The increasing strategic importance of the Arctic is being recognised within the European Union. In an opinion drafted by Pauliina Haijanen, town councillor of Laitila (FI, EPP), the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) stresses that concerted efforts are needed at local, regional and international level in order to tackle the challenges of the northern regions' specific environmental and socio-economic characteristics.
In April 2016 the European Commission published a communication setting out the basis for an EU policy for the Arctic. Climate change mitigation and adaptation, together with protection of the fragile Arctic environment, feature very prominently in the communication. "One of the biggest challenges is to find a balance between ensuring environmental well-being and exploiting the opportunities afforded by socio-economic development", said CoR rapporteur Pauliina Haijanen.
The CoR views the sustainable exploitation of natural resources as a key aspect of sustainable economic growth and efforts to increase prosperity in the Arctic region. The opinion, adopted at the plenary session of 8 February, also emphasises the importance of efficient transport and telecommunications links. Rapporteur Haijanen considers the Arctic region's research activity and scientific collaboration particularly important, and highlights the role of Arctic cities in development. Investments in municipal infrastructure and energy-efficient solutions, for example, and the solutions needed for public services especially in sparsely populated regions are giving rise to new business activities.
"All initiatives relating to the Arctic region must take into account the needs and potential of local communities and indigenous populations, and should harness the significant know-how present in the region. Local and regional authorities must be involved in key programmes and projects to promote regional cooperation, transport links and sustainable economic development in the Arctic region." Haijanen explained.
EU cohesion policy should make a variety of financial instruments available for development efforts in the Arctic region, instruments that can be used to find ways of promoting local industry, and for improving the know-how, innovation, products and services that enhance the competitiveness of the EU as a whole. "New issues that are of central importance include developing the circular economy in the Arctic, as well as using space technologies", Haijanen noted.
The opinion also proposes that the geographical definition of the Arctic region be broadened to include areas below the Arctic Circle, since the impact of the EU's integrated policy will extend to these northern regions. The Committee supports the proposal for a European Arctic stakeholder forum and is calling for efforts to promote international cooperation with non-EU countries.
"It is crucial that local and regional bodies are closely involved in the work of the European Arctic stakeholder forum. Finland starts its two-year Presidency of the Arctic Council in May 2017, and has raised issues such as climate change adaptation and maintenance of stability and security through cooperation. These objectives are also very much in line with the Committee's views", concluded Haijanen.
On Wednesday Haijanen met Liisa Jaakonsaari (S&D), shadow rapporteur of the European Parliament's report. Jaakonsaari highlighted the importance of cooperation with Norway, Russia and Canada and stated that the sustainable exploitation of natural resources, indigenous peoples' rights and the participation of the local population in decision-making were the key points of the European Parliament's report.
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