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The Arctic: Speech on behalf of High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell at the EP Plenary


Delivered by Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton

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Madame President, honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Today’s debate is a timely opportunity to confirm the importance of the European Union´s continued engagement as it has been said in Arctic matters. On behalf of the Commission and High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell, I would like to thank Ms [Anna] Fotyga for her timely report, which stresses this point just as clearly as the Joint Communication which will be issued on 13 October. I am very glad to note that your Arctic team and ours have been in a very close contact. 

The Arctic is drawing renewed attention, it’s true, from scientists, but also think tanks and security analysts because of its key role in local and global climate change. Of course, its abundant resources on land, at sea and under the seabed and also because of the increasing interest as it has been said in Arctic sea-lanes, but also connectivity, cables and in a nutshell the geopolitical importance of these extremely vast regions. But we must also remind ourselves that the people living across the Arctic regions do of course not see this area as a “newly discovered part of the world”. They have lived here for centuries; they know the tough life well.

The European Parliament report reaffirms that the Arctic is of strategic and political importance for the European Union, as an Arctic stakeholder as a global actor also. It underlines the European Union’s commitment to being a responsible actor, seeking the long-term sustainable and peaceful development of the region by fully cooperating with international partners. And let me highlight, if you allow me, a few points of relevance.

First, the European Union is in the Arctic. Not for convenience, but out of necessity. 

Many of the challenges facing the Arctic regions call for regional and multilateral cooperation. This goes for the work to clean up the ocean from litter, safeguard fish stocks, and drive forward a transition away from hydrocarbons to carbon neutral production and transport systems, while of course at the same time enhancing the attractiveness of living, working and thriving in Arctic regions. 

Secondly, the European Union is well placed to engage in regional and multilateral efforts across the Arctic. In science and research, for instance. Also in space-based capabilities, which is extremely important. And of course, I already mentioned it, in the fight against climate change. 

We see a need to work with all Arctic partners as well as interlocutors from outside who already take an interest in Arctic affairs (such as China, India, Japan, etc.) and those who only indirectly are important for the Arctic regions (such as ASEAN, African Union, etc). 

Some discussions will of course demand courage and willingness to be bold. We need to be frank about the importance of keeping oil, gas and coal in the ground, also in Arctic regions. Global demand for hydrocarbons must be reduced. Of course, this has to be done cautiously. Furthermore, we also need to be in close contact with local inhabitants, including of course indigenous peoples, about the growing need for critical materials. We must preserve the resources in the oceans to be able to use them. In a nutshell, we need to be clever also about risks from tourism and possible accidents. 

So let me close by saying that I really look forward to working with you on this very important and comprehensive agenda. 

Merci beaucoup.

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Closing statement

Mr President, Honourable Members, 

The debate today testifies to your commitment and continued interest and engagement in Arctic matters. 

I should like to close by acknowledging the importance of the observations of Foreign Affairs Committe Chair [David] McAllister in his remarks after the mission to the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland and Iceland in late September.

The discussion today, as well as the report, will inform the Joint Communication that we will present next week in the Commission.

So, I would like to thank you very much for this debate.

Thank you.

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Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Paloma Hall Caballero
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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