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Fishing for the Future?
Edited by Paul G. Harris
A Forensic Analysis
Since 2008, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament have started to develop a distinct EU policy for the Arctic region. Although the EU’s Arctic policy toolkit rests on a strong regional foothold, a single Arctic policy of the European Union has not yet been developed. Moreover, while the position of the EU’s three main institutions have been gradually converging, the policy is still emerging with the actors being incapable yet of proposing a clear-cut overarching European concept for the Arctic region. Up to now the European Union has not set out a clear statement of its northern regional ambitions – a distinct EU–Arctic narrative or single organising idea. It has also failed to become an observer to the Arctic Council.
Over the last decade, the Arctic region has reappeared on the international radar. Due to global warming and a literally melting Arctic Ocean, the region’s resources and maritime transportation opportunities have attracted the interests of stakeholders from within and outside the circumpolar North. It was assumed that increased international attention would change the geostrategic dynamics in the region and eventually lead to major power competition over regional resources, power and authority. Yet, during the period the Arctic states have strengthened the regional governance framework and effectively cooperated on a multilateral level. Also, an initially generated hype over the region’s economic opportunities could not stand up to scrutiny and a globalised reality check.
With the Arctic region being a sui generis neighbourhood for the European Union, the Arctic region raises an interesting question about the extent of the EU and how to gain regional credibility and legitimacy via which geopolitical discourse. Based on distinct geopolitical ideas, a particular regional discourse, the aim to wield organisational authority in the Arctic and the use of technological devices, the European Union has attempted to evolve as a legitimate actor in the Arctic region.
The European Union has often been described as an external Arctic actor. However, the EU has a strong Arctic foothold and multiple links to the Arctic region, on geographical, legal, economic, environmental, research and regional development-related levels. The EU’s Arctic credentials emphasise that the EU is part of the Arctic, linked to the Arctic, affects and is affected by the Arctic. In fact, these linkages act as proof of a particular EU Arctic identity, underlining that the Union’s stakes in the region do not only fall on calculations of geographical presence. Eventually, the EU constitutes one distinct ‘Arctic reality’.
How did the European Union try to construct a regulated EU space in the Arctic and evolve as a geopolitical subject? The interaction between presence and policy exemplifies that geographical Arctic presence is not a prerequisite for regional influence and related capabilities and actorness. The EU has not yet been fully accepted at the Arctic governance table nor was it able to create an enhanced Arctic legitimacy in Europe in order to eventually place the region more prominently on the EU’s agenda. Although both climate change and research efforts serve as Arctic access points, this nexus could not have been materialised as a single organising idea to become an Arctic policy driving force. Moreover, the EU acts as a sui generis geopolitical subject in the circumpolar North.