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Arctic Dialogue Workshop
Written by Erik Gant / Arctic peoples   
Monday, 29 March 2010 13:34
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berlaymont-300x196The Director of the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry Anders Oskal and the Chair of the Association of World Reindeer Herders Mikhail Pogodaev attended an Arctic Dialogue workshop in Brussels and this article was written by Erik Gant, Executive Secretary of the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat.
The European Commission, on 9 March, hosted a workshop aimed at enhancing the dialogue between Arctic Indigenous peoples and the European institutions, the Parliament, The EU Council, and the Commission itself. Organisations such as the Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council, The Saami Parliament of Sweden, the Association of World Reindeer Herders, the Working Group of Indigenous Peoples of the Barents cooperation, and IPS were invited. Besides, government officials and diplomats of Denmark, Greenland, Russia, Finland, Sweden, USA, and the Nordic Council of Ministers as well as NGOs like IWGIA also attended the workshop.

Eddy Hartog of the EC Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries conducted the workshop that took place in Brussels deep inside the Berlaymont building, the iconic headquarter of European cooperation. First item on the agenda was defining the format of the dialogue and determining if the future dialogue shall evolve within large meetings or small working groups, if it shall focus on general or on sectoral themes, and what else besides meetings it shall consist in.

Next, the workshop dealt with the question of content, i.e., which specific EU policies are of relevance to Arctic Indigenous Peoples and requires dialogue with the Commission. Finally, the workshop focused on the question of how to improve the ways in which the Indigenous organisations are presently engaging with the European institutions.

At the workshop, the need for capacity building among Arctic Indigenous peoples as a means to secure their livelihood and sustainable development was being discussed. Capacity building aspects also informed discussions regarding whether it might be useful to have a sort of indigenous representation, office, exchange arrangement, permanent forum or the like in Brussels so that Indigenous peoples might be able to act faster on new initiatives or legislation concerning Arctic living ressources.

Among other things, it transpired that the EU ban on seal products that went into force in 2009 had been 4 years in the making, during which time American lobbyist in particular had exerted tremendous influence on the legislative outcome, The other side, i.e., the sealing nations and peoples like Canada, Norway, and organisations representing Inuit and Saami peoples, had not been as well-ressourced at all and had done too little too late. However, the EU ban created a great deal of resistance from these latter Arctic stakeholders to the EU application to become an observer in the Arctic Council.

No doubt, the hosting of the workshop must be seen in connection with and as part of the Commission’s effort to overcome this resistance. The EC officials present at the workshop emphasised that EC observership in the Arctic Council by far would be the most efficient means to enhance future dialogue between the European community and the Indigenous communities of the Arctic. The indigenous organisations suggestion to have some sort of representation in the EU capitol, on the other hand, did not get a lot of support from the same officials.

The Arctic Dialogue initiative is premised on the EU Council conclusions on Arctic Issues of December 2009 and on the Commission’s communication of November 2009 on The European Union and the Arctic Region. Referring to the wording of the latter document, at the workshop, the Russian Ambassador at Large Anton Vasiliev stated that EU is not at all ”inextricably linked to the Arctic”, nor is it more capable of defending the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples that the states in which they live.

Objecting to the ideology of world heritage ideology that pervades the Northern Dimension policy, the Russian Ambassador at Large said that the Arctic is not some sort of virgin land or a state in itself. It is not the common home of everybody, he said, and no one should try and infringe on the responsibility of the Arctic States to administer the rights and obligations of their citizens.

The Danish Senior Adviser Ole Samsing said that the workshop marked the emergence of something new, that might have had, had it existed earlier, the potential to shift the outcome of the seal products legislation in a totally different direction. So the Dialogue initiative definitely deserved to be continued, he concluded, adding that at the same time messing with Russia should avoided.
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