Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini's speech in EU High-Level event in Oulu

Keynote speech by Mr. Timo Soini Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland EU High-Level event "A sustainable Arctic – innovative approaches” Oulu, 15 June 2017.

It is a pleasure to see such a wide audience at this first high-level Arctic event of the European Union. I am honored to host this event with the High Representative Frederica Mogherini and with Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

The fact that this event is a joint effort of the Finnish Foreign Ministry, the EU institutions and of the City of Oulu and that the audience is composed of people of a variety of backgrounds reflects the fact that the Arctic is both global and local. The Arctic issues need attention from the foreign policy community, environmental experts, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, and of course the Arctic dwellers.

The title of this event is "A sustainable Arctic – innovative approaches". It depicts the challenges that we face: how to safeguard the Arctic environment and livelihoods and how to encourage and support innovative and sustainable development of the Arctic. As is true anywhere on the globe, also in the Arctic sustainable development commitments need to be translated into action. This requires research, education, innovative technologies and investment. It requires international cooperation but also local initiatives. Indigenous and local inhabitants are our indispensable resource and guides in this effort. 

In the past, economic development and environmental protection were seen as mutually exclusive alternatives. Luckily private businesses recognized early on, that in fact the opposite is true. This has since been transferred also to governmental policies and in some cases into international standards. We need to continue on this path when developing Arctic policies and initiatives.

Arctic is already significantly affected by the climate change and the change seems to be gathering pace. This emphasizes the importance of the Paris Climate Agreement. The recent set-backs should not discourage us, but to make us even more determined to make true of the commitments we have made.

The effects as well as the solutions for climate change can be observed at both local and global level. This is why it is encouraging to witness renewed and even reinforced commitments to combat climate change from local and regional actors. We need to keep climate change high on the Arctic agenda.  

The EU has a significant role to play in the Arctic. The EU is a key actor in supporting sustainable development and innovation in the Arctic. The EU’s engagement through research, financial instruments, investment, capacity building and innovative technologies is necessary.

The EU adopted last year the Communication on an Integrated European Union Policy for the Arctic. It defined three priority areas where the EU will act in the coming years: 1) Climate Change and Safeguarding the Arctic Environment; 2) Sustainable Development in and around the Arctic, and; 3) International Cooperation on Arctic Issues. This reflects well the Finnish thinking. We need to make sure that these priorities are turned in to concrete initiatives. This event in Oulu provides an important forum to do so.

The necessity of economic growth and job creation is as evident in the Arctic regions as is elsewhere in Europe. These regions need support in building a competitive and attractive environment for new businesses and research. It is necessary to develop both infrastructure and intelligent transport systems. An enhanced access to the Arctic Ocean would benefit all. 

The EU and its Member States are significant beneficiaries of the forests, marine resources, minerals, energy supplies and high quality research of its northern regions. Sustainable investments in the region will thus profit everybody in the long run. Possibilities for cross-border cooperation and a global perspective need to be kept in mind these considerations.

Establishing a dedicated Arctic Dimension in Horizon 2020 is an important step in building a coherent EU approach. But we see the need to put in place more coordinated and effective EU funding mechanisms for the Arctic.

An Arctic Stakeholder Forum will meet tomorrow to discuss investment priorities for the European Arctic.  The EU commitment to dialogue with Arctic stakeholders - the Arctic EU member states, Arctic states and the inhabitants of the Arctic – is highly valued. 

Finland is chairing the Arctic Council until May 2019. Finland’s chairmanship priorities are environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation and education. These are all areas where also the EU has a lot at stake. We should look at what we can achieve together.

The EU Global Strategy for foreign and security policy, published a year ago, depicted "A Cooperative Arctic" as one of the key geographical priorities. As mentioned in the Strategy, the EU has a strategic interest in the Arctic remaining a low-tension area, with ongoing cooperation ensured by the Arctic Council. This, I trust, is a shared interest in this room. A strengthened EU engagement in the Arctic region will support the established international peaceful framework in the Arctic.

Both the EU in its Arctic Communication and Finland during the chairmanship of the Arctic Council emphasize international cooperation as key to sustainable development in the Arctic. This is why I am particularly happy to welcome representatives from non-EU Arctic countries including Norway, Iceland and Canada.

The Arctic is local and global. What we need for a sustainable Arctic are local expertise and initiatives, global commitments and international cooperation. The EU fits well into this picture with its Arctic regions, its wide range of policies and its global reach. The only way to succeed is to work together.

I wish you all warmly welcome to the EU high-level event on the Arctic. Sustainable European Arctic is open for everybody!