International cooperation in the Arctic entered a new era towards the end of the 1980s. The end of east-west confrontation changed the geopolitical landscape of the north and offered completely new opportunities for cooperation. In fact a new world was opening at the top of the globe where the Nordic countries and the Russian Federation are extending a hand across the Arctic Ocean to North America. This world has always existed but for long it was hidden by the curtain of the cold war.
Finland was first to seize this new opportunity. In 1989, Finland took the initiative in commencing organized cooperation among the eight arctic countries for the protection of the arctic environment. This initiative led to the Ministerial Conference in Rovaniemi in 1991. The conference was historic. It was the first ministerial meeting of the Arctic countries and it started a continuous collaboration that was called the "Rovaniemi Process".
At the same time, in 1991, the Government of Canada made a proposal for broad cooperation in economic, social, cultural and other areas among the eight Arctic countries. Canada proposed that an Arctic Council be established as a political umbrella among the governments concerned. This new body could act as a forum to discuss, coordinate and give political guidance and impetus to the then existing, rather fragmented, cooperation. The Arctic Council was established in 1996 and the Arctic Environment Protection Strategy became part of it. As the initiator of the Rovaniemi Process, Finland pays particular attention to the necessity of safeguarding progress on this well-trodden path.
By that time Finland had already acquired considerable experience of multilateral arctic cooperation, such as the Nordic countries' North Calotte cooperation, which dates back to the 1960s and which had contributed to the establishment, in 1993, of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, involving also the Russian Federation and the Commission of the European Union. Through the Northern Dimension initiative Finland has strengthened the EU's involvement in the European north, including Arctic areas.
Finland has a great deal to offer to arctic cooperation in terms of arctic-related expertise. Finland has several biological research stations in Lapland, where arctic ecology is being studied. The Arctic Centre, a separate institute affiliated to the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, carries out interdisciplinary research on the effects of global changes and on the consequences resulting from the fact that man has disturbed the natural balance of arctic nature and arctic societies. The University of Oulu is a center for arctic medical sciences. Arctic-related issues can be found also in the teaching and research programs of many other institutions of higher education in Finland.
Finnish industry has expertise and modern technology in such fields as arctic construction, arctic environmental technology and the development of arctic infrastructure as well as arctic transportation and navigation in ice-covered waters.
Particular attention was paid to the status of indigenous peoples in the process of establishing the Arctic Council. Their permanent participant status reflects this concern. As to the involvement of the indigenous peoples, it is worth noting that the Sami, the only indigenous people within the European Union, are engaged as permanent participants in the work of the Arctic Council. Finland's aim is that Arctic cooperation will contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of the Sami and to their full integration into the sustainable development of the Arctic.