Statement by Secretary of State Torstila at the Arctic Frontiers 2011 Conference

Statement by Secretary of State Torstila at the Arctic Frontiers 2011 Conference

Arctic Frontiers 2011
High Time for the High North - The Finnish Way
Statement by Secretary of State Pertti Torstila
Tromsö 24 January 2011

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking the organizers for this very timely Conference and the opportunity to speak on Finland’s Arctic views. The Arctic region is undergoing a period of change, and with the international attention towards the region on increase, the importance of gatherings like the annual Arctic Frontiers Conference are instrumental in drawing attention to the key issues of today.

Finland is an Arctic actor, and in my presentation I will go through the essential elements of our Arctic policy with the recently published Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region in mind, discuss the European Union as an Arctic actor, and touch upon some common challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region

As Finland is one of the world’s northernmost countries with one third of our territory above the Arctic Circle, it is natural for us to take our Arctic commitments seriously. A recent manifestation of this is the publication of Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region in June 2010.

The Arctic history of Finland obviously dates back much longer than last summer. The Saami, the northernmost indigenous peoples in Europe, have lived in Finland – as well as in the neighboring countries - for thousands of years. This year we celebrate the remarkable achievements by Arctic explorers from our neighbors – Lomonosov, Nansen and Amundsen. Alongside them the Finn Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld stands out as the first man who sailed his ship through the Northern Passage during 1878/1879. Nordenskiöld had to interrupt his voyage for the winter due to the harsh conditions, but modern Finland has learned to cope with the annual freezing of all our sea harbors. We are the only country in the world experiencing such a dramatic limitation to seafaring and yet shipping continues at all our harbors uninterrupted all year round.

As a result of geography, history, and experience, Finland has a natural interest and contribution to make in the Arctic.

The move towards a state change – the Arctic Tipping Points – has been recognized during the last few years by the circumpolar governments and it has led to national assessments and reassessments of the situation. In Finland we have approached the modern day Arctic challenges and opportunities in the new national Arctic Strategy. We firmly believe that Arctic issues should be dealt with in a rules based-multilateral framework with an emphasis on comprehensive security and environmental sustainability. What used to be considered periphery is becoming the center of global politics. It is of utmost importance that all Arctic actors remain committed to an approach based on constructive cooperation and non-confrontation. Gladly, this seems to be the case, and has been recently proved by the exemplary agreement on maritime borders between Russia and Norway in the Barents Sea. This kind of constructive cooperation is the key to success in the Arctic and to our satisfaction this appears to be the view shared by all Arctic partners.

The Finnish Strategy sums up our views on Arctic issues in one package and provides 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 reach them.
- The Strategy deals among other issues with the utilization of Finland’s Arctic know-how and research, institutional issues, and regional cooperation.
- Environmental matters and questions related to the indigenous peoples are of great importance in the Strategy.

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 knowhow to offer in this context. A key issue for Finland – and I believe to all stakeholders in the Arctic - is to combine economic activities in the Arctic with environmental concerns, keeping sustainable development as the basic platform.

Economic activities and the utilization of the regions natural resources require both know-how, caution and responsibility as compatibility with the principles of sustainable development is necessary due to the fragile nature. Horizontal observance of high environmental standards and the needs of the indigenous peoples should be observed in all activities. We for our part believe that education, research and application of our Arctic expertise is the key to a responsible exploitation of the Arctic. Finland has plenty to offer in this regard as we have 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.

Finland is prepared to take a closer look at how the needs of different Arctic partners match with the expertise and know-how that we possess, and stands ready to study what others can offer to us. We are also open to exploring possibilities of increased scientific and research related cooperation.

Arctic Council

In order to make the rules based multilateral approach towards the Arctic function in practice, we need the right tools. The Arctic Council is the primary forum for Arctic cooperation. Other important arenas are the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Nordic Council of Ministers and the European Union. We should neither forget the benefits that bilateral cooperation can provide.

The Arctic Council, the “A8+”, is the principal intergovernmental forum to deal with Arctic policies. Foreign Minister of Finland, Mr. Stubb, made concrete proposals on the strengthening of the Arctic Council last summer. These proposals include among others
- the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the Council,
- better burden sharing with a joint budget,
- expansion of the Council’s mandate and improvement of its’ working methods, and
- acceptance of new permanent observer members.

Enhanced interaction between Arctic and non-Arctic stakeholders and players is indispensable – an integrated approach requires engagement from all with legitimate interest in the Arctic. As the Arctic Council Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Nuuk in May is rapidly approaching, we remain optimistic about the prospects of attaining tangible results on these issues.

The period following the Tromsö Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in 2009 has been very productive and it has laid the foundation for the decisions the Council is expected to take in May. In line with Norway’s active policy in the High North, we recognize the candidacy of the city of Tromsö for the permanent secretariat of the Arctic Council. The decision on the establishment and location of the secretariat will be taken by the Arctic Council and it is obvious that Tromsö possesses the qualifications needed, among those a solid history and impressive track record in the Arctic research at the Tromsö University, as well as the important location in the Arctic region.

The change and development of the Arctic Council will hopefully become reality in May. One encouraging sign in shaping the role of the Council is the recent agreement on Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement which will be signed by the Arctic Council Foreign Ministers in Nuuk.

As the role of the Council is changing, we believe that the time is also ripe for considerations on an Arctic Summit, as was proposed by Minister Stubb last June. This 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.

An Arctic Summit should not be seen solely as a supporting track in the process of strengthening of the Council. The high profile attention given by the Heads of States of the Arctic countries could substantially contribute to the galvanization of the multilateral and rules-based approach we are witnessing in the Arctic today. Idea of an Arctic Summit is not entirely new, it has been raised for example by researchers during the years. The initiative merits serious consideration as it gives an added value and content to the emerging region with global reach. The Summit would have a major impact in reaching “High North with Low Tension”.

European Union

One essential factor for strengthening of the Arctic cooperation is the acknowledgement of the European Union’s role. Finland believes that the EU is an Arctic actor and that the EU Commission, like any actor with legitimate interests in the Arctic, should be accepted as a permanent observer in the Arctic Council. The EU is implementing major programs in the Arctic contributing to research, environment, energy, fisheries, transport and indigenous peoples and three of its’ Member States Denmark, Finland and Sweden are Arctic nations. It is hard to see how the Arctic Council could not benefit from a more active participation by the Union.

The Arctic policy of the European Union is in a process of shaping, and we are glad to be able to take note of recent positive developments in this regard. During 2008 and 2009 we have seen the European Commission and the European Council publish Arctic Communications and Conclusions that have laid the foundation for Arctic thinking within the Union. A new Communication is currently under preparation in the Commission and it will be published by next summer. This will be a highly important document and we stand ready to assist in formulating the Communication which will shape the Union’s Arctic policies for the years to come.

Alongside the Commission, also other institutions of the European Union are becoming more active on the Arctic front. The European Parliament last Thursday adopted a much awaited “Report on a sustainable EU policy for the High North,” the so called Gahler Report named after the rapporteur, Member of the European Parliament Mr. Michael Gahler. Finnish Members of the European Parliament took actively part in the preparations of the Report. The European Parliament has consistently contributed to the formulation of the EU’s arctic policy with resolutions, statements and conferences. The latest Report will undoubtedly be duly noted in discussions within the EU institutions, including the Commission while preparing its Communication.

The Report, while fulfilling the purpose of envisaging broader EU policies for the Arctic, also mentions a Finnish initiative I would like to discuss more in detail, namely the idea of establishing an Arctic Information Center for the European Union. EU’s Arctic Information Center would be essential for awareness raising on Arctic issues both within the Partner countries and outside the Union. There is an obvious need both among the public, as well as decision makers and the scientific community in gaining easy access to information relevant to the Union’s Arctic policies. The center would serve as a tool to support EU’s Arctic policy and increase its visibility.

A moment ago I spoke about the strengths of the city of Tromsö in Arctic affairs, and I could repeat the same list of qualifications for the Finnish city of Rovaniemi, which is the host of the University of Lapland with its acknowledged Arctic Centre. Rovaniemi is Finland’s candidate for hosting the EU Arctic Information Center. The Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi would be the best location for the Center for a number of reasons, the most important being the strong and internationally acknowledged cross-disciplined scientific Arctic research conducted at the Center. The Arctic Center already serves as the hub of the existing network of Arctic Universities, known as UArctic. This position has not been reached without merits and the experience of several years in conducting duties similar to those planned for the EU Information Centre makes the Arctic Center in Rovaniemi a first class candidate.

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. In our view, as a first step, there is an added value in the synergy and positive overlapping between the Northern Dimension Partnerships and the Working Groups of the Barents Council. The ND Partneship on Environment has demonstrated the viability of the concept. Here in the North the newest Partnership on Transport and Logistics is particularly relevant in dealing with the development of harbors and transport corridors leading to them from mainland. This would be the platform to extent the cooperation broader to the Arctic.

Ladies and gentlemen,

President Gorbachev raised in his speech in Murmansk in 1987 his environmental concerns regarding the Arctic regions. This led in 1991 to the launching of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), the so-called Rovaniemi Process, which thus is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year in Rovaniemi. The success of this Process was manifested in the establishment of the Arctic Council some five years later.

The future in the Arctic is full of uncertainties. We know that we are approaching the tipping point, but what comes after that? On a positive note, in short and medium term new resources – both renewable and non-renewable – are becoming available.

Whereas we cannot control the nature, we can by our actions, by research and education, by using resources in environmentally sustainable way, and by dialogue and cooperation mitigate the consequences of the change, while preparing to adapt ourselves to others.