Continuity with Greater Confidence: TheEU's 2021 Arctic Policy Update

The Arctic Institute Report, October 2021, 19 p.

On 13 October 2021, the European Union’s Arctic policy was updated with the publication of the Joint Communication on A stronger EU engagement for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic.

In this analysis, we offer some thoughts on this recent development. The EU presents itself as a more self-confident actor in the Arctic, taking stock of its economic and environment impacts, while retaining the previous definition of the scope of its Arctic engagement. This includes climate and environment, developmental issues in the European Arctic, as well as international cooperation within and relevant for the region. At the same time, however, one of the key objectives of the new policy statement is to position the EU’s Arctic engagement within the landscape of the European Green Deal (EDG) and the newly found self-portrayal of the EU as a geopolitical actor.

As the Arctic policy is primarily a compilation and manifestation of the EU’s larger policy agendas, it is them that largely determine the content of EU Arctic documents, including the 2021 communication. The influence of Arctic concerns on these larger frameworks is minor at best. Among the consequences of the EU’s new overall policy setting is a strong focus on Arctic resource developments, discouraging those that contradict global climate objectives (opening new hydrocarbons exploitation) and encouraging those that support the transition (critical minerals). Especially the new proposal for a moratorium on hydrocarbons exploration is a controversial one, already resulting in negative reactions among many Arctic states, actors and stakeholders.

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