The Arctic Council is a coalition of Arctic states and offers a communication platform to discuss Arctic related matters. The Council has gained more and more importance over the years due to the opening of the Arctic Ocean. States with no borders to the Arctic have the possibility to join the Arctic Council as Permanent Observers and have thus a certain influence on Arctic matters. Among these states are China, India, Singapore, France, the UK and Germany. Switzerland has now officially deposited its application and hopes to join this illustrious council.
The Arctic has gained more and more attention over the last years not only because of the news about climate change. Due to the receding ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, new transportation routes and new resources open up. This calls up interest by numerous states all over the world. However, unlike in the south, the Arctic region is part of the territory of eight states around the Arctic Circle (Canada, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and USA). These states established the Arctic Council in 1996 to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among each other. Also, the council decided to allow Non-Arctic states and Non-Governmental Organizations to join the Council as Permanent Observers, Interested states need to deposit an appropriate application at the council which then decides every two years. Currently seven European states and five Asian states have the status as Permanent Observer. Now, Switzerland has decided to join this exclusive club and has officially deposited its application.
In order to be accepted as Permanent Observer, applicants need to meet certain requirements both political as well as financial and scientific. Additionally, each state is committed to support the political, scientific and technical work and tasks of the Arctic Council. This means that each member needs to a) participate and support Arctic research programs, b) to acknowledge sovereignty of Arctic states and their legitimate rights over their territories, c) to recognize and adhere to the conventions for the protection of the Arctic Ocean and on the Laws of the Sea and d) to have the capabilities and the interests to support the work of the Arctic Council in other decision-making bodies.
Switzerland has confirmed in its application to „recognize the common responsibility of all interested states, both Arctic and non-Arctic, to ensure peaceful co-operation in the Arctic region and to preserve the environment for future generations.“ Further, Switzerland notes seven reasons for its admittance into the Arctic Council. Among them is the long-term commitment in various scientific research programs, especially about climate change. Over the last decade, Swiss researchers had participated in over 50 international Arctic research projects involving several Arctic Council member states. The application also points to the Swiss maritime presence with its fleet of 46 ships and the ratification of all necessary conventions and safety protocols. In addition, Swiss solidarity, which can help to strengthen Arctic indigenous people’s rights, is stated as a plus for Switzerland’s application. The Council will decide during its next meeting in Iqaluit (Nunavut, Canada) in April whether Switzerland soon will be the 13. Permanent observer in the Arctic Council.
Source: The Arctic Journal, http://arcticjournal.com