The EU Arctic policy and its critique: a view under Tocci's theory on foreign policy and normative power (Part 1)

Author:M. Elvira Méndez-Pinedo, Alesia Fralova
The EU Arctic policy and its critique: a view under Tocci´s theory
on foreign policy and normative power (Part 1)
Professor M. Elvira MÉNDEZ-PINEDO1
Legum magister Alesia FRALOVA2
What is the role of the European Union (EU) in the Arctic region? On what basis
does it claim influence and/or authority (if any) over part of this vast area of the world?
What can we learn about EU Arctic policy, tools and instruments adopted so far? Is the EU
a normative foreign policy actor as described by Tocci´s theory? What factors do influence
the adoption and validity of EU policies in this region? This study tries to reply to all these
questions casting a light over an area of great geostra tegic importance and at the
crossroads of historic developments. In a first part we study the current EU Arctic policy
and assess its strength an d weaknesses according to literature. In a second part we
summarize Tocci´s theory on kinds of normative policy actors and examine what kind of
power is the EU exercising in the region.
Keywords: Arctic, EU policy, normative foreign policies, Tocci´s theory
JEL Classification: K32, K33
1. Introduction
Global interest in the Arctic has grown in the last decade. The situation in
the region is a good example of how economic globalization (or even “de-
globalization3) and climate change affects geopolitics; moreover, it is a vivid
example of how rapidly the modern world is changing. Peripheral in the context of
world politics, this region has -literally before our eyes- turned into one of the main
objects of increased attention for its potential and geostrategic importance. Here, in
the northernmost point of the planet, as in no other region, the geopolitical and
economic interests of the world's leading powers collide in the most concentrated
form. In fact, due to new climatic conditions, the Arctic has turned into a global
issue, with clashing political interests of the main powers. Furthermore, this
transformation has brought a wide array of challenges to the existing legal
structures functioning in the region.4
1 M. Elvira Méndez-Pinedo - Professor of European law, Faculty of Law, University of Iceland,
2 Alesia Fralova - LL.M. Natural Resources and International Environmental Law, Faculty of Law,
University of Iceland,
3 See Postelnicu, C., Dinu, V., & Dabija, D. C. (2015), Economic deglobalizationfrom hypothesis to
reality, Ekonomie a Management (E&M)/Economics and Management”, Vo l 18, no. 2, pp.4-14,
p. 4.
4 See topical issues related to Arctic law at the Thematic Network online htt ps://
Juridical Tribune Volume 9, Issue 2, June 2019 345
With the unprecedented rapid melting of the Arctic ice there is no doubt
today that it is impossible to “close” this part of the world again. One of the most
important reasons for international cooperation is the complexity of natural
conditions that hampers its individual economic development. In most cases, any
future development of international law requires the unification of other multiple
resources - financial, technological, scientific and organizational. In fact, this is an
important incentive to consolidate and expand joint activities. But not only, interest
in the region has also reached the international civil society. Every year, the Arctic
Circle Assembly5 gathers a great number of State actors and other participants from
all over the world.
The opening of the Arctic Region has seen the emergency of a new system
of Arctic governance where [a]n extensive international legal framework applies
to the Arctic Ocean.6 In contrast to the Antarctic which is Earth´s southernmost
non-inhabited continent governed by the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), Arctic
law is generally recognized as a complex matrix of fragmented international and
regional regulations combined with the historically established national legislation
of the most important Arctic five” states (since different countries have
sovereignty and jurisdiction over parts of this vast territory.7
However, at the moment, the international legal status of the Arctic has not
been finally settled. We do not find a proper widely accepted legal definition of the
Arctic Region and no single international treaty exists which determines the
unique/unified legal regime of this territory. In the system of Arctic governance, it
is now widely accepted that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea8
(UNCLOS) is fully applicable to the seas and that the Arctic Council9 (AC) is the
5 The annual Arctic Circle Assembly, founded by former President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar
Grímsson, is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic. In 2018 it was attended by
more than 2000 participants from 60 countries. The Assembly is held every October in Reykjavík,
Iceland. It is attended by top level politicians or State actors (heads of states and governments,
ministers, members of parliaments, officials) and by non-State actors or civilians acting
individually or organised in NGOs (experts, scientists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, indigenous
representatives, environmentalists, students, activists and others). All in all, this assembly h as
grown into an international community of partners and participants interested in the future of the
6 The Ilulissat Declaration in May 2008 committed the Arctic Five to the existing legal framework
(namely UNCLOS) and the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.
7 “The Arctic Five” is the group o f five states that border the Arctic Ocean, namely Canada,
Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Ru ssia and the United States. These countries initiated cooperation
in the 70´s and negotiated the first Arctic-specific treaty already in 1973 (Agreement on the
Conservation of Polar Bears). However, due to the Cold War and a general lack of recognition of
the Arctic as a political region in its own right, this cooperation did not continue formally.
8 Signed on 10 December 1982 at Montego Bay (Jamaica). It became effective in 1994 and it counts
more than 150 signatory countries in 2018.
9 The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that gathers together Arctic
governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic region to discuss common issues and concerns
together. Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States are
the eight countries with sovereignty and jurisdiction over the territories situated within the Arctic
Circle. There are some observer states.

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