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New Observer: West Nordic Council

11 September 2017
"Being granted Observer status to the Arctic Council is an important step for the West Nordic Council to further strengthen its already substantial Arctic activities in a manner beneficial to both Councils."

Give us a brief introduction to the West Nordic Council, and tell us a bit about its connection to the Arctic.

The West Nordic Council is a parliamentary co-operation between Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Council was founded in 1985 in recognition of the many common interests the three countries share in the region and is one of the oldest ongoing pan-Arctic cooperation mechanisms in the world. Focus areas have included sustainable development, environmental affairs, natural resources, search and rescue, climate change, culture, education, youth and last but not least, Arctic affairs.

The West Nordic Council´s main objectives are to promote the common interests of the West Nordics, preserve the natural resources and culture of the North Atlantic, and strengthen cooperation between the West Nordic governments. The Council achieves its objectives by adopting resolutions submitted directly to the three national parliaments for approval and subsequent implementation by the appropriate ministers in the governments of the three countries.

The West Nordics are all located within the Arctic region. Collectively, the West Nordic region is of considerable significance in Arctic terms, given Greenland’s vastness, covering over 20% of the Arctic landmass, and the region being the home of 10% of Arctic inhabitants. The West Nordic Council´s focus areas have thus always been of high Arctic relevance.

Why is Observer status an important component of the Arctic “profile” of the West Nordic Council?

An ever greater number of political decisions are now being taken at the international level. Global governance is not only in the hands of governments but also executives, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, to name a few. National parliaments, in contrast, appear more as outsiders or even as passive bystanders. The result of this is a growing gap between the actual decisions that affect a state and those decisions that the state´s parliament is able to shape. Arctic governance is no exception. Out of 32 Observers to the Arctic Council, only one is a parliamentary organization. This is one of the main reasons the West Nordic Council applied for Observer status in the Arctic Council - to decrease the democratic deficit apparent in Arctic governance and, in that way, make sure that the voice of the inhabitants of the region is heard and their rights protected.

The Arctic Council’s work is of high relevance for West Nordic cooperation. It is after all the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction in the Arctic. Being granted Observer status to the Arctic Council is an important step for the West Nordic Council to further strengthen its already substantial Arctic activities in a manner beneficial to both Councils. The goals of the West Nordic Council and the Arctic Council are notably compatible in the areas of sustainable development and environmental protection, and both place an emphasis on the well-being of the inhabitants of the Arctic region and on strengthening their capacity to respond to the challenges and benefits from the opportunities emerging in the region.

As you look ahead, what specific ways do you hope to contribute to the work of the Arctic Council?

As an Observer, the West Nordic Council will contribute its West Nordic expertise to the Arctic Council´s Working Groups, Task Forces and Expert Groups. The Council intends to focus mostly on the work of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG), where it foresees it will have the most valuable expertise to contribute. The West Nordic Council furthermore intends to cooperate closely with the Arctic Council’s six Permanent Participants, to provide them with valuable knowledge and insight into the interests and viewpoints of the people of the West Nordic region, while at the same time providing West Nordic parliamentarians with a broader understanding of the challenges of the indigenous peoples in the Arctic.

(Thanks to Vilborg Ása Guðjónsdóttir for providing the responses above.)