The Make-Or-Break Year For The EU In The Arctic

By Mikå Mered and Victor Chauvet, Guest Contributors

Diplomatic Courier

Although the Arctic remains an unfamiliar area—almost a terra incognita to many southerners—it is on track to come to the forefront of world politics. In this context, it seems that, while everyone in Brussels is perfused with news streams from the Middle East, Africa, or Ukraine, the EU is starting to lag behind other non-Arctic competitors such as China, South Korea, or Japan, in the race for Arctic influence; the one geographical area that may truly rule Northern hemisphere geostrategic dynamics in the 21st century.

The Arctic’s Context

In the past decades, media coverage on Arctic stakes has almost exclusively revolved around climate change, potential slicks, and protected species. However, human issues now seem to grow in importance. They remind us that more than 4 million people actually live in the Arctic.

These local sovereignty issues have a greater impact when considered within their regional and global contexts. Greenland’s coming independence and the development of new transcontinental shipping routes are to be much more closely monitored by non-Arctic strategists and investors. Likewise, as Asian economies’ dependency on foreign natural resources continues to increase, the race for Arctic minerals and hydrocarbon resources is unlikely to cool down.

In this context, the EU has just as many stakes as China or the U.S. in the Arctic: opportunities to seize as so to provide new growth vectors to EU companies, as well as duties to fulfill vis-à-vis the EU neighboring countries. However, the EU has only one precarious window on the Arctic: Greenland.

The European Arctic is extremely complex—the result of a tripartite postcolonial sovereignty game. Denmark is a member-state of the EU, and Greenland remains a Danish autonomous overseas territory for now. However, since Greenland opted-out from the EU in 1985, it enjoys the same status within the EU as the uninhabited British and French Antarctic Territories: the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) status. The problem is, unlike the Antarctic, Greenland is inhabited. Moreover, Greenland is at the heart of Arctic developments, both from a geo-strategic and a geo-economic perspective.

Said differently, since Iceland and Norway are not EU members, Greenland is the EU’s only direct window on the Arctic; however, EU laws and policies do not apply to Greenland because of the OCT status. At the most, this status grants Greenland a relative proximity with Brussels lawmakers—notably through a formal representation office to the EU, via the OCT-EU forum, Greenlandic MPs at the Danish Parliament, and Denmark’s Arctic Ambassador. It also grants Greenland access to several EU development funds (FED).

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