Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

EU policy on Arctic issues

Delivered in Plenary - 10th March 2010

Mr President

When Denmark joined the EU in 1973, the EU assumed an Arctic dimension through the Danish dependency of Greenland. In 1985, Greenland chose to leave the EU but, when Sweden and Finland joined 10 years later, they substantially enlarged the EUís interest in the Arctic region.

Since then, the EU has become one of the many actors with a vital strategic interest in the Arctic Ė its environment and its natural resources. As countries with territory in the Arctic, the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Iceland all defend their interests robustly and vigorously. The European Union should not hesitate now to do so as well and the Arctic Council, in my view, is the best arena in which to do so. The Unionís ad hoc observer status in the Arctic Council is inadequate for this purpose. I hope that the High Representative will insist on permanent observer status for the EU at the next ministerial meeting in April next year in Greenland.

It is regrettable that Canada is blocking the EU in retaliation for the Unionís ban on seal products, and I hope that, eventually, common sense will prevail. This approach makes little sense, given the fact that six EU Member States, including the United Kingdom Ė my own Ė are permanent observers. Nevertheless, the coordination between Denmark, Sweden and Finland on the Arctic Council has been exemplary and has served as a platform for the EUís wider interest to be heard in the region.

The contributions of our ally, Norway, and Iceland, now an aspiring EU Member State, have further galvanised European participation in the Arctic Forum. This is vital because Russia has left us in little doubt as to its own designs on the Arctic, famously planting a Russian flag on the seabed of the North Pole in 2007. We know to our cost that Russia sometimes follows its own rule book in international affairs. Only a united front by other members and the observers on the Arctic Council, working through the EUís Northern Dimension policy, will keep the Kremlin in check. We cannot allow the Arctic to become the new arena for Russiaís expansionist tendencies.