Research remains at the core of the EU’s engagement in the Arctic, with climate research, observation, monitoring, mitigation and adaptation actions standing prominent. It is therefore not surprising that a number of elements in the EU Arctic policy are of importance to Arctic universities and educational institutions. The EU wants to contribute to sustainable development of the Arctic through supporting innovation and research, now with much clearer than in previous policy statements focus on the European Arctic. The EU provides significant financial support to research via its current Horizon 2020 programme. Universities and colleges throughout Northern Europe make use of EU funding for cross-border cooperation and regional development. EU programmes, among others, emphasize sustainable innovation as well as cooperation between educational sector, academia and business. Support for education remains a central feature of the EU’s partnership with Greenland. Satellite technologies and programmes – one of the EU’s strengths in the Arctic context – are to support “educational, health, linguistic and cultural needs of Arctic communities”. Significantly, EU funding for Arctic research is to be maintained at similar levels as in the previous decade, which encompassed major effort during the International Polar Year.

Apart from boasting about already pledged funding, the new Arctic policy document may also have certain influence on the EU financing priorities beyond 2020. We are likely to see increasing emphasis on innovation, as well as societal and economic outputs of projects. Three processes are relevant for the EU’s future research policy. First, the EU-PolarNet project works currently on formulating the European Polar Research Programme and on facilitating cooperation as regards the use of Polar research infrastructures. Many UArctic members are part of the EU-Polarnet consortium. Second, the EU puts much emphasis on research co-operation with Canada and the US, building on the 2013 Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation. Third, for the UArctic member institutions, it will be important to take part in the new process leading (likely) to the identification of overarching innovation, investment and research priorities in the European Arctic. For that purpose, through 2017, the European Commission will implement the European Arctic Stakeholder Forum, gathering national and regional authorities. It is to be followed up by annual stakeholder conferences. At the outreach seminar in Brussels, the representatives of EU services ensured that the Forum will be open to all relevant actors. It can be hoped that these actors include Arctic education and research institutions and their networks, as they play a key role in regional development: they are central to enhancing human capital in Arctic regions; they constitute an important component of Arctic economies; and they are crucial for building up Arctic research and innovation capacities and outputs.

A detailed analysis of the new EU Arctic policy document was published by the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland: Stępień, A. and A. Raspotnik (2016). The EU’s new Arctic Communication: Not-so-integrated, not so-disappointing? ArCticles: Arctic Centre Papers 1/2016.

Text: Adam Stępień, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland