Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) meeting about Arctic policy and the EU Green Deal

On October 21, the network Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) organized a digital steering group meeting. On the agenda were updates on the EU’s new Arctic Policy, the NSPA’s arctic investment platform (AIP), the importance of the forest to the European Green Deal, and the NSPA’s work forward.

The Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) network consists of the four northernmost counties in Sweden, the seven northernmost and easternmost regions of Finland as well as the 2 northernmost regions of Norway. The regions face similar challenges and advantages within the EU and cooperate towards mutual goals. Cooperation with the purpose of raising awareness on regional interests in the EU as well as to influence EU policy and provide a platform for regional European Arctic. 

On the agenda for the meeting, moderated by Mikael Janson, Director of North Sweden European Office, was the new EU Arctic Policy, the Arctic Investment Platform (AIP), a new collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the importance of forests for the European Green Deal, and updates from the new NSPA working groups. 

A shift of focus in the new Arctic policy 

The spotlight of the seminar was not surprisingly aimed towards the new Arctic policy, presented the week prior on October 14th, during the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik. Hence, the seminar was joined by Michael Mann, the EU Arctic Ambassador and one of the main authors of the policy. The new arctic policy is divided into three chapters and for this reason Michael Mann was asked if the order of the chapters reflects the priorities of the EU. The last chapter handles questions more relevant to the NSPA regions, while security is treated first and has been allotted more space. This marks a reorganization of the policy document compared to the previous Arctic policy of 2016. However, Mann wanted to assure the NSPA that the placement of the chapters does not reflect the superiority of any subject over another.  

Mann described the policy as putting people first, that it is permeated by the Green Deal, and that it is more goal-focused and concrete than the last Arctic policy. The aim is to make it easier for actors in the Arctic to look for support and funding from the EU, although with continually tough sustainability requirements.  

The arctic ambassador expressed gratitude for the dialogue with the NSPA 

Michael Mann described the policy work as a long and complicated process and forwarded his appreciation to the NSPA for their engagement.  

- We have had a very positive exchange with the NSPA, you have really helped to guide us in our progress with the policy. A big thanks for that! 

Mikael Janson agreed regarding the exchange: 

- It is nice that we can see in parts of the policy that we have been listened to, and that the perspectives we have emphasized also are visible in the policy, and that we have also been recognized in the policy as a dialogue partner for the EU regarding the development of the Arctic. 

Michael Mann concluded by pointing out that the publication of the policy is not the end, but rather the beginning of the work towards a sustainable Arctic for all. Now the difficult part begins: – the implementation phase, where he is hoping for continued support from the NSPA. 

The Arctic Investment Platform 

Regarding the investment possibilities in the Arctic, the seminar also provided an update from the Arctic Investment Platform (AIP) which is currently under construction. Jukka Teräs, one of the project managers for the AIP, explained that the platform is supposed to work as a catalyst for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the North, to facilitate cross border financing and investment, as well as to increase the exchange of knowledge between NSPA’s regions. Teräs emphasized that in order to accommodate the extensive investments needed for sustainable development, an industrial transition, and economic growth in the Arctic, the regions and the businesses must complement each other rather than compete. The goal is a roll-out of a functioning platform during 2022. 

The importance of forests for the green deal 

Forests are undoubtedly of great significance for the NSPA. Despite this, forests are not mentioned anywhere in the Arctic Policy. This is due to several other initiatives, strategies, and legislation focusing on forests that the EU already has in place within the Green Deal, according to Mann.  

Anna Holmberg, Head of the Swedish Forest Industries Brussels office, presented how the forest can contribute to the Green Deal as well as what consequences the EU’s large climate package, which is now being negotiated, might have on forestry in the north. Holmberg pointed out that the forest can be linked to almost all of the targets set out in the European Green Deal and that the use of forests must be seen as a solution for the green transition, not as an obstacle. She said that the EU often views the forest as an obstacle, and as something that should only be protected and used as a carbon sink for the EU.  

Several of the participants of the meeting shared concern about the EU’s Forest policy and the lack of northern and local perspectives in it. Mikael Janson stressed the importance of developing strategies to influence the EU’s proposals, among others by participating in the process of defining important concepts (like “the Arctic”), contributing to open consultations and writing collective position papers. 

- Now we collectively need to try to shape the EU’s proposals so that they become more adapted to regional conditions and to take into consideration our perspective on how the forest can contribute long-term to the green deal, emphasized Mikael. 

Planning for a new OECD study in the NSPA 

Also, the possibility for a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was discussed as a follow-up to OECD’s so-called territorial review in NSPA launched in 2017. A study would promote the regional politics of the future and the role of the northernmost parts of Europe by showing how the Arctic can contribute to the EU’s green transition and digitalization.  

Stefano Barbieri from OECD in Paris participated and talked about the arrangement and his thoughts on such a study, which not only could strengthen the capacity of the NSPA to develop the regions, but also investigate how the northernmost parts of Europe can contribute to the EU’s green and digital transition. The NSPA steering group, representing the 13 regions in the NSPA, agreed on the importance of the initiative, and that continued utility is drawn from the previous study that has been of great value to the NSPA regions. If the application is approved, the study can be initiated during the spring of 2022. 

The working groups of the NSPA presented their work forward 

The Brussels offices of NSPA established working groups about 6 months ago in order to focus on different topics. The groups have been given the names: Arctic attractiveness, Arctic advantages, Arctic resources - bioeconomy, and Arctic resources - minerals. The aim is to see how the regions in northern Sweden, Finland, and Norway can find common ground and cooperate on the EU level.  

  • The Arctic resources working group focusing on bioeconomy is working on a feedback paper regarding the fit for 55 legislative proposals. They also work with hydrogen and synergies between blue and green economies.  
  • The Arctic resources working group focusing on minerals presented their work on sustainable extraction among other things, and how the supply of sustainably extracted minerals does not keep up with demand.  
  • The Arctic Advantages group will map and monitor questions that constitute challenges for the regions that have been transformed into competitive arctic advantages with for example unique testbeds.  
  • The Arctic attractiveness working group has until now focused on sustainable tourism and culture and will map actors in the NSPA in order to investigate how to integrate with the EU and to highlight the work of the regions within sustainable tourism and culture in line with the EU Green Deal. 

An NSPA forum is planned to be held during spring 2022 in northern Sweden in the region of Västerbotten. Read more about the NSPA here.

/Lisa Berglund and Maria Boström 

North Sweden in the EU

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