Ashton pushes EU's Arctic Council bid
by Daniel Mason
European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton will use a visit to Finland, Sweden and Norway to discuss the EU's bid for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, and for talks on the bloc's policy in the region.
The European Commission said in a statement that the Arctic had "even more strategic, economic and environmental interest for the EU" than when it last published a strategy for the region in 2008. Ashton's visit will be followed-up with a fresh policy document to be produced this spring.
Ahead of the trip, Ashton said: "The EU already makes a valuable financial and political contribution to Arctic cooperation through research and working with our neighbours on transport, energy, maritime safety and environmental issues. In developing our EU policy towards the Arctic, we want to listen to and learn from those who know the region best. I am convinced the EU can play an even more positive role in the future."
The Arctic Council, established by the Ottawa Declaration in 1996, is an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation among Arctic states and the indigenous population, with a focus on sustainable development and environmental protection. The EU, together with China, Italy, Japan and South Korea are defined as having ad hoc observer status. Applications from the EU, China, Italy and South Korea for permanent observer status have previously been knocked back, as Arctic shipping lanes become an increasingly important geopolitical issue. A decision on whether to accept the EU's latest application will be taken at the council's ministerial council next year.
Today, Ashton met Finland's president and prime minister and will next travel to Sweden, which currently chairs the council, and then Norway, the only non-EU country included in the trip. As well as meeting the foreign ministers of all three countries, Ashton will visit a mine in Sweden and a glacier and weather station in Norway, then make a speech on foreign policy in Oslo. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said it was an opportunity to "introduce Catherine Ashton to our dynamic north and to discuss the challenges the Arctic is facing".
Finland, Sweden and Norway, along with Denmark, Iceland, Russia, the United States and Canada, are full member states of the council. Groups representing indigenous people, such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Aleut International Association, are also permanent participants. Meanwhile, observer status has already been granted to a number of EU countries – France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom – and a range of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.
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