Yes to China, No to EU
KIRUNA: The Arctic Council welcomed six new observer countries this morning, among them China, Japan and South Korea. But one was notably absent: the European Union.
The now former-Arctic Council chair Carl Bildt explained during the ministerial meeting that although the EU’s application had been received “affirmatively” the Council will defer the final decision until some of the “concerns of Council members” have been addressed.
While answering questions after the meeting, Leona Aglukkaq, the new Canadian chair, confirmed that it was Canada that had had misgivings about bestowing the EU with observer status.
“One of the criteria that observers must meet is respect for the traditional ways of life of the indigenous people in the North,” she told reporters.
Seal hunting has been a way of life for the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic for millennia. In more recent years, the commercial sale of sealskins and other seal products have become a valuable source of income for some Inuit.
But the hunt has also come under fire from animal rights activists and, in 2009, the EU banned the sale of most seal products.
The issue came to a head in Canada recently when some politicians in Nunuvut, one of Canada’s northern territories, began speaking out against the EU’s application. The controversy gained steam with a petition called “No Seal No Deal” that began circulating last month. The online version of this petition now has over 500 signatures.
But both sides say they are committed to resolving the dispute.
Officials from the EU released a statement today, which read, in part:
"The EU welcomes the Arctic Council's decision on the EU's application for permanent observership…. Further to previous exchanges with the Canadian authorities the EU will now work expeditiously with them to address the outstanding issue of their concern."
Aglukkaq agreed: “as the Arctic Council operates on consensus,” she told reporters, “I will be working with the EU to address some of those concerns.”