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Catching a Cold: Europe’s Exposure to Arctic Change

Posted by / 6th November 2013 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , / -

Europe’s tendency toward policy dominated by concerns for the environment in the Arctic risks the perverse outcome of the Arctic being laid waste to unfettered global demand for new sources of commodity extraction. The boat to the Arctic has already sailed. Rapidly melting sea-ice driven by accelerated climate change means that the Arctic sea routes will shortly see ice-free summers, opening opportunities for transcontinental and local shipping, as well as resource extraction from the Arctic’s rich wealth in oil, gas, minerals, green-energy and fish. Europe’s policy inertia means it has caught a cold – too sick to capitalise on the opportunities of change nor able to protect against its more destructive tendencies.

If Europeans want environmental outcomes high on the Arctic agenda, as they have done to date, the best way to achieve this is by not assuming anyone is listening, nor by banging on the table to make people listen. If it is to have any traction, the European approach needs a degree of sophistication built around EU competencies and capacities. It requires a level of honesty regarding its economic and security interests whilst being more cognisant of its constrained powerbase. Here, China offers Europe some lessons. After a period of testing the temperature, China clearly found the Arctic too cold for confrontational politics. Instead China has geared up on the economic front, opening substantial lines of investment via Greenland, Iceland, and Russia that give it a direct stake in exploration and extraction. It has shored up diplomatic ties with emerging Arctic powers, in particular Iceland whilst having gained observer status at the Arctic Council. Finally, it is investing heavily in Arctic research, partly driven by its own domestic environmental concerns, but also to build credibility with the Arctic community.

Europe’s interests and influence in the Arctic are a little complicated. First off, of the European Union member states only Denmark, by virtue of succession seeking, EU adverse Greenland, is one of the five Arctic Coastal States (US, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark). However the wider definition of  Arctic Countries – that comprise the permanent members of the Arctic Council – swells European interests through the inclusion of Sweden and Finland (US, Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland).

The Arctic Council – although its early interests were rooted in collaborative research and knowledge sharing – is now seen increasingly as the legitimate international forum for considering wider Arctic issues and has recently secured its first internationally binding agreement for search and rescue. A proposal for the Arctic Council to discuss issues of security was vetoed by the US, but with increasing legitimacy and representation the agenda may still widen. Asides from the 3 European permanent members of the Arctic Council, the UK, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, France and most recently Italy have observer status. Europe’s own bid for observer status, unlike China’s was rejected at the last session. Led by Canada, the EU’s protest on seal culling by indigenous people was cited as the reason, but also reflects a broader concern in some quarters of diluting Council decision making and increasing bureaucracy, an undervaluing of the rights and interests of indigenous people, and perhaps a sense that EU interests were marginal to the Arctic debate particularly given bilateral representation of European states.

Europe’s first big foray into melt-conscious Arctic politics started in 2006. At this time Arctic expertise in the assembly was thin, allowing a small group with Arctic interests or expertise to have a big impact on policy direction. Led by Diana Wallis, a European from Yorkshire, the group floated the idea of an Arctic Treaty for its protection, in part modelled on the Antarctic Treaty, albeit that the Antarctic itself does not impinge on sovereign territory. Wallis’ was not a moderate voice, far from it, steering a proposal for a shakeup in Arctic governance. In a controversial move, having no support from any of the five Arctic states, it was proposed that the EU should have a role in the management of the Arctic. The Norwegians took it upon themselves to steer the EU away from a course of conflict that would have resulted in greater marginalisation of EU in Arctic affairs. In November 2008, flanked by the Norwegian Prime Minister, the EU Commission President, humiliated in retreat, issued a joint statement that ‘as a matter of principle, we can say that the Arctic is a sea, and a sea is a sea’. In essence, supporting sovereign claims and therefore primacy under the auspices of the Law of the Seas. With that, any remaining hope for a treaty was dead and buried.

This difficult lesson at least means the EU has graduated class 101. With hindsight the European Commission now states:

As a matter of fact, the similarities between the two poles are scarce: while the Arctic is mainly an ocean the Antarctic is a continent. The Arctic has been populated by humans for millennia, while Antarctica is the largest uninhabited area in the world.

Following the demise of the Arctic Treaty in 2008, the EU has switched tracks, focussing anew on developing a less strident Arctic policy, but still grounded in environment outcomes. Since that time, at glacial speed, the organs of Europe, including the new EU Arctic Forum, have issued a suite of policy-like documents – none of them policies per se and most of them talking to future policy yet to be developed. Their overarching themes have, not unpredictably, been to protect and preserve the Arctic in unison with its population; to promote the sustainable use of resources; and international cooperation.

Five years on, cold shouldered by the Arctic Council and with the melt seemingly in overdrive, the EU is starting to see its policy objectives have failed. In 2012, the generally glossy progress report made to the European Parliament had one exception, a tale telling sentence that reveals a bigger truth and the hint of a change in direction:

However, given the evident speed of change in the Arctic, the time is now ripe to refine the EU’s policy stance towards the region, take a broader approach, and link it with the Europe 2020 Agenda for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth while continuing to support every effort to ensure the effective stewardship of the fragile Arctic environment.

Indeed, a speech issued by European Union on Arctic Strategy in April this year goes somewhat further, with the announcement of focusing policy on three components:

1. Knowledge – establishing closer links with researchers from third countries.
2. Responsibility – working with Arctic partners and with the private sector to develop environmentally-friendly, low-risk technologies that could be used by the extractive industries and the shipping industry.
3. Engagement – stepping up dialogue with Arctic states and stakeholders.

This smacks more of pragmatism and should be applauded. But, of course, the devil is in the detail and, in the case of the EU, the time it takes to develop it. Certainly, Europe is not in a position to match Chinese economic and scientific investment in the region. Rather, Europe needs to identify its own policy devices that balance economic gain with collective stewardship over the environment. Arctic opportunities are specific and many for which European companies are well place to respond. Research remains an obvious area of strength, but Europe should also be leveraging industrial investment in innovative green technologies that can support economically viable and environmentally sensitive Arctic resource extraction. Consideration of the EU’s role in promoting safe, serviced Arctic shipping, improving Arctic communications, supply-logistics and weather forecasting. Promoting European businesses with competitive advantages such as marine insurance and high value engineering. Supporting and investing in northern European ports so that they remain competitive and responsive to rapidly increasing throughput. Providing technical assistance and funding to support indigenous population dislocated by environmental change. Continuing to lobby for environment protection and conservation resulting from Arctic climate change as well as for new risks such as industrial pollution and accidents. To achieve these, there is a need for a pragmatic EU Arctic policy, forged with the right content and strategic balance, not simply a lament for conservation.

The interminable policy drag is a product of failed leadership in a bloated transnational system that is increasingly concerned most with self-conservation and least with the social and economic interests of its people and beyond. The failure in the Arctic is a microcosm a wider malaise, mediocrity and EU inertia. Now that we have caught a cold, there is no cure in sight.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Economics and the Environment: A Brief Review of Arctic Change

Posted by / 2nd November 2013 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , , , , / -

This morning, two news stories filled me with a fleeting sense of hope. Firstly, a remote Arctic Island, known as ‘Rat Island’ due to a mass infestation of Norwegian rats, is finally rodent free. Conservationists have been working tirelessly to exterminate the invasive population for the benefit of the indigenous inhabitants of nesting birds including puffins. Secondly, after their sojourn from storming Arctic oil-rigs, Greenpeace activists and accompanying journalists have had piracy charges downgraded to hooliganism by Russian authorities. What are the wider prospects though for the Arctic heritage to remain unchanged?

In popular European imagination the Arctic looms large as a pristine inaccessible wilderness, a cold inhospitable land of polar bears, fit only for our most intrepid explorers and scientists. From this starting point European sensitivities rail against the huge potential of the Arctic as a source of primary commodities to fuel economic growth. Europe’s is a tendency toward Arctic conservationism and a fanciful hope, like that of China’s too, that the Arctic should be considered, in a non-legal sense, a global Common. This imagery will be increasingly that – a figment of the imagination. We are witnessing an astonishing pace of ecological, economic and political transformation of the Arctic driven by climate change. The Arctic we know and love is moving to the mythological annals of history.

Change is coming apace. Already the annual average temperature for the Arctic region is about 1 ºC warmer than the recorded average between 1961 to 1990 and as much as 5 ºC above the seasonal norm for October-November. As the arctic warms, the scientists’ Arctic sea-ice dial is being constantly ratcheted down from rock-hard towards almost-slushy. In three decades Arctic sea ice covers now only half of its previous expanse. Estimates of an ice-free summer ocean by 2030 are now looking a little conservative with the latest data suggesting a decade earlier is plausible, in part explained by polar amplification and spurred along by black carbon deposits.

Polar bears and walruses are particularly dependent on thick sea ice. The polar bear is now listed as an endangered species and walruses as candidate species for listing. Decline in the population of several sub-species of seal follow hot on their heels. Moreover, subarctic flora and fauna, both terrestrial and marine, are migrating northward to compete with indigenous species that cannot rely on evolutionary responses to keep pace with the rate of change. Habitats are changing: coastlines are eroding and as the permafrost reduces, frozen tundra is reverting to swampland last seen some 50 million years ago. Arctic cyclones are growing in size and strength with local impact, but also being held responsible for catastrophic weather events across the hemisphere: flooding in China, heat waves and fires in Russia, severe winters in the US and Europe and summer monsoons and droughts in India.

Change does not end there. The changing climate opens the areas to economic exploitation on a grand scale – a new centre of trade and industry with a form not unlike that of the Mediterranean. It is not entirely fanciful to suggest that the opening up of the Arctic frontier will deliver the sorts of radical shifts in global trade and geo-political strategy that come only once in a life-time. Paralleling the Age of Discovery or the US’s taming of the west as an engine of its meteoric rise to global super power status. In economic and political terms there is a lot to play for, but as with great games there is also real risk, among them irreparable environmental damage, militarisation, and dislocation of indigenous people and their livelihoods.

Alaska and western Siberia already account for around 10% of global oil and gas production, the region’s production share is set to rocket. The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds 22% of the worlds undiscovered oil and gas, not to mention rich deposits of rare minerals and isotopes. Retreating ice; new exploration and extraction technologies; and transport access by sea make discovery and extraction real and increasing possibilities. It does not end here, the potential for hydro- and geothermal power, construction and fishing (as stocks head for warmer arctic waters) all add to a very long list of economic opportunities that spin out and will spur on the changing face of the Arctic. Just imagine the tourism opportunities: paired sailings of cruise ships witnessing the dramatic sight of vast walls of melting ice crashing into the ocean and strings of wilderness junkies trudging over pristine Icelandic glaciers in designer snow boots.

The question of sea access – the opening of the fifth ocean – of itself is of massive economic and naval significance. Reducing sea-ice coupled with supporting maritime technology and logistical support will lead to the opening up of new sea routes crossing the Arctic. The passage becoming accessible most rapidly is the Northern Sea Route (Russia’s preferred name for the North-East Passage) skirting the Russian coast. The North-West Passage, following the Canadian archipelago, lags behind, but remains a realistic possibility. In 2012, 46 vessels managed to cross the Northern Sea Route (NSR), and most recently, the Yong Seng, a Chinese commercial vessel followed the NSR, arriving in Rotterdam amid much media fanfare. The excitement was generated by the news that the voyage had trimmed 14 days off the usual time required for the route south via Suez. Estimates place financial savings per commercial vessel per voyage are in the region of $600,000.

In the long term, the reorientation of shipping from China via the NSR to supply the major markets of Europe bodes well for both economies in broad terms, with the prospects of cheaper products arriving more quickly. However there are winners and losers. Hong Kong marks the equidistance point between the southern and northern routes. As such the future of seaports North and South of this point look very different. Singapore, for example, may lose out to new ports developing along the Chinese coastline and in Japan. Likewise northern European ports such as Rotterdam and Felixstowe may benefit.

Politics and questions of infrastructure supporting shipping are also critical. Russian cooperation, ice-breakers to rescue beached ships, maritime policing, supply and repair stops are all part of the viability jigsaw. Also, there remain challenges to Canada and Russia’s sovereignty over the two sea routes. Much to their annoyance, the US and EU in particular continue to argue that the routes should be considered as international Strait. China too, in its references to global commons and the occasional broadside from an ex-sea admiral, may well hold this view, but prefers to supress it given a more fundamental respect for sovereign rights.

The assimilated view of seasoned political commentators seems to be shifting in regards to the Arctic. Whereas the trend a couple of years back was to stress the dystopian prospects of the Arctic thaw – a terrain poised to escalate geopolitical conflict – the pendulum, with some reasoned argument, swings now in favour of backing the prospect of a new Arctic consensus. This revised view is derived from a growing tendency for Arctic states to find agreement on some of their long-standing, sometimes pernicious, territorial disputes. Realising there is good sense in rising above the narrowest state-interests, there may be a move to avoiding escalating conflict and to work collectively to exploit the rich opportunities offered in the Arctic.

These difficulties and differences aside, surely this is good news for Europe, but the question is what is Europe’s response in making hay while the sun shines and how does this articulate with European environmental and conservation aims? The question of European policy, flavoured by our well-heeled and well-intentioned Arctic imaginary is important. It has coloured the EU policy approach without winning many friends. For those states or transnational bodies sitting outside of the Arctic inner circle lessons are being learnt, more rapidly in the case of China than Europe, about not rocking the boat if you want to get in on the action. To date Europe has been perceived as an angry child rather than a critical friend, with the dual impact of removing us from the economic and environmental spheres of influence. Europe needs more sophistication in defining its Arctic interests and related policy, if it wants to move from the imaginary to the pragmatic.

Returning to Rat Island puffins, the question arises as what is their long-term hardiness in the face of new waves of change arriving on their shores? As for Greenpeace, notwithstanding the vagaries of the Russian judicial process, jurisprudence suggests that piracy charges are subject to international law – the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas – and that there seemed little hope of a successful prosecution on these terms. Russia no doubt realised this, although appearing to have backed down, they have in truth managed to send a clear warning to transgressors as to the primacy of Russian economic interests in the Arctic region. Perhaps then we need to set sail on a new course for the European eco-warrior, hell bent on achieving the best and most pragmatic environmental outcomes for the Artic, by turning attention on EU reform. We need to look at our own institutions rather fighting Russian or Chinese ghosts. Batten down the hatches Greenpeace, were setting sail for Brussels!  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The EU, the Mediterranean, and the Need for Coherent Policies

Posted by / 17th December 2011 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , / -

On the verge of the New Year, it seems appropriate to start this article by going back to the very beginning of 2011. On January 4th, Mohammed Bouazizi died after burning himself in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by the police. This outraged response was the catalyst of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab spring. Since then, four regimes (if one includes Yemen) have fallen, and civil uprisings and protests followed throughout the north of Africa and the Middle East.

This democratic revolution has caught Europe off guard; the reactions have been uneven (such as the initial French offer of support to Ben Ali) and different among member countries (e.g. the disagreement about the position to take with regards to the NATO intervention in Libya). Beyond the political statements of the member states individually, and of the EU as a whole, it is also interesting to call into question the role of already existing European policies towards the region (mainly the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, European Neighborhood Policy and Union for the Mediterranean). These policies have an institutional framework that makes them more stable, while at the same time more rigid than political reactions and declarations. Could they offer a way to advance a common relationship between EU countries and the Mediterranean region as a whole?

In this article, a brief overview is given of the evolution of European policies towards the Mediterranean region. This is done from the perspective of support for democracy, and to see how the EU institutions reacted to the Arab spring. This allows an analysis of which role these political and institutional frameworks could play to help European countries build a strong relationship with the new democracies.

 

Weak support of the path to democracy

In 1995, the Barcelona Declaration was signed, founding the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The EMP was created as a new framework of relations between the EU and its neighbours on the Mediterranean, with a multilateral perspective. The EMP included a chapter of political dialogue that aimed to foster democracy, human rights and the rule of law. However, it failed to encourage political change: ten years after the EMP started, real elections were just a pipe dream in most of the partner countries.

2004 was the next significant turning point regarding Mediterranean relations. After the events of 11th September 2001, the scope of the EU strategy to its southern border evolved, giving priority to the stability and security issues, thus removing the political reform from the agenda. So, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was born, drifting from a multilateral perspective to a bilateral one.

Finally, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was announced in 2008 by Mr. Sarkozy in a bid to give a new impulse to the EMP. Although UfM is a continuation of the EMP, its stated purpose is to bring a new focus: the UfM is a common initiative of the countries on both sides of the Mediterranean with shared management (through for example a co-presidency, one from an EU country, and the other from the Mediterranean partner states). This novelty was a response to the lack of implication of the southern countries, but at the same time is a barrier to the process of political reform. It is not likely that regimes that are being questioned will support civil society in its initiatives to gain influence and promote change. A clear example is to be found in the Anna Lindh Foundation, a network for intercultural relations. After entering into the UfM umbrella, the Foundation’s Board of Governors asked the executive boards to cut a number of initiatives which were considered too “political”.

 

Who wants to play?

Political leaders seemed satisfied with this complex institutional building they had raised, until everything changed so dramatically earlier this year. From that moment on, a stream of reactions of all types and origins started. The role of the EU was irregular: sometimes the Commission and the High representative succeeded in presenting a united front on behalf of the European countries, while other times the EU was left aside as a result of a lack of consensus among member states. A few examples:

In March of this year a Joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative Ms. Ashton was published, the “Partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean”. Later on came the review of the ENP (“A new response to a changing Neighbourhood”, May 2011). Both documents addressed the situation in Arab countries and the need to rethink the European policies in the region. Although they might be seen as only a rhetorical exercise, they also represent an effort to quickly respond to the events and critically point to policy changes that are required (e.g. emphasizing the reinsertion of the conditionality or “more for more” criterion), and introduce a package of measures in support of the region.

Additionally, both the appointment of Bernardino León as the EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean region, as well as the swift invitation to the free Libya to participate in the ENP and the UfM, are attempts of the EU to be consistent within the context and to present a coordinated response.

If we analyze the military reactions regarding Libya, the scene doesn’t look quite the same, unfortunately. The central military initiatives were taken by specific member states (mainly the UK and France), and within the NATO framework. This excluded the potential role of any EU defense structures or capabilities. The absence of political willingness to reach any consensus within the EU is a meaningful fact, and it is not an isolated example; the latest initiative by President Sarkozy –the Deauville Partnership- was launched within the G8 meeting, a forum in which France still pretends to maintain and influential international role.

 

Looking ahead

The relationship between the EU and Arab countries has always been difficult and full of problems. This has many reasons, but two especially important ones are the lack of credibility of Europe as a political actor (immersed in permanent contradiction and in the struggle between 27 diverging agendas) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not subject of this article but an constantly underlying factor.

In the EU it is hard to achieve a consensus between member states or, most of all, to have a sole representative voice. Yet such centralization is exactly what is needed to be relevant and coherent. National interest is nowadays a leitmotiv in every Prime Minister’s office. No one wants to play a minor role. Ironically, however, a minor role for Europe is exactly where that path leads to.

The only way to advance the common relationship that the EU so desires in the Mediterranean is through the common policies. Only in this way can it play an active role and recover influence in the current regional environment In the long term, the construction of this new relationship between the EU and Arab countries requires an ability to adapt to the circumstances, and to transmit a deeper support of democratic movements. These cannot be simply headline-driven policies, but require a coherent and strong commitment. This in itself is nothing new, and that begs the question whether everyone really wants a common relationship.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

David Cameron, the European Union and UK Sovereignty

Posted by / 14th December 2011 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: , , / -

“We are never going to join the Euro, we are never going to give up the sort of sovereignty that these countries are having to give up.”

These were the words that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced in referring to the new compromises that the other EU leaders are about to accept. This interpretation of nations’ sovereignty was a clear attempt to justify his veto of a firmer union. Unfortunately, the argument does not stand up to scrutiny, and clearly other reasons were behind his decision.

Indeed, the regionalization of the economy was doomed to failure without, at least, solid coordination of economic policies. Then again, this could be simply a formality; since the start of the crisis, we have all witnessed the daily bread that are controls of national policies by EU. The hands of our national democratic governments are already tied. In this difficult situation, the best option for their political credibility is to say that if they have them tied it is because they have agreed. Trying to face defeat with dignity, as it were. This attitude has the advantage of reinforcing the political leaders’ relationship with their electorates. As the nation’s representatives, they transmit an image of control, reassuring that the reason why the EU rules are a priority is because of the voluntary choices they are making, because it matches their national priorities. This is of course not equivalent to direct consultation with the people, but it create a useful, albeit vague, limbo of the indirect consent.

Certainly accepting the obvious limits to their power might be the wisest option. But even more certain is the truth that these limits are of paradoxical complexity that every single state has to deal with. Since the very beginning of the Westphalian world, the design of a nation mosaic where each nation-state had their own unlimited sovereignty was never wholly accurate. The influence exerted by neighbours has never let the utopian and self-sufficient nation-state enjoy real sovereignty, even if it was theoretically conceived as omnipotent. We could have asked Charles IV of Spain about this, while he was struggling to contain all kind of influences from his revolutionary neighbours in France. Being a human artifact, the Westphalian world was actually fragmenting new independent actors from regions, in which a whole collection of cultural, political, and economic traditions were shared.

Moreover, by continuing the myth of sovereignty up to this very day, the hoax is taken to extremes. In our globalised world, influences flow all over the world almost laughing at the national frontiers. Admittedly, this is a scenario that the Westphalian designers probably never thought about. Multinational companies, supranational governments, word wide social movements, consumer habits, ways life… they all defy the quixotic nation-state. These territorial entities have mostly become merely another actor in a dynamic web in which influences flow without any established hierarchy.

The United Kingdom is not an exception, however much Mr. Cameron would like to have us believe otherwise. The local sovereign in London has had little power to interfere in the constant income of immigrants that determine its demography, or the uncontrollable economic dynamics that are shaking its markets. This is particularly the case of its very own goose that lays golden eggs: the City, its financial hearty and one of the few national champion-industries that London can still boast about.

Therefore, dear Mr. Cameron, I am afraid that regardless of whether the British people like this or not, it’s been a very long time since the UK, without direct consent by its people, surrendered its sovereignty to the complexities of the globalised world. Ironically, this began with all those financial institutions that now are the main reason not to join the new Europeans deals, and whose significant financial revenues the UK fears will be threatened by this supposed infringement of sovereignty.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail