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Thank you very much.
Well, let me start by thanking the Foreign Minister [of Finland] Timo [Soini], the Prime Minister [of Finland] Juha [Sipilä]. I am really impressed by the welcoming and also by the fact that you are dedicating some of your busy time, in a busy week in Finnish politics to discuss with us the European Union's engagement in the Arctic, and I am really grateful for that.
First of all because this is a special week also for me: paying two visits to Finland in one week is something quite extraordinary. We are negotiating whether we manage to keep this rhythm in the future. But it is really a pleasure to show, also with a physical presence, this European Union commitment to working together on the Arctic. It is also a pleasure to see together with us here today and, in general terms in our common work on the Arctic and on some of the global issues related to the Arctic, some of the friends that are not in the European Union but are very strong partners for us. And in particular, if I can, someone that is coming from far away, even if indeed we are neighbours across the Arctic – Chrystia [Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada] it is really a pleasure to be sharing the stage with you again, but also let me welcome our friends from Norway and Iceland.
You know sometimes, we Europeans feel that the Arctic is the northern frontier of our continent. But, indeed, I believe that the Arctic is less and less a border, and is becoming a true gateway to the world.
I think we couldn't be more dedicated to it in terms of the European Union institutions. If you think that, together with my good friend [European] Commissioner [for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries] Karmenu Vella, when we launched the Common Strategy of the European Union on the Arctic we were indeed noticing that a Maltese Commissioner and an Italian High Representative were focussing so much on the Arctic. I think this really shows you that the European Union is not just institutions in Brussels, it is a community of friends and people that share the same commitments and can help each other wherever our common priorities are. And you will always find the European Union at the side of all of us and of our partners wherever it is strategically important for us to be united. I think this is not an irrelevant political point to make, especially in these days.
So, this is not true – the fact that the Arctic is just a border. This is not true for Europe. Europe sees the Arctic as – as I said – a gateway, a crossroad that is more and more strategically relevant for Europe but also around the world. There is a growing interest, at all latitudes, about the Arctic and the opportunities it offers.
A big part of the world is looking at the Arctic. But let me for one moment reverse our perspective, because it can be eye-opening to look at the rest of the world from the Arctic, through the eyes of the peoples of these lands. It goes without saying that the 4 million inhabitants across the Arctic are not the primary drivers of climate change; that is quite clear seen from here. It is the 7 billion inhabitants living at lower latitudes and our consumption patterns, which generate massive green-house gas emissions. But it is here in the Arctic that temperatures are rising more quickly – and I am very grateful for having welcomed us with a wonderful summer day, but I think this is also telling us something.
In these lands, everyone knows that climate change is real and tangible. It is not something hypothetical or fake; on the contrary, it is something very real. From here, we can see how important the Paris agreement on climate change is – for the people of the Arctic, from Finland to Alaska, from Canada to Russia, but also for the entire world. Because as the ice melts above the polar circle the sea-levels rise all around the world; floods and hurricanes become more common; new security challenges emerge at thousands of kilometres from here. And let me tell you: ten days ago I was in Africa, in the Sahel, and people there were telling me that our major security threat, together with terrorism, is climate change. So even seen from the Arctic, I think we see a clear perspective of where our political, strategic and security priorities are.
So, the European Union understands the challenge. And for this reason we will continue to support the Paris agreement on climate change and we will continue to work for its full implementation – here in Europe and all around the world, building together with our partners around the world global coalitions in support of global climate action. We feel the responsibility, we live up to our responsibility and we will make it.
But from here in the Arctic we can also learn something about the way forward. With two main ideas in mind: innovation, and cooperation. In this part of the world, it is particularly clear that economic development must go together with the preservation of the environment. That development has to be sustainable. This is a self-evident fact in the European Union, but here in the Arctic it is particularly clear. Innovative solutions are being tested for cleaner energy, cold-climate technologies, but also for more sustainable tourism.
Innovation is also happening in the interaction among governments, private actors and civil society. And the Arctic Stakeholder Forum tomorrow is an innovation in our way to interact with many different players in the European Arctic. We want the people of the Arctic to have the major say and contribute to shaping the next European Union funding programmes, which is also not irrelevant for this part of the world. The European Union's Arctic policy has put dialogue with the indigenous people at its core, as testified by the annual dialogue between the European Union and indigenous people.
Second element: cooperation. Innovation can be a matter of technologies, but it can also be a matter of governance. The Arctic Council is indeed an innovative experience, gathering together eight States and six organisations representing indigenous peoples. So far, the Arctic region has been an example of constructive cooperation, from oil spill detection to the safety of maritime routes. The European Union has contributed to this positive engagement, through a dialogue with all Arctic States, regional authorities and indigenous people.
Today, this becomes even more important. As more attention turns towards the Arctic, regional cooperation must be not only preserved, but expanded. And the European Union is more than ready; as the video was telling us, we are proud and ready to do our part. And we count on the Finnish presidency of the Arctic Council to do part of this job together.
So, as we can see here, in this wonderful city that I understand is also the hometown of the Prime Minister, the Arctic is not only a white surface with scattered animals. It is a place for universities, for innovative technologies, for sustainable development. It is not a frontier any longer – it is a gateway for Europe and a crossroad between continents. It is our meeting place. So it is also our common responsibility to preserve it. It is our common good, and we have a common responsibility to preserve it for its people, but also for ourselves and for the entire world – locally and globally.
I thank you very much and wish you all a very fruitful two days of conference.