The European Union Arctic policy and national interests of France and Germany: internal and external policy coherence at stake?

Author:Pelaudeix, Cecile

Abstract: Coherence, a fundamental principle of European Union (EU) foreign policy remains a challenge for the EU. For example, the development of an EU Arctic policy raises both internal and external challenges as two non-Arctic member states, France and Germany, move to establish their own Arctic policies. Internally, EU inter-institutional coherence has also been difficult to achieve as shown by the first effort to draft an EU Arctic policy and by the EU regulation on trade in seal products. However, internal coherence has significantly improved since 2008, and the Parliament, Commission, and Council now maintain similar positions, yet the EU is still waiting for its admission to the Arctic Council. External coherence between EU member states on Arctic issues has proven to be more elusive. France is using high-level diplomacy to define its Arctic agenda, and is clearly challenging the EU consensus on co-operation as an unambitious policy. Germany is pointing at inefficiencies regarding the coordination of EU member states while taking a more collaborative approach with Arctic countries and maintaining close ties with the EU. Although EU Arctic policy is now entering a new phase of maturity, the EU will require better coordination and a clearer vision of its role in order to position itself as an effective foreign-policy stakeholder in the Arctic, in particular when new powerful actors like Asian states enter the geopolitics and geo-economics of the Arctic.


Since 2008, the European Union (EU) has been developing an Arctic policy on the argument that it is an Arctic entity: indeed Denmark, Finland, and Sweden are EU and Arctic states and full members of the Arctic Council, which was created in 1996. Although Greenland withdrew from the EU in 1985, Greenland has strong links to the EU and is part of the Overseas Countries and Territories. Furthermore, Norway and Iceland are parties to the European Economic Area. Climate change, energy security, resource development, and the possible opening of trade routes, to name a few, have created a surge of interest within the EU to develop an Arctic policy. Such policy-making, however, has been a challenge for the EU both internally and externally. Internally, by reason of the need to present with a common vision between its four major institutions: the European Parliament (EP), the European Commission, the European Council, and the European External Action Service (EEAS). Externally, because of the need to accommodate differing interests between Arctic and non-Arctic states as, for example, in the EU regulation on trade in seal products.

EU member states have also been active in developing Arctic policies. In 2010, Finland was the first European state to publish its strategy. (1) Denmark, Europe's only Arctic coastal state, developed its own strategy one year later, (2) as did Sweden the same day it took the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. (3) Yet the European picture is recently evolving further with three non-Arctic EU states developing their own Arctic policies: France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (4). France, which appointed a special ambassador for the international negotiations on both the Arctic and Antarctic regions in 2009, is structuring its Arctic research. Germany has recently published guidelines for its policy in the Arctic. France and Germany have no claims to Arctic waters, except freedom of navigation, and they enjoy observer status on the Arctic Council. (5) Meanwhile, the EU is still waiting to be granted observer status in the Arctic Council. In this article, we analyze and compare initiatives to develop an Arctic policy by the EU and by two non-Arctic member states, France and Germany. We do not assess the relevance of these actors in the Arctic political arena, a feature sometimes questioned. For our purpose it matters more to understand the process and strategies used by a transnational actor like the EU and by member states with their own Arctic history, interests, and policies. Arctic policy in the EU is considered both internal and external policy, with DG MARE (the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) and the European External Action Service as key institutions dealing with Arctic policy. (6) In Germany and France the ministries of foreign affairs are responsible for Arctic policy. Our focus, though, is not on foreign policy, but on coherence.

The European Union is characterized by complex multi-level governance with independent institutions whose agendas and objectives sometimes conflict with each other. This situation creates much internal complexity and slows down the policy-making process. In these conditions one might ask whether the EU can produce a credible and coherent Arctic policy. Concordantly, what are France's and Germany's approaches to show their relevance and to protect and advance their interests in the Arctic? Are these approaches coherent with EU Arctic policy? France and Germany share a keen interest in the Arctic, but seem to adopt different strategies. France keeps a high diplomatic profile with an ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic negotiations, while Germany pursues a more discrete approach based on scientific research, technical expertise, and promotion of commercial interests. Finally, to what extent can EU Arctic policy-making explain moves by France and Germany on Arctic issues?

To answer these questions, we take a comparative approach with emphasis on the concept of coherence, analyzed at both internal and external levels. The issue of policy coherence has been given much emphasis in the development of the EU, in particular in the Lisbon Treaty, which was designed to improve the efficiency of EU foreign policy by increasing coherence between the different areas of its external action, and between these and the other policies (article 10). Policy coherence relates to the absence of contradiction between different policies and the promotion of mutually reinforcing policies across government (Nuttall 2005). In particular, we will look at institutional and sometimes individual actors, their interests, and the strategies they have developed to face internal and external challenges in terms of coherence: internal coherence relates to the coherence of the various EU and national policies between them, while external coherence relates to the coherence of policies with Arctic states and, for France and Germany, Arctic states and the EU Arctic policy.

For this analysis we have relied on official documents, public declarations by decision makers, and interviews with key civil servants and policy-makers in the EU, France, and Germany, as well as on scientific literature.

The European Union: Building Policy Coherence on the Arctic

The EU governance structure presents some challenges, in terms of institutional coherence, that impact its foreign policy (Keukeleire and MacNaughtan 2008:121, Portela and Raube 2012). Not only are its structures far more complex in comparison with those of states, but the size of the institutions should not be forgotten as an important factor in the political process. Representing more than 500 million people, the world's third largest population after China and India, the EU's parliament encompasses 766 members, its Commission has forty directorate generals and services, and its Council consists of the heads of twenty-eight member states.

Moreover, when the Arctic policy was still in an early stage, the Lisbon Treaty (in force from December 2009) introduced major changes, in particularly the January 2011 launch of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which aimed to bring more continuity, coherence, and visibility into EU external affairs.

From the Northern Dimension to an Arctic Policy: External Coherence

A significant difference exists between current external reception of EU Arctic policy, mostly amongst the Arctic states, and the constructive climate of co-operation that characterized the bilateral relations between the EU and some Arctic states, in particular Canada, in the 1990s when these countries were developing their respective northern dimension policies.

Member of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council since 1993, the EU developed the Northern Dimension in 1999 after the integration of Finland and Sweden. This was a joint policy shared by four equal partners--the EU, Norway, Iceland, and the Russian Federation--to promote cross-border co-operation and where Canada and the US perform the role of observer. Whereas Canada was developing the basis for a Canadian foreign policy for the Circumpolar North, Canada notes that after the integration of Sweden and Finland "not only do EU regional and foreign policies now include an Arctic component, but the Nordic states are in some sense becoming a crossroads for that pan-Arctic co-operation" (Graham 1997). A few years later, Canada welcomed "transatlantic co-operation with the EU" and was "pleased with the synergies and co-operation of different policies concerning the northern hemisphere" (Arctic Council 2002). Canada further stated that the EU "actively participates in the work of the three most important regional bodies of the Northern Dimension region: the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council ... The development of an Arctic perspective in the EU's Northern Dimension ... can help to strengthen the basis for our future co-operation" (Canada-EU 2002). At that time, the inclusion of the EU in the main institutions of Arctic governance was expected and taken for granted.

The 2008 report submitted by Solana and Ferrero-Waldner to the European Council, "Climate Change and International Security," suggested that the EU should "develop an EU Arctic policy based on the evolving geo-strategy of the Arctic region, taking into account the access to resources and the opening of new trade routes" (Solana and Ferrero-Waldner 2008). This paper is considered a "seminal...

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