The European Union is one of the leading actors in international relations, a political and economic center. Over the last decade, the EU has strengthened its institutional mechanism, but the EU's involvement in Antarctic affairs was limited and the Antarctic region was not one of the EU's high policy priorities.
Analyzing the EU's participation in the meetings of the Antarctic Treaty, we can see an interesting fact: during the all period of consultative meetings of the Antarctic Treaty (ATCM), EU only four times participated in four special meetings related on the Madrid Protocol. At the same time, the EU has played a minor role in the debate regarding the Annex to the Protocol on the Responsibility of the Parties. This is partly due to legal issues: Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol restrict non-state accession. However, there are also political reasons: it is clear that EU Member States do not intend to give the EU the right to represent their interests in Antarctica. Also, we should keep in mind that in the case of Great Britain and France, it is not only a question of representation of interests, but also of territorial claims in Antarctica. Therefore, it is unlikely that the EU's relationship with the ATCM will change in the nearest future.
However, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and its Commission (CCAMLR) are an exception. The EU has ratified the Antarctic Treaty and is a full member of the CCAMLR. Moreover, the EU is quite active in the framework of CCAMLR. In this context, the EU is focusing on a joint proposal to create a marine protected area (MPA) in the Weddell Sea, the so-called EARSMPA proposal. The process regarding the MPA status for this area has been significantly delayed taking into account the position of Russia and China. Both positions refer to their scientific data, which, in their opinion, indicate a lack of grounds for the creation of the MPA.
For the EU CCAMLR is a tool for demonstrating global environmental leadership. However, such cooperation is mutually beneficial: the EU's participation in the CCAMLR will contribute to the application of the EU's progressive approaches to environmental protection and the sustainable management of the Antarctic ecosystem. In this context, the EU has taken decisive action. On April 28, 2021 at the high-level ministerial conference chaired by the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginius Sinkevicius and high representatives of Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Italy, USA, Great Britain, Norway, Uruguay, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina have adopted a joint declaration on the recognition of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean.
The establishment of marine protected areas (MPA) in Antarctica is the prerogative of the CCAMLR. The decisions in CCAMLR is taken by unanimous decision of the participating countries, including Russia and China.
At present, the only MPA which the Member States of the CCAMLR have been able to agree is the 2016 decision on the Ross Sea. This decision was made with the active assistance of the administration of US President Obama, who personally paid much attention to this process and the formation of consensus between the parties.
At the same time, the foreign policy of the US President D. Trump has become exclusively a tool for achieving economic or geopolitical benefits, and environmental issues have been removed from the agenda. Washington later withdrew from a number of international organizations and agreements, including the Paris Climate Agreement.
Nevertheless, other CCAMLR member states have not stopped their intentions to expand the protected areas in Antarctica. Within the framework of the CCAMLR mechanism, three plans have been developed to create protected areas (in the Weddell Sea area, in East Antarctica and in the Antarctic Peninsula area). With a positive decision, the conservation status will be granted to almost 1 percent of the total area of the oceans. However, such proposals have met with strong opposition from China and Russia, for which economical components are dominant.
In opposite to his predecessor, US President D. Biden declared environmental protection as key areas for his foreign policy and Antarctic policy in particular. Therefore, declarations of the ministers of the leading countries are evidence of the joint diplomatic efforts of these countries to protect the natural resources of Antarctica.
At the same time, this statement is also demonstrating the increasing the EU's activity as an independent actor in global climate change matters. Over the last 5 years, climate issues and environmental protection are the unseparated part of the EU's internal strategic documents.
In this context, in order to strengthen the EU's position, it is necessary to:
1. Strengthen the scientific component in its policy on Antarctica. In Antarctica the science has the privileges to the policy. Therefore, global projects such as EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) or EU-PolarNet are necessary for the EU's political position in Antarctica.
2. Form a clear position regarding Antarctic policy within the EU. Due to the Brexit and the national interests of each EU members, particular with territorial claims in Antarctica, the EU needs to have a clear, coordinated and strong common position. It is important to remember that the United Kingdom has extensive experience in Antarctic affairs and maintains strong ties with other influential Antarctic nations, such as Australia and New Zealand. The absence of the UK at EU coordination meetings can lead to a loss of information and influence. In this context, the cases of the European Commission in the European Court of Justice concerning representive issues look like ill-considered steps. In two cases, the European Commission required exclusive competence in CCAMLR matters. The court rejected these claims. However, on the other hand, such a precedent can be considered to have had positive consequences, due to the interaction with the CCAMLR.
3. The EU has to understand that Antarctic issues will require serious political efforts. For example, the direct intervention of former US President Barack Obama was necessary in the establishment of marine protected areas in the Ross Sea. In particular, the EU will need to join forces with the United States and leading countries for opposing Russia and China to expand marine protected areas in Antarctica.
PhD in Economics
Cheberkus Dmitry Viktorovich