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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

The Northern Dimension Action Plan: Arctic Council cooperation with the European Commission and Northern regional bodies.

Northern Dimension Action Plan

Meeting of Northern regional bodies
and the European Commission


4 February 2004

Statement by the Chairman of the Senior Arctic Officials
Ambassador Gunnar Pálsson

I wish to thank the European Commission for inviting the Arctic Council to be represented here among the four Northern regional bodies. Congratulations are also due to the Commission on the entry into force of the Second Northern Dimension Action Plan (SNDAP), an event welcomed by the Arctic Council.

In part, our meeting in Brussels today is a continuation of the work we initiated approximately one year ago. In part, it is a new departure, because we, the European Commission and its partners, now must put into practice the common objectives contained in the SNDAP. There is a need, in other words, to take our cooperation to the next level.

Implementation of the Northern Dimension Action Plan

The Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council has paid a great deal of attention to the European Union’s Northern Dimension Action Plan over the past twelve months. We are, on the whole, satisfied with how the new plan accommodates Arctic concerns. The way the Union now defines the Arctic as a “cross-cutting theme” and one that should be “mainstreamed” within each priority area of the SNDAP, is a promising novelty.

We are pleased to see three important Arctic Council projects mentioned specifically in Annex 1 of the SNDAP. All of those refer to the need to monitor and tackle pollutants throughout the Northern Dimension region.

But no plan is perfect and we should not demand this of the SNDAP. Nevertheless, in the comments provided by the Arctic Council Secretariat to the draft SNDAP last September, we identified a number of possible improvements. With your permission, I would like to reiterate those points:

(1) The research section of the plan limits scientific exchanges to researchers in the EU and Russia. In the Arctic Council´s view, it would be appropriate to mention the whole Northern Dimension in this context.

(2) The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) might have been mentioned in the Annex, for example, in relation to the reference in the text to the UK research on climate change.

(3) It is unclear if references to projects in the Annex, while useful for transparency´s sake, imply some kind of commitment from the EU side.

(4) The idea put forth in the Action Plan, of organizing annual meetings of Senior Officials, is useful, but may not be sufficient to achieve the stated goals of combining efforts and avoiding overlaps.

The Arctic Council has thoroughly examined practical ways of cooperating with the Commission. Thus far, we have identified several Arctic Council projects to that end. A list of those, coordinated with the relevant Arctic Council working groups, has been submitted to the Commission with an invitation to cooperate on any or all of them.

In addition, we now aim to organize a one-day workshop with the European Commission in Brussels next month, focusing on concrete projects where the Arctic Council and the European Commission could cooperate. In order to ensure a productive outcome of this workshop, the Arctic Council would like to earmark the projects jointly with the Commission beforehand.

Should the workshop go forward as scheduled, we will already have moved to the next stage in our cooperation with the European Union.

Different priorities and activities to be addressed by each regional body

The European Commission´s definition of the Arctic as a cross-cutting theme and one to be mainstreamed within each priority area opens up a possibility for the Arctic Council to become involved in a number of cooperative enterprises. For example:

The Northern Dimension Action Plan pays particular attention to Russia. In the Arctic Council, we have the so-called Arctic Council Action Plan to Eliminate Pollution in the Arctic (ACAP). I am pleased to see this action plan mentioned in the Annex to the SNDAP. ACAP was set up as a follow-up to the monitoring and assessment work of the Arctic Council to address identified sources of pollution. Under the auspices of ACAP, several projects are being carried out to reduce pollution, all of which are directed towards Russia. In the list of projects we have submitted to the Commission, we have detailed the most relevant ones from the point of view of our cooperation with the Commission.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) would seem to be another excellent candidate. The ACIA is scheduled to be finalized this year and although no decision has been made as to its follow-up, all chapter authors have identified research priorities that need to be addressed in the context of climate change in order to answer some of the compelling questions of the future.

Two other environmental activities of the Arctic Council are mentioned specifically in the SNDAP. One is the monitoring of persistent organic pollutants by AMAP and the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan.

Issues dealing with the lives of Arctic residents are high on the Council´s agenda these days. The Arctic Human Development Report has been identifies as one effort offering possibilities for cooperation. From the point of view of the Arctic Council, the involvement of the European Commission in this project would serve the purpose of establishing a common knowledge base for defining more concrete projects in the fields of social and economic development in the future.

Another example is the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for development in the Arctic. Working with the Commission, and possibly other regional bodies, in realizing common objectives in this field, particularly as regards telemedicine and distance education, might confer mutual advantages. In this context, I could mention the Northern e Dimension, where the Commission, in cooperation with other relevant bodies, could develop one or more new action lines to specifically address the concerns of the wider Northern area.

Finally, the Arctic Council is, of course, a unique forum of cooperation among governments and indiginous people. Therefore, the Council could also have a role to play as a vehicle for conveying the concerns of indigenous people in the framework of the Second Northern Dimension Action Plan.


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