Signing of the Host Country Agreement in Tromsø, Norway© Linnea Nordström / Arctic Council Secretariat The secretariat question – and its long-winded answer 1 June 2023Norway The story of how the Arctic Council got a standing secretariat. “The question of [a] permanent secretariat has been discussed for a long time in the Arctic Council,” Pekka Haavisto noted in his 2001 study on the structure of the work in the Arctic Council. Haavisto himself had five years earlier signed the Ottawa Declaration on behalf of Finland and the founding document of the Council specified that secretariat support functions should rotate sequentially among the Arctic States. Yet, as the Council evolved, it started to outgrow structures laid by the preceding Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) had therefore been tasked at the Barrow Ministerial meeting in October 2000 to “consider and recommend ways to improve how work is structured in the Arctic Council” until the high-level representatives of the Arctic States would reconvene in two years’ time in Inari, Finland. That's when Haavisto got re-engaged with Arctic Council affairs. Finland’s former Minister of Development and the Environment was a visiting researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs at the time and he’d been commissioned by Finland’s Arctic Council Chairmanship to develop a review of the Council’s structures. The secretariat question was one of many aspects Haavisto outlined in the study that could enhance efficiency of the Council’s operations. In the long run, he wrote in the report, “a permanent secretariat would help the Arctic Council to strengthen its role as an Arctic cooperation fora, and its capacity to deal with the new challenges of the Arctic”. No consensus (yet) His draft report was presented in June 2001. By November, the Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials (SAO Chair) had discussed the matters presented in the study bilaterally with representatives of the other Arctic States to identify those recommendations that enjoyed support among the States and Permanent Participants. A permanent secretariat wasn’t one of them. While Norway noted for the record that it regarded the need for a permanent secretariat as essential, the suggestion didn’t reach consensus. The SAO Report to Ministers in 2002 provided an initial answer to the secretariat question: “[…] the Council is operating as a high level forum without a permanent secretariat or financial resources of its own. The possible establishment of a permanent secretariat with an annual budget based on obligatory funding does not enjoy unanimous support among the Member States.” “The United States was opposed to creating an Arctic Council Secretariat from the Council’s inception in 1996,” noted Julie Gourley, U.S. Senior Arctic Official (2005-2019). “We felt the chairing State could manage secretariat responsibilities without significant burden, and that a standing secretariat could take on a life of its own independent of the Arctic States becoming a sort of mini-international organization with its own identity, positions and relationships that would not necessarily reflect the Arctic States’ views.” Costs were another concern. The secretariat question was put on hold for the time being. With the support of rotating secretariats, the Arctic Council continued to grow and establish itself as a leading forum on Arctic issues. In 2004, the Arctic Council released landmark reports such as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the Arctic Human Development Report and the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan, and interest in the Arctic grew proportionately with the speed of change in the region. But with increased attention and recognition came also growing administrative needs and even to states that previously had been opposed to a permanent secretariat, “it became clear that more intensive secretariat services would be beneficial,” wrote Julie.