By Martin Banks - 7th March 2012
We want to do all we can to contribute to productivecooperation in the region
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton was in the Arctic region on Wednesday for high level talks with Norwegian leaders.
It is her first official visit to a region which has rapidly grown in importance to the EU and rest of the world in recent times, not least due to its oil and gas reserves.
Developments in the Arctic are of even more strategic, economic and environmental interest for the EU now than when the commission's first communication on the region was issued in 2008.
The visit by Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, will feed in to preparation of a follow-up document, due to be adopted this spring.
She is expected to reaffirm the EU's interest in the arctic region and discuss the EU's application for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, the body that represents six Arctic states and is due to set up a permanent secretariat at Tromso in northern Norway next year.
Ahead of her visit, Ashton, who is also a vice-president of the commission, said, "The EU already makes a valuable financial and political contribution to arctic cooperation through research and working with our neighbours on transport, energy, maritime safety and environmental issues.
"In developing our EU policy towards the arctic, we want to listen to and learn from those who know the region best. I am convinced the EU can play an even more positive role in the future. We want to do all we can to contribute to productive cooperation in the region."
On Tuesday, the high representative was in Finland and met the Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, prime minister Jyrki Katainen, foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and development minister Heidi Hautala, a former MEP.
She also met with the president of the Sámi parliament, Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi and addressed a seminar at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland.
On Wednesday, Ashton will visit the LKAB mine in Kiruna, Sweden, together with Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, whose country is the current chair of the Arctic Council.
She is also due to visit the Esrange Satellite Station, before flying to Svalbard in Norway to visit the University Centre together with Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Störe.
On Thursday, Ashton will visit the Kongsvegen glacier and weather station and will be the keynote speaker at the annual national conference on Europe in Oslo.