European Union External Action

EU Arctic policy

20/05/2021 - 17:45
Policy - Activity

The European Union has an important role to play in supporting successful Arctic cooperation and helping to meet the challenges now facing the region.



The vast region referred to as the Arctic is located at the northernmost part of the planet (the polar circle runs at 66°N). There is no single geographical definition of the Arctic: in fact, the Arctic can be defined in different ways (see further information under 'Other Matters').

There are eight Arctic states: Canada; the Kingdom of Denmark (Denmark, Greenland, Faroe Islands); Finland; Iceland; Norway; the Russian Federation; Sweden; and the United States of America. All the Arctic states have adopted national Arctic policy papers or strategies.

The Arctic is estimated to be inhabited by some 4 million people. Present estimates suggest that indigenous peoples account for about 10% of the total population living in Arctic areas; this proportion varies considerably across the Arctic region. There are over 40 different peoples living in the Arctic.


arctic village


The Arctic is marked by several weeks or months of darkness during part of the year, and weeks or months of light during another part of the year. The climate is harsh, distances are vast, and the population is sparse. In many respects, life in the Arctic is considered to be very challenging and marked by a scarcity of resources. However, despite the extreme conditions, terrestrial, subterranean and marine areas host abundant resources such as flora and fauna (over 21,000 known species, some of which are completely endemic) as well as hydrocarbons and minerals.

In addition to the ongoing activities of the states and inhabitants of the Arctic, the region is experiencing increasing interest from around the world, such as from scientists, environmental protection groups, tourists and businesses interested in hydrocarbon and mineral exploration, fisheries, transport, telecommunications infrastructure etc. The interests of indigenous peoples are also wide-ranging and include traditional knowledge and cultural activities, reindeer herding, fishing, hunting etc.



It goes without saying that the Arctic states have primary responsibility for tackling issues within their territories. However, many issues affecting the Arctic region can be more effectively addressed through regional or multilateral cooperation.

EU engagement in Arctic matters is important in the interest of the citizens of the EU and of the EU Member States, not least those who are located in the Arctic.