As Finland gets ready to assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council this spring, it must bear in mind the need for reform and new thinking.
The message of reform was presented during a high-level celebration held at the Norwegian Parliament on 26 January in honour of Finland’s 100th anniversary as an independent state. Norway‘s Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Terje Søviknes, its Minister of EEA and EU affairs, Frank Bakke Jensen, as well as the Speakers of the Finnish and the Norwegian Parliaments were present at the event, where the main topic was Norwegian–Finnish relations and possible areas of greater cooperation.
'The place to be'
The Arctic Council was also on the agenda, since Finland is set to take over the chairmanship this spring. Arctic Council expert and senior researcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Svein Vigeland Rottem, has argued that the Council, which for 20 years has served as the central arena for international cooperation, is now in need of reform.
When the Arctic Council was established in 1996, it had some 30 projects to manage, and international interest was fairly moderate. Today, the Council is involved in more than 80 projects. It has become highly prestigious – countries like China and India have become permanent observers - the Arctic Council is ‘the place to be’. Of course that is positive, but it also poses some real organizational challenges," says Rottem.
He highlights three major problems that should be addressed:
the Arctic Council lacks a unified vision;
it has problems coordinating its many and sometimes overlapping projects
it needs to find ways to include more partners in its work.
"With its current organization and only a small secretariat, there are limits to how many projects and tasks the Council can take on, before problems of implementation and actual political relevance become an issue," Rottem adds.
Rottem has previously completed a study of how the Arctic Council function sand how it might be reformed, and his recommendations have been forwarded to relevant stakeholders. Now he has hopes that the Finnish chairmanship might bring about some actual changes.
"The Finns have put forward a very good Arctic strategy with several proposals for change. I think Finland has the possibility to do an excellent job of chairing the Council for the next two years."