On the 14th of August 2020, the Danish Foreign Minister met with the Norwegian Foreign Minister in Tromsø, Northern Norway to discuss Arctic matters. Joining them on that grey and windy sailing trip were several young people with something important to say.
The young representatives presented three main themes to the ministers. First, the need to invest in and support the development of work and competent workplaces in the Arctic, so young people have a job to return to after finishing their higher education in larger, southern cities below the Arctic Circle. Second, the fostering of unity and a feeling of connection between other young Arctic people, something that could evolve through cultural and sports events. And third, the empowerment of a strong focus on young Arctic people, since they are the future.
How can politicians reach these goals of fostering competent workplaces, unity, and a focus on the Arctic people of the future? And as the Kingdom of Denmark embarks on crafting a new Arctic strategy, how will Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod find the right direction for this new strategy, which is one of his main ambitions? To answer these questions, Minister Kofod has been on inspiration trips to discuss and learn from colleagues in Norway, but also to consult with Greenland and the Faroe Islands in the developing process of a new Arctic strategy.
Workplaces, Unity and Youth Focus
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has had a clear plan for the Norwegian Arctic since 2014. Solberg highlighted theArctic region of Norway’s potential to develop into a strong region in Norway’s Arctic Policy from 2014 centering creativity and sustainability as pathways for that development. Not only did the Norwegian Prime Minister aim to support the business sector, but also to grow the region into a solid education and research area. By focusing on having a region with great competences in mind could link to a security perspective, since the region borders Russia and therefore could be connected to the bigger foreign policy agenda, where Solberg has addressed the Arctic as Norway’s most important foreign policy priority. Six years later, in February 2020, Prime Minister Solberg invited the newly established youth panel for Arctic Norway, Ungdomspanel for Nordområdene, to provide inputs for the Norwegian Arctic strategy of 2020. The 50 young Norwegian participants from the panel were between 16 and 27 years old and active in sports, culture, and politics, and all with an opinion on the development of the region. The inputs were made through digital meetings and a broad digital survey. The politicians need to know what motivates the young people in the region when it comes to education, lifestyle, and work, since it is the young people of the Arctic Norway that are going to pick up the development modus. For that reason, Solberg did the right thing when she invited the youth panel to discuss the upcoming Arctic strategy of Norway.
The most valuable resource
The Norwegian Arctic’s most valuable resources are more than the obvious, and often mentioned, natural resources like oil, minerals, and fish that benefit the private sector and economic growth. The most valuable resource is the people living there. For that reason, the Danish and Norwegian Ministers of Foreign Affairs met up on August 14, 2020 with some of the young people from the same youth panel as Solberg talked with in February the same year. The most valuable resource, Arctic Youth, must be listened to, heard, and engaged in decision making. As one of the participants of the youth panel outlined: We are the future. This fact could also be one of the motivations behind Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod’s trips to Norway, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands this past August. The Kingdom of Denmark is working on a new Arctic strategy, which will be published in the beginning of 2021. The importance of strong unity and community must be founded in the most valuable resource: the people living in the Arctic.
The Arctic region has been in the international spotlight for some years now. To ensure the region’s characteristic stability, there has to be economic support of the region and a strengthened relation between national decision makers and the people who live there.
Accepting the Arctic as a region of people rather than focusing on a region of international borders and natural resources will furthermore support cooperative diplomacy, which has historically characterized the Arctic. The development of the Arctic region can be supported by politicians, but must come from and be run by the people living there.
In that way, a ‘colleague visit’ in northern Norway, where the foreign ministers of Denmark and Norway join a youth panel for a sailing trip can mean more than a public diplomacy stunt. It can have significant value when it comes to understanding and finding a new Arctic strategy. You need to go out in the cold Arctic weather; you need to address the situation if it is windy or not, and you need to get on the boat even if the waves are high. It means that you have to sail and find the right direction. That means the Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod had to visit and include Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Denmark cannot sail the boat alone. Greenland and the Faroe Islands must be with Denmark, all sailing towards the development of an Arctic strategy guided by a focus on workplaces, unity, and a sustainable future.
Developing a new Arctic strategy with help from Norwegian colleagues – both politicians and the young residents of Arctic Norway – will hopefully make the Danish foreign minister sail in the right direction, and promote a future where Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands can focus on: investing in competent workplaces that will develop a sustainable Arctic economy; creating unity that can bolster cooperation between the beautiful cultures across the three nations; and commit to a focus on the future that will move towards possibilities and a secure Arctic region.
Katja Dahl Horsfeldt is interested in geopolitics, security, diplomacy, sustainability and Arctic collaboration, developed through her childhood in Greenland and her Masters in Arctic Studies. She currently lives in Norway, Oslo, where she is pursuing an internship.
This article first appeared on The Arctic Institute. More articles and information about them can be found here.