The EU's Arctic Endeavor

by Ani Hakobyan and Jianwen Xu

On Friday, September 21st, the Institute of European Studies hosted Dr. Andreas Raspotnik, an expert on the politics of the Arctic, for a lecture titled “The Spell of the Arctic: The EU as Geopolitical Actor.” Raspotnik, who has been researching the role of the European Union in the Arctic for about eight years, is a Senior Researcher at the High North Center at Nord University Business School in Bodø (Norway) and a Senior Research Fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo. In the United States, he is also a Senior Fellow at The Arctic Institute in Washington, DC. Although people are often surprised that he focuses on the Arctic due to the assumption that the area is not significant enough for EU policy-makers, Raspotnik insists that new energy resources in the region create an important geopolitical struggle between different international actors, such as Canada, the United States, Russia, and several European nations.

Raspotnik began his talk for the 25 guests in attendance by giving a brief history of the EU’s connection with the Arctic. Greenland, for example, was part of the European Community but decided to opt out. However, as Finland and Sweden joined the EU, Finland argued for a stronger EU presence in the Arctic due to constant Russian threats. Nevertheless, one of the biggest points of contestation in the Arctic issue is the fact that the European Union is not an official member of the Arctic Council, even though its members Denmark, Finland, and Sweden are. Raspotnik stressed that although the three countries are EU members, they do not not necessarily represent the interests of the EU. It is also important to note that although the European Commission, Council, Parliament, and Union are all connected, there is no coherent Arctic policy amongst the three. One key point of the Arctic policy is climate change and sustainable development. Economic opportunities are also becoming more realistic in the area. Raspotnik concluded his lecture by pointing out that the Arctic community can make significant progress in climate research and policy.

The animated Q&A that followed the talk covered topics of tourism, sustainability, the energy sector, and the EU’s future role in the Arctic. Many of the attendees were interested in understanding EU-Russia relations as well as the relationship between the EU and its three members represented on the Arctic Council (Denmark, Finland, and Sweden).