Ashton visit marks growing importance of Arctic to European Union

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The fragile wilderness of the Arctic and its impact on Europe will be under discussion when EU High Representative Catherine travels to Finland, Sweden and Norway this week. The visit comes as part of preparations to follow up on a 2008 document setting out the EU's position on the Arctic.

Geographically, the Arctic is circled by Russia, the United States, Denmark, (Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland who are all make up the Arctic Council.  The European Union has applied for observer status at the Council which is currently pending.

The environment, the economy and the rights of indigenous peoples are some of the issues that will be raised this week during the Ashton visit. Speaking before leaving she said that she was "convinced the EU could play a more productive role" in the region.

Global warming a key threat to Arctic

In her talks with the leaders of Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as with students, she will stress that the EU is eager to work with international partners on transport, energy, maritime and environmental issues. She will see for herself the effects of climate change when visiting the Konsvegen weather centre and then underline the topics above in a speech to the annual national conference on Europe in Oslo. 

The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming with ice loss already apparent. Some experts believe sea ice could retreat completely in some areas by 2040 or 2100 depending on the pace of warming. This could have widespread geo-political implications as the area could become open to shipping and there could be more pressure to exploit the vast natural resources that are believed to lie beneath the shelf.

In addition the security dimension is becoming increasingly important and Catherine Ashton will stress that stability and "High North, Low Tension" policy remain the centre of the EU's approach.

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