Address by Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava at the seminar of "Arctic Science" in Berlin 17.3.2011

Address by Mr.  Jaakko Laajava Undersecretary of State
at the Seminar of Arctic Science - International Law and Climate Change
Berlin 17.3.2011

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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me a great pleasure to address the Arctic Conference organized jointly by the Foreign Ministries of Germany and Finland. Finland is an Arctic country, with one third of our territory above the Polar Circle. And Germany is an important Arctic stakeholder, with a long-standing participation and expertise in the region – and more precisely, expertise in the marine science research, the main topic of our joint conference today and tomorrow.

Arctic Strategy of Finland

In the Arctic the need for a fundamental change in our approach has been recognized during the last few years by both the circumpolar governments as well as researchers. What used to be viewed as a periphery is now becoming a center of global attention. Many nations assess and reassess their approaches to the region. Finland has adopted a new national Arctic Strategy in order to face the new challenges and to seize the new opportunities. Our basic view is that Arctic issues should be dealt with within a rules-based multilateral framework with an emphasis on comprehensive security and environmental sustainability. All Arctic and non-Arctic actors should be committed to an approach based on constructive cooperation, not confrontation.

The Finnish Arctic Strategy from June 2010 is an effort to put the various aspects regarding the Arctic in one comprehensive package and to provide an assessment of the challenges and the potential of the region from a Finnish perspective. The Strategy defines our goals in the Arctic region as well as the means to achieve them; it deals i.a. with the utilization of Finland’s Arctic know-how and research, institutional issues as well as questions of regional cooperation. It also emphasizes the importance of environmental matters and questions related to the indigenous peoples.

The opening of the Arctic Sea offers new perspectives for exploitation of natural resources in energy, mining and fish-stocks. New sea routes attract both tourists and commercial transport. Finland has wide Arctic expertise and know-how to offer in this context. A key issue for Finland – and I believe for all stakeholders in the Arctic - is how to organize economic activities in the Arctic while fully taking into account environmental concerns and keeping the need for sustainable development in the Arctic as the fundamental perspective.

The utilization of the region’s natural resources requires know-how, caution and a sense of responsibility. Due to the fragile Arctic environment the principles of sustainable development must be respected. We for our part believe that education, research and application of our Arctic expertise are the key to a responsible exploitation of the Arctic. Finland has strong traditions in winter shipping and technology, shipbuilding as well in offshore industries such as oil and gas rigs and vessels needed for Arctic circumstances.

The Arctic Council

Finland seeks close cooperation with all partners in the Arctic region. Today, when all our harbors are covered with ice, our attention is drawn more and more to the North and particularly to our neighbors Norway and Russia. We are engaged in an active dialogue with both countries – bilaterally and trilaterally – in order to share our expertise with them. As an example, let me mention that just a few weeks ago we launched in St. Petersburg an Arctic Partnership between Russia and Finland.

But the primary intergovernmental forum to deal with Arctic policies is the Arctic Council. Last summer Mr. Alexander Stubb, the Foreign Minister of Finland, presented some concrete proposals on the strengthening of the Arctic Council such as the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the Council; better burden sharing with a joint budget; the extension of Council’s mandate by enhancing its political and legal role and, finally, an improvement of its working methods including the role of observers.

Interaction between Arctic and non-Arctic stakeholders and players is of key importance – an integrated approach requires engagement from all with legitimate interest in the Arctic. The eight Member Countries have concluded that the Council is the proper platform for Arctic considerations. This includes the bilateral as well as multilateral cooperation between five coastal states, on one hand, and indigenous peoples, and observer countries, institutions and organizations on the other. The Arctic Council Foreign Ministers will meet in Nuuk in Greenland in less than two months time. In our view a forward-looking decision on observers at that meeting is indispensable for the future of the Council.

Finland has also proposed the idea of a meeting at the top level to discuss the Arctic issues. Such a First Arctic Summit, under the auspices of the Arctic Council, would give new direction to the Arctic cooperation and become a milestone in the development of the Council itself. The high profile of such a meeting and the attention given by the Heads of States and Governments of the Arctic countries could substantially contribute to the reaffirmation of the multilateral and rules-based approach we are witnessing in the Arctic today. The idea of an Arctic Summit is not new; it has been raised by researchers for many years. A serious consideration of the initiative gives in itself added value and content to this emerging region with global reach.

The European Union

The Arctic policy of the European Union is evolving but to some extent is still a work in progress. I am very pleased to welcome Commissioner Damanaki to our Conference and thank her for her leadership in these issues. She just outlined the actions taken by the Commission so far. During 2008 and 2009 we have seen indeed the European Commission and the European Council publish Arctic Communications and Conclusions that have laid the foundation for Arctic thinking within the Union. Finland will continue to assist in shaping the Union’s Arctic policies for the years to come. A new Communication is currently under preparation in the Commission. This will be, we are confident, a step again in the right direction.

The European Parliament has consistently contributed to the formulation of the EU’s arctic policy with resolutions, statements and conferences. The Parliament recently adopted a much awaited “Report on a sustainable EU policy for the High North” by Michael Gahler. Finnish Members of the European Parliament took an active part in the preparations of the Report. I am confident that the report will be duly noted in discussions within the EU institutions, including in the Commission when preparing its Communication.

Based on the rapidly increasing importance of the Arctic to the EU and the growing need to reach out and communicate on Arctic issues both internally and externally, Finland has proposed the establishment of an EU Arctic Information Centre as a network undertaking by European Arctic institutes. The Centre would, on one hand, support the formation of coherent Arctic policy for the EU, and, on the other, provide a channel for dissemination of accurate Arctic information within and outside the EU.

The Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi would, in our view, be the best location for the Center for a number of reasons, the most important being the strong and internationally acknowledged cross-disciplinary Arctic scientific research conducted at the Center. The University of Lapland already co-ordinates the activities of the existing network of Arctic Universities, known as UArctic. Furthermore, the Sami, as the only indigenous people in the EU, would have a best possible access to this Arctic location on the Polar circle. Since the initiative is gaining ever wider support within the EU, we believe that the time for the Commission to move on the modalities is now.

Another dimension of EU’s arctic policy is the concept of so-called Arctic window of the Northern Dimension policy of the EU. Geographically, the region covered by the Northern Dimension closely coincides with the Barents Euro Arctic Council. Synergies can be found also with activities of other regional councils and cooperation structures. The newest Partnership on Transport and Logistics is particularly relevant in dealing with the development of transport corridors in the North, covering the Arctic maritime routes and rail and road connections in the Barents region. This could be the platform to extend the cooperation more broadly to the Arctic.

With the emerging climate change – twice as fast as anywhere else in the globe – the Arctic is rapidly reaching a tipping point. Accurate information on the situation as well as assessment on measures to be taken is now of paramount importance. A conference like this can provide additional scientific evidence and legal advice for governments to make the right decisions.

I would like to thank Minister Westerwelle and the Auswärtiges Amt for the excellent cooperation in the preparation of this important conference. I would like to extend my warmest thanks to all presenters and participants. Thank you for joining us. I look forward to interesting and rewarding discussions here in Berlin regarding Arctic issues.

Thank you