Internal Contradictions and External Anxieties: One ‘Coherent’ Arctic Policy for the European Union?

In: The Yearbook of Polar Law Online

The European Union’s overarching policy towards the Arctic is an umbrella policy of complementary and coordination nature composed of internal, external and foreign policy elements. This article examines the policy framework from the perspective of ‘coherence’. What could a coherent and integrated EU Arctic policy entail – as called for by the Council and the European Parliament? I problematise the notion of coherence and offer an understanding of coherence deemed workable in the context of a regionfocused policy-making. Different dimensions of coherence are discussed: internal (lack of contradictory objectives), institutional (coherence between EU institutions), vertical (between the EU and its member states) and external (interaction with other Arctic actors). A number of interrelated contradictions or dichotomies are identified with focus on: Circumpolar versus European Arctic, maritime and terrestrial, internal and external, environmental and developmental goals. There is also a tension between the eagerness to adjust to narratives prevalent in the Arctic – owing to the anxiety of Arctic actors regarding the EU’S presence – and the need to respond to internal voices and retain EU values. While coherence as an ideal goal is a necessary principle of policymaking, its practical application may be counterproductive to a cross-cutting policy field, unless the meaning of ‘coherence’ is specified. I argue that the umbrella Arctic policy should be characterised by procedural rather than outcome coherence. That includes developing and maintaining durable mechanisms for dialogue with Arctic partners, management of the impact of EU policies, ongoing identification of gaps, effective internal coordination frameworks, and modes of continued involvement in Arctic governance structures. The Arctic policy could provide input into general EU decision-making processes, especially if inconsistencies are revealed. Institutional setting with a less dominant role of services focused on maritime and external aspects should be considered.

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