing their own national Arctic strategies, including military tools. Seven EU member states, including big states UK, France, Germany and Poland, have for this reason for example applied for and been granted observer status in the Arctic Council, together with countries such as India and China. The US, Russia and Canada are already permanent members, as are EU members Denmark, Sweden and Finland. It might thus equally well be that although claiming to be a champion of environmental protection through global regulation, “in reality”, the EU is developing into a more traditional, real-political type of power in relation to the Arctic; i.e. that the member states are joining forces to promote common strategic and economic interests in the region. Following much both of the international relations and the international political economy literature, this is exactly what one would expect to observe – when in conflict, rational actors will chose policies in favor of their key interests, rather than promoting norms.  This paper explores the relevance of these two hypotheses by conducting a theoretically informed study of EU Arctic policies from 2005-2016.  It draws on a multitude of sources, including; 25 interviews across EU institutions and member states, as well as with external actors such as NATO, Arctic Council and US officials; internal and official EU working-documents, and; statistics on EU and EU member states’ investments and interests in the region.  The analysis suggests that although indeed promoting sustainable development through global regulation far beyond that of other actors, the EU’s Arctic policies are largely driven by geopolitical events, not least linked to Russian aggression in the Arctic and beyond. Rather than consistently focusing on environmental protection as one would expect if this was their main concern, agreement amongst the EU member states to form common Arctic policies has largely followed and responded to such events, in particular the planting of the Russian flag in the Arctic in 2007 and its invasion in Ukraine in 2013. These events and consequent concerns for energy-security and access to resources put EU Arctic policies on the EU agenda and affected member states’ positions in favor of forming common policies.  The paper adds to several debates in the international relations and international political economy literature, in particular shedding light on how external geopolitical events interact with economic and normative consideration in the forming of foreign policy, in the EU and beyond. As rising powers, including China, India and not least Russia are becoming increasingly active in the Arctic, understanding how the EU responds to new challenges and increased tensions is important also not only for our understanding of EU Arctic policies but also for our understanding of the politics of the Arctic and thus of international economic and security issues more generally.