Presentation Marie-Anne Coninsx: Europe and the High North 

Maritime Convention 2019 / Berlin, 12. November 2019

Die diesjährige 13. Maritime Convention in Berlin wurde mit der Keynote der ehemaligen Botschafterin der Europäischen Union für die Gesamt-Arktis (EU Ambassador at Large for the Arctic), Marie-Anne Coninsx, eröffnet.
Unter dem Titel +Europe & High North+ richtete Frau Coninsx bei Ihrem Vortrag den Fokus auf
• die Bedeutung der Arktis für die EU
• die geoökonomischen und geopolitischen Auswirkungen der Erwärmung der Arktis
• Sicherheitsaspekte, dabei auch „maritime safety and security“.
Für viele der Anwesenden dürfte der Blick auf den hohen Norden bislang wohl eisig-romantisch verklärt gewesen sein. Frau Coninsx entzauberte diese Vorstellung jedoch gleich zu Beginn. Das riesige Gebiet sei weit mehr als nur „polar bears on ice“.

Herr Präsident Stricker,

Meine Damen und Herren!

Herzlichen Dank für diese Einladung nach Berlin, nach diesem historischen Wochenende.

Ich mochte den Organisatoren dieser Veranstaltung ein Kompliment machen zur Wahl dieses wichtigen Themas, bei dem zu Recht Europa in den Mittelpunkt gerückt wird.

Before addressing my key-note on Europe´s High North, I would like to say a word about the Arctic. The Arctic is one of the most dynamic areas of geo-politics. However, the Arctic is not very well known. When speaking about the Arctic, the image that usually comes to our mind is a polar bear on ice, or on melting ice. What does not come to mind spontaniously, especially when speaking about the European Arctic, is a region with four million inhabitants, with many vibrant cities and communities, with universities and industrial parks, and with a rich historic and cultural heritage.

I will focus my presentation on the following issues:

  • Why is the Arctic of such importance for the EU? In this context I will present briefly EU’s current Arctic Policy.
  • The geo-economic and geo-political implications of the warming up of the Arctic.
  • Reflections on security, including maritime safety and security.

Why is the Arctic of such importance for the EU – and vice-versa? 

It is important for the following reasons: 

  1. Starting from an important reality: The EU is IN the Arctic. We are an Arctic entity. Indeed, part of the EU lies in the Arctic, or to say it differently: part of the Arctic is part of the territory of the EU. The Arctic is important for the EU as a whole – not only for the three EU Member States that are Arctic States, which also is stressed by the current Finnish EU Council Presidency. We are not “nearby” – in contrast to China which calls itself a nearby Arctic State.

This is not simply a dogmatic question. It means concretely that EU’s high norms and standards apply to the European Arctic, including to Iceland and Norway that are closely associated with the EU. Examples are high standards in the areas of safety of shipping, off-shore drilling and environmental protection.

  1. Second reason of strategic interest of EU for the Arctic: The Arctic is not What happens in the Arctic, affects the whole EU and vice-versa. Indeed, there are extremely close linkages between the Arctic and Europe.

Most well-known example is the dramatic effects of climate change in the Arctic and far beyond.  Indeed, the Arctc is warming up two to three times faster than the rest of the world. The warming up of the Arctic – especially the melting of sea-ice, is responsable for 25% of global warming. Because of the warming-up, also land-ice or glaciers are melting. In case all glaciers of Greenland, that is six-times bigger as Germany, would melt, this would heavely impact the rise of sea-levels globally. Some scientists speaking even of an average rise of six meters. Climate change, the warming up of the Arctic causes major problems for the region and its people, such as generating coastal erosion, collapse of infrastructure built on permafrost, and is impacting negatively the live-hood of Indigenous Peoples. The Arctic is also badly affected by pollution originating from outside the region. For example, the Arctic Ocean contains the highest level of micro-plastics of all oceans, mainly stemming from Asia.

But also the EU has a footprint in the Arctic. Many activities in the Arctic have a European dimension: 25% of fish imported in EU is from Arctic; huge amount of energy, particularly gas and oil, stems from the region notably from Norway and Russia; European companies invest in the Arctic – e.g. a major steel-recycling Spanish company in Northern Norway; Finnish company planning a digital sea-cable across the Arctic linking Europe with Asia; German-built wind-farms operating in the Arctic.[1]  

Third reason of strategic interest of the EU for the Arctic:  The geo-economical, the geopolitical and security implications of the warming of the Arctic have a direct impact on internal and external policies of the EU.

For all these reasons, the EU has an Arctic Policy – already since 2008, and is strongly engaged in the Arctic. 

But first, it is important to place EU’s Arctic Policy in the right setting, notably in the context of EU´s Global Strategy. The EU Global (Foreign & Security) Strategy explicitly states that the EU has a strategic interest in the Arctic remaining an area of low tension based on constructive cooperation – including “solid political and security cooperation”.[2] 

EU has an Arctic Policy for more than a decade. The latest is the EU Arctic Policy from 2016: Joint Communication on “An Integrated EU Policy towards the Arctic”. The Overall objective of EU´s Arctic Policy is to contribute in ensuring a safe, stable, sustainable and prosperous Arctic.

A specific objective and one of the three Pillars of EU’s Arctic Policy is to counteract climate change and safeguard the fragile Arctic environment. The Arctic forms part of the EU’s wider efforts to combat climate change. As climate change is a global issue, the EU’s focus is addressing it actively at multilateral level – notably at the UN with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and by ambitious targets which the EU pursues within its territory.

But the EU has also specific actions for the Arctic under this pillar. For example, the EU is a major contributor to Arctic Research, which is a clear case of international scientific cooperation and what we can contribute to the Arctic. In October 2018, the EU, together with Germany and Finland, organised the Second Arctic Science Ministerial in Berlin, which was a major success. Also EU Space Policies & Programs, such as Galileo and Copernicus, including Copernicus Maritime Surveillance Service, support with their sattelite systems Arctic research, are observing changes in the maritime environment and are contributing to safe shipping.

Addressing climate change is also one of the key-priorities of the new EU Leadership. As said by the newly-elected President of the European Commission, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, in Berlin on 8 November at the Allianz Forum, “Europa braucht eine entschlossene Klimapolitik”, „das Ziel ist, dass Europa bis 2050 der erste klimaneutrale Kontinent sein wird.“

The Geo-economic implications of the warming up of the Arctic: 

The warming-up of the Arctic implies new economic opportunities also for European business and economic operators. Indeed, higher temperatures make it easier to access the rich natural ressources in the Arctic, and opens up “new” sea-lanes in Arctic waters.

New economic opportunities however also contain serious risks and uncertainties as their impact on the fragile Arctic environment and on its people, is unknown.

And here, the EU as well wants to play a key role – in close cooperation with other parties, to ensure that new economic opportunities do take place in a responsible, sustainable way. It is indeed key to ensure a balance between economic development and environmental protection, with taking due account of the rights and voices of the people living in the Arctic.

Examples of new economic opportunities in the following areas:

  • Energy:
  • Developments in the LNG sector are taking place especially in Yamal, the Russian Arctic. The Yamal I LNG plant opened in December 2017, and because of its production, Russia will become in 2019 the 5th biggest LNG producers in the world. It has also close links with European ports, such as Zeebruge in Belgium, Europe´s biggest LNG port. LNG development affects European and global energy markets.
  • The EU has an interest in these developments given the importance of the energy sector for the EU – being very dependent on imports and having high energy-security interests, and linked to it, given Europe´s objective to promote green and renewable energy sources.
  • Mining and minerals:
  • Europe consumes about 20% of all minerals in the world, mostly imported from China, where environmental standards are very different to those in Europe. There are 25 minerals that are crucial for developing new technologies. There is an abundance of these key minerals including rare earth minerals in the European Arctic. We know that in the European Arctic we can ensure that minerals can be extracted in an as green way as possible. Hence, we need to extract them more in our region – in the European Arctic.
  • The EU has an interest in these developments in the Arctic: to reduce Europe’s dependency on imports, and also to promote sustainable production of raw materials, including minerals.
  • Shipping:
  • The warming up of the Arctic makes shipping in the Arctic waters more accessible.
  • Increased shipping, “new” sea-lanes, will affect global shipping and certainly, if one takes into account that over 80% of international trade relies on sea-transportation.
  • Particularly to be noted are developments along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). Even there is still much doubt about the economic viability of the NSR – certainly regarding container shipping, a fact is that shipping in the Arctic is increasing[3] and that there are major investments being done by Russia and others – e.g. the building of 15 LNG ice-breaking capacity LNG tankers in South Korea. It is therefore also a fact that in future, developments of Arctic shipping will affect global shipping.
  • The EU has an interest in these developments in the area of shipping because
    • European companies owe 41% of the total world fleet. 75% of Europe’s external trade transits through EU ports. The shipping sector plays a major role in connecting European markets to trade partners,
    • The EU promotes sustainable shipping, meaning that big efforts are done to improve the environmental performance of maritime shipping. This is particular important for shipping in Arctic waters, given the fragility of the Arctic environment, and the harmful effects of using heavy fuel for transport. An oilspill in Arctic waters would be dramatic, also given the harsh environment to operate in, such as managing search and rescue operations. The EU works actively together with EU Member States within the International Maritime Organsation (IMO) to pursue a reduction of emissions from ships, and it supports a ban of the use of heavy fuel in Arctic sea-transport.

In brief: the geo-economic implications of the warming-up of the Arctic are clearly implying more fishing, drilling and shipping. Hence, the EU will need in future to better mainstream Arctic specific goals into all areas of EU policies.

Geo-political implications of the warming up of the Arctic. 

The step from geo-economics to geo-politics is very small. Geo-political developments in the Arctic are actually the most volatile area. 

Examples related to Russia, China and the US:

  • Russia: The Arctic is key to for Russia’s economic development and national security.
    • Russian Arctic represents about 10-15 % of their GDP; about 25% of Russian exports stems from the Russian Arctic.
    • In 2019, President Putin decreed that it was a matter of top national priority for shipping on the Northern Sea Route, to reach 80 million tons per year by 2024.
    • Russia is heavely investing in its Arctic and is also stepping up its military presence in the Arctic.
    • Despite clouds in the relationship between Russia and the EU, the cooperation is going well with relation to Northern Dimension policies – the EU and Russia are co-financing projects in the Russia Arctic notably related to nuclear waste treatment and tackling black carbon, and within the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC), at which both the EU and Russia are members, focusing in promoting people-to-people contacts and cross-border cooperation, and this since more than 20 years.
  • China:
    • China calls itself a “near“ Arctic State. Recall that the EU is not “near-by”.
    • China shows an increased interest and engagement on the Arctic file, also investing a lot in the Arctic region. It wants to tap the rich Arctic resources and use the new shipping opportunities, especially the Northern Sea-Route (NSR).
    • EU´s position towards new actors on the file such as China is a policy of “inclusiveness”. Why? Because we need their cooperation to address global challenges such as climate change, and to ensure respect of international Law, particularly the UN Convention of Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But we are not naïve…
  • US: The US is wakening up, especially given increased activism of Russia and China.
    • This was clear from position of the US at the Arctic Council Ministerial in Finland in May 2019, Secretary of State Pompeo calling the “Arctic an arena for power and competition”, rather than for science and cooperation, and criticizing Russia’s and China’s aggressive behavior in the region. For the US, Russia and China are competitors, even in the Arctic.
    • US increased interest in the Arctic was also clear with President Trump’s declarations regarding Greenland, to which Greenland replied “we are open for business but are not for sale”.

Given all these developments, the EU will have to address the Arctic from a geo-political perspective, much more than is currently the case.

The implications of the warming-up of the Arctic for Security. 

  • The Arctic is being described as “one of the most secure regions in the world”. The Arctic is considered so far being a place where countries have managed to peacefully resolve disputes and cooperate. It is called “the Arctic Spirit”. The Arctic region is indeed an example of constructive cooperation, from oil spill detection to the safety of maritime routes.
  • Yet, the increased economic activity in the Arctic, and linked to it, the possibility of increasing national competition, disputes and even conflicts in Europe’s Far North, cannot be ruled out.
  • Recent developments clearly indicate that geo-politics impact also on the Arctic. The Arctic is not immune to such developments. And, as said by the former Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, you cannot put a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign upon the Arctic.
  • The biggest risk to security in the Arctic is the possible spill-over of conflicts from outside the Arctic, into the Arctic. This risk is low, but not excluded.
  • The EU is currently mainly addressing security in the Arctic by focusing of safety and maritime security. The EU´s Maritime Security Strategy has an Action Plan from 2018 that foresees the following specific actions related to the Arctic:
  • Continue to promote UNCLOS, the rule of law and international cooperation in Polar Regions. The Arctic is not a law-free zone. Everybody should respect international law. This is particularly important with regard to Arctic shipping. The EU and other partners are watching Russian legislation regarding management of the NSR, which might be in breach with international law.
  • Develop maritime capability in the Arctic region. The European Defence Agency (EDA) did already a study examining European maritime capabilities in the Arctic. It addressed questions such as, which Arctic maritime capability´s shortfalls and gaps should be addressed. It also looked at identifying priorities and opportunities for cooperation, for pooling and sharing opportunities. Explicitly mentioned as action, is the potential use of EU Member States’ icebreakers in Polar Regions.
  • Action regarding the use of space-based technologies and services. The application of EU’s Space Policies related to the Arctic, is already taking place.

EU Space Programs, such as Copernicus – EU’s eyes on Earth, and Galileo – European own global navigation sattelite system (GPS), both already play a key role regarding the Arctic: Copernicus’ services are monitoring sea-ice for safer maritime transport and hereby provides direct info to the ship’s bridge on concentration of sea-ice, on ice-drift and iceberg movement. This monitoring allows the identification of risks and opportunities.

EU Space Programs provide assistance for navigation through Arctic waters. Copernicus’ data are used for generating high-resolution ice-charts, monitoring and forecasting ice-conditions, hereby contributing to maritime safety. In addition, they contribute in dedecting oil-spills, and assisting in search and rescue operations, which are particularly difficult in the Arctic region.

Finaly and in conclusion:

  • The European Union will most probably update its current Arctic Policy, and this is a near future[i]. This is needed, given all developments that are taken place, especially in the field of geo-economics, geo-politics and security, which will have to be addressed in a revised EU Arctic Policy. This is also needed, given the key role of the EU in addressing challenges that are particularly hitting hard the Arctic such as climate change.
  • The key-role and importance of EU’s increased engagement on the Arctic is also strongly supported by several EU Member States, by EU Arctic States, such as Finland – EU’s current EU Council Presidency that has the Arctic high in its Presidency Program, but also by other Member States, such as Germany, which in its recent Arctic Policy of August 2019 calls for a more intensified EU and NATO involvement of its security policy. This should be more than actualy is already stipulated in EU’s Global Security Strategy that pleads for a solid political and security cooperation.

In brief:  

  • The Arctic is much more than polar bears on ice.
  • The Arctic is local and global.
  • That is why a safe, stable, secure, prosperous and sustainable Arctic or High North, is key for the region and its people, for the whole European Union and for the world.



[1] ENEL Green Power is building by 2021 the biggest wind-farm project in Murmansk, or off-shore wind-farms are being built in the Barents Sea, connecting Norway and Russia.

[2] The EU Global Strategy of 2016 explicitly states:”… the EU has a strategic interest in the Arctic remaining a low-tension area, with ongoing cooperation ensured by the Arctic Council, a well-functioning legal framework, and solid political and security cooperation.”

[3] Shipping traffic along Russia´s Arctic coastline continues to be at an all-time high reaching nearly 30 million tons in 2019, mainly transport of oil, gas and general cargo.

[i] Meanwhile the Council of Ministers of the EU has taken the decision in December 2019, to update EU´s Arctic Policy.

Veröffentlicht unter:
Von: Deutsches Maritimes Institut

Deutsches Maritimes Institut

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