/Icelandic Foot In The Door

Icelandic Foot In The Door

By Carlos Encinas and Wyatt McCall.
The Little Northern European Island is the EU’s Key Step for the Arctic.
PHOTO courtesy BBC Mark Serreze, NSIDC

The melting Arctic is more than a problem, it’s also soon to be a hot spot of economic eruption.  Where once was ice, there now churns liquid assets.  Where once only the bravest of explorers trekked, venture capitalists are now the ones roaming with the polar bears.

As the harsh northern lands thaw, shipping routes are opening, minerals are surfacing, and the ocean floor with its gas and oil reserves is increasingly accessible.  Yet to who?  Nations and businesses have long-ignored this frozen waste-land, dismissing it as inaccessible, until now.

Debate is ensuing among nations over who controls how much of the Arctic circle, as well as which laws shall govern this rapidly changing environment.  Russia, with its wide northern border, calls dibs.  Canada, of course, with large portions of the country above the Arctic circle, is claiming rights (aggressively, too, for Canadian standards).  Norway, which wraps around Europe’s northern border and already has strategic ports along its Arctic coast, is another contender.  Denmark, via Greenland and circumstance, is holding tight to their rights, but have recently handed more sovereignty to Greenland.  The US, through Alaska, is another Arctic country calling shotgun.  Even China has been trying to get in the game, though their claims are still allusive.

EU Left Behind

As of now, the EU is one of the few powers in the northern hemisphere left out of the Arctic discussion.  Despite their connection through Denmark, European leaders have been looking to gain a greater influence in the viable and fragile region.  Icelandic enlargement to the Union would bring them a step closer, but differences in fishing policy and growing opposition among the populations of Iceland to join will form a significant barrier to Europe’s influence in the north.

“It has been said that the EU wants more influence on the Arctic,” said Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, in a recent speech in Oslo.  “A better way to put it would be that we want to ensure that what we do in the Arctic is in line with our Arctic needs and our Arctic objectives.”

Tightening The Arctic through Iceland

Icelandic accession into the European Union would mean a significant boost to Brussels to take more responsibilities and have more influence in a key region in the World. As some parts of the Arctic are melting, now there are new sea routes and mineral resources under the water that don’t belong to anyone. USA, Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway are some of the northern Earth countries that are also involved into this dispute. Iceland by itself might not be strong enough to have a favorable position into the matter, so it needs a bigger governmental body such as the EU to do so. Indeed, Iceland is for the Union the key stepping stone that they need to have a bigger say in the region.

What about the other competitors? Are they well situated into the fight? One of the major issues is that if Iceland joins the EU and take the Euro as its currency, they will leave Norway as the only European country that neither belongs to the EU, nor they have the Euro. Another direct territory is Greenland. Belonging to the government of Denmark, it is a very ambitious territory due to its raw materials, fishing and mineral resources. It is a great enclave and an important key territory in the Arctic fight. The EU foresees in Greenland a fishing agreement to be signed in two or three years, as well as a real need to diversify its economy and exploit in a more productive way its resources.

Unpopular Accession

However, the otherwise obvious enlargement to Iceland has been frozen in recent years, with the general consensus among Icelanders hesitant to proceed.  A recent Gallup poll showed nearly 65 percent of Icelanders opposed EU membership.  As for the issues circulating their fishing policy, not only is the hunting of whales permitted in Iceland, but there is debate about who’s policy is more sustainable.  Lastly, Iceland doesn’t allow foreigners to fish its waters and doesn’t allow foreign investors to own more than a minority in shares of fishing companies, both of which are in direct opposition to the EU’s internal market.

Iceland would significantly enhance the EU’s influence in the Arctic, or at least give them a more direct position in debates.  Nonetheless, through its connections with Denmark and Greenland, and through its close relationship with Norway, the EU continues to have more solid reasons for its interests in the Arctic.