Else Berit Eikeland
The Arctic Council is the only government-level, circumpolar body for political cooperation. In recent years the Council’s international influence and importance has grown considerably. The Arctic Council provides a forum for discussion between the Arctic states and representatives of indigenous peoples on issues of common interest. In this respect, the Arctic Council is unique. There are currently several international arenas in which issues related to the Arctic region are discussed. Only the Arctic Council, however, brings together all the Arctic states and representatives of the indigenous peoples.
The Arctic Council is unique in other areas too. Last year the magazine, «the Economist” had an article about the Arctic Council as an example of a successful circumpolar cooperation. The article was illustrated by a photo of the Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs – high level representatives from the eight Arctic states) hugging and laughing and holding the flags of the Arctic States at the North Pole. May be the world needs more Arctic Council ? – was the question raised in the article. The magazine noted that this seemed to be an international cooperation where officials liked each other and had fun. We all know that international or circumpolar cooperation does not depend on the likes or dislikes of officials, but it surely helps if there is good chemistry between representatives.
As a new Norwegian SAO in the Arctic Council two years ago, what really struck me was this combination between a formal decision making structure and the informal way the meeting was conducted, and the possibilities for the SAOs to reach consensus in a an informal way. The Russian SAO at that time, Anton Vasiliev, was my role model and mentor. He was very pragmatic and flexible, but clear when Russia could not support a position. Unlike many other international organisations a SAO who is consensus oriented is regarded as a strong in the Arctic Council. In all his years as Russian SAO, Anton contributed to strengthen the Council and raise awareness about the circumpolar cooperation. Thank you, Anton.
What more is special about the Arctic Council? So far, I have not experienced any clear divisions among SAOs based on the traditional political directions. Geography, location and whether the respective country has political and economic interests in the Arctic are the most important factors for the decision making process.
In addition to Anton, I want to thank two more great SAO Chairs who both have contributed to strengthening the Arctic Council, Gustaf Lind during the Swedish Chairmanship and Patrick Borbey during the Canadian Chairmanship.