On October 13, the European Commission adopted the EU's new integrated Arctic policy. The North Swedens is included in the EU's Arctic regions and a large part of the Arctic policy therefore affects the region. The Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) network, which North Sweden European Office is a part of, have been active within the EU in order to maintain the focus of the previous Arctic policy from 2016, which centered a lot of its attention around the EU contributing to the regional development in the European Arctic. This is a focus that remains with the new policy.
More security policy compared to the previous Arctic policy
The previously integrated Arctic policy which was decided on in 2016 in the EU was the result of active work from North Sweden part through the collaboration in the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA). The network worked to broaden the perspectives from previous EU Arctic policies that mainly had their emphasis on the climate challenges, the need for international cooperation and the sustainable accessibility to raw materials in the Arctic. Much because of NSPAs continuous dialogue with the EU, the policy from 2016 contained a pillar regional development in the Arctic region, lodged in-between the first one on climate action and research and pillar three on international cooperation and security policy
This in turn has been an argument for the EU's extra regional funding towards north Sweden and a possibility of getting the EU's commitment to push for an extension of the railway corridor to go north from Stockholm towards Narvik and Haparanda and beyond. It was also through the subsequent work in collaboration with the EU Commission and the EU External Action Service (EEAS) that an annual EU Arctic Forum was established. The first EU arctic Forum took place in Umeå 2019, through the work of North Sweden and with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The new policy largely retains the same perspective as the previous one. What can be noted, however, is that security policy has ended up at the top. It is a result of the growing tensions in the world, not least building up in the Arctic because of increasing geopolitical interest in the area as a result of new possible trade and transport routes and access to raw materials. The focus on security could also be seen as the result of an increased ambition on the part of the EU to take a more active role in the international arena through the EEAS. The climate issue, which is otherwise the EU's major issue with the green deal and the climate package "Fit for 55" to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990, have had to step down and become the second focus of the policy. Of course, the climate issue is integrated in everything in the entire policy in the same way as in all other current EU policies.
Continued focus on regional development in northern Sweden
The more regional perspectives can be found in a third focus. This is not a ranking, but of course it reflects a shift in the EU's focus on developments and challenges in the Arctic. At the same time, it is fair to say that the regional development perspectives are even more of a cornerstone and a basis for the EU's Arctic commitment this time around. The NSPA network has been identified as a recognized dialogue partner for the EU on developments in the Arctic in the policy, and generally it reflects to an even greater extent than before the messages and perspectives that the regions in NSPA have highlighted during the past year's intensive exchanges with the EU during policy work. The focal point is on EU support for the development of an innovative, green, blue and digital Arctic in the EU's own and surrounding Arctic areas.
The status of indigenous peoples and the opportunities of women and young people are given a central role, but overall, emphasis is placed on the climate change that is taking place with both the opportunities for renewable energy and a green industrial transformation such as investments in steel without coal in northern Sweden. The region's importance for the EU's supply of raw materials and critical minerals is emphasized and the importance of sustainable solutions for it. Initiatives for a circular economy in the Arctic are pointed out as important for the EU to support. Innovative technologies in satellites, Big Data, AI and data modelling as well as CleanTech are pointed out as factors of change for the region. The fact that the Arctic is also a region where people are in need of attractive communities to live with close dialogue with the EU is also emphasized, which the annual EU Arctic forum, together with EU regional support and the Interreg program for cross-border cooperation in the Arctic, will be one part of. Linked to this is the EU's ongoing process for a rural vision to include the sparsely populated areas of the Arctic regions.
Particular focus is given to connections through broadband and 5G corridors to also include the Arctic region, in addition to the port of Luleå and the extension of the Bothnian Corridor being important parts of the EU's Arctic connections. It can also be noted, that even if the need for research on climate and development around the polar regions is pointed out, there is also a broadening of the research needs that link to other specified development areas for the regions in not least northern Sweden.
The process ahead to follow closely
The European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament will adopt resolutions on the European Commission's communication, and these are of course processes to follow. The European Parliament has already adopted its own resolution before the European Commission presented its policy at the large Arctic Circle with over 2,000 participants in Reykjavik 14-17 October. North Sweden and the regions in northern Sweden and NSPA will now start to analyse the EU Commission's communication in more detail and draw conclusions of what it may mean for us and develop position papers to communicate to the EU arena in the continued work to realize the policy direction, which will be followed up in future news of North Sweden European Office. In summary, it is as it always is in the EU: Some steps forward and some step back. Northen Sweden, however, remains an important part of the EU's Arctic policy.
Read the EU Commission and EEAS communication here.
Read about the European Parliament's Arctic resolution here.
Read about the expectations before the communication from the EU here.
See previous NSPA activity while working on EU Arctic policy here.
Read about the EU Arctic Forum initiated by North Sweden in Umeå here.
Read about the previous Arctic policy when it was presented here.