The first EU Arctic Forum 3–4 October in Umeå, Sweden

Higher ambitions, more cooperation and actions together with the people living and working in the Arctic, were some of the conclusions when the Crown Princesses, Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, The European External Action Service and the European Commission hosted EU Arctic Forum and the EU indigenous peoples dialogue in Umeå 3-4th October.

The EU Arctic Forum is a result of North Sweden’s network Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) undertaking to put the EUs own Arctic regions in focus of the EU ambitions to contribute with sustainable development to the Arctic region. With this in mind North Sweden and the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs invited to the first arctic forum in northern Sweden.

Continued dialogue with the arctic regions of the EU 

Close to 500 participants gathered in Aula Nordica at Umeå University to discuss questions regarding the Arctic, exchange ideas and to network. The alarming climate changes in combination with a rise in geopolitical tensions is getting more and more actors interested and engaged in the development of the Arctic, both inside and outside of the Arctic countries. This became obvious from the broad representation of ministers for foreign affairs from different countries, amongst others India and Malta. 

Swedish minister for foreign affairs Ann Linde declared that the Arctic goal for Sweden is very clear; the area shall be characterized by sustainable growth, peace, stability and international cooperation. This is much in line with the EUs integrated policy for the Arctic which has since 2016 been the foundation for the EU cooperation with actors on different levels of the European Arctic and in which North Sweden via NSPA had an active dialogue about how to best tackle the challenges and harvest the opportunities for a sustainable regional development in the EU Arctic Policy. 

Åsa Larsson Blind, Chair of the Sami Council welcomed the participants to Sapmi and launched the new Sami Arctic Strategy. The new strategic document focuses on lack of knowledge and the need for scientific research. The strategy puts forth overreaching goals and the methods of achieving them.

The EU  Ambassador at Large for the Arctic Marie-Anne Coninsx also put forth the importance for the EU of a continuous dialogue with the people in the Arctic. She along with the Swedish Ambassador for the Arctic, Björn Lyrvall, participated at a diner with the steering committee of NSPA the night before where she stressed the positive impact of the work done by the Regional offices in Brussels and their commitment for their own arctic regions.

Northern Sparsely Populated Areas in the discussion

Before the forum the fourteen northernmost sparsely populated regions in the network NSPA contributed with collective opinions on how the EUs future relationship to the Arctic and most importantly, how the EU can continue to develop policy together with the arctic regions of Europe.  

The Mayor Luleå, Niklas Nordström, participated in a panel about cooperation in the Arctic and emphasized with a number of examples the possibilities for the industry to transition in to sustainability and face the challenges of climate changes with new innovations and smarter technology. This calls for more dialogue on how investments best can contribute to release the potential of northern Sweden. 

The need for investments in the Arctic was also the theme for the panel where the Project Leader for the Arctic investment Platform, Johannes Lith, Participated. The project is an initiative conducted by the regions of the NSPA network after the joint OECD study where several common challenges and strengths where identified. The purpose is to better understand and connect the investment opportunities in the regions with small and medium sized businesses in northern Sweden, northern Finland and northern Norway. 

Umeå university with its Arctic Research Centre (Acrum) and the cooperation "arctic five" in which Luleå Technical University also participates, was mentioned a number of times as good examples and a crucial basis for the ability to harvest the knowledge and research in the European arctic. 

Professor Peter Sköld, Dean of Acrum and chair of the university of the Arctic, that gathers 200 universities and scientific research centers across the world, spoke in the panel "Connecting Arctic" about the importance to tie people together through more cooperation in arctic research, exchange programs and teaching.   

indigenous peoples dialogue with sustainability in focus

Day number two the focus was on the Sami People, the only recognized indigenous people of Europe. The day started off with The Swedish minister for Agriculture Jennie Nilsson along with Per-Olov Nutti chair of the Sami Parliament. This was followed by two panels with among others Chris McDonald from OECD who presented the study "Linking Indigenous Communities with Regional Development". Case studies from Australia Canada and Sweden shows the need for more institutional capacity and a clearer standpoint on the rights of indigenous people and the responsibility of the national governments. OECD emphasized that the Sami people like other indigenous peoples are contributing to economic activities and business that favors the regional development and that the regional policymaking should focus more clearly on promoting Sami entrepreneurship. There is also a lack of data and research funds to Sami research and this is needed for future development of Sami businesses. 

On the forums first day Peter Winsur from the World Wildife fund put forth that more strategic thinking regarding sustainable investments is needed. The permafrost can for example ruin investments in infrastructure in the arctic in a span of ten years if the planning for these are not sustainable from the start.

David Mair, head of unit at the Joint Research Centre of the EU, pointed out that EU needs traditional knowledge that the indigenous people possesses if the EU and the world shall be able to tackle the challenges connected to climate changes. When traditional knowledge and means of providing is inseparable we need to increase the communication of knowledge between professions to achieve sustainable research that builds societies in the Arctic where people actually live and work. 

A fresh start for arctic platforms 

The EU Arctic forum was arranged at the same time as the Barents Euro-Arctic ministerial council. This was partly manifested in the end of the forum with different political initiatives for sustainable development in the arctic and a start of new cooperation. EU has a new parliament and in November a new commission is taking seat, but we are still yet to see where the responsibility for arctic policy will land.   

Together with the Barents Euro-Arctic council meeting the presidency was handed over from Sweden to Norway, and the regional chairmanship was handed over from Finnmarks Fylkeskommune to the county government of Västerbotten. The focus for Västerbotten for the coming two years will be environment and climate, equality, digital healthcare and issues with predatorial animals. 

Read the NSPA position paper for the EU Arctic Forum here

Read the OECD study of indigenous people and regional development here 

Read the new Sami arctic strategy from the Sami Council here

Read more about the Barents Arctic-Euro cooperation here

06 Okt 2019