Why is France a recognized partner in the ongoing Arctic Dialogue ?
I am delighted to contribute to this first issue of the “Arctic Review”, which I hope will meet with great success. As French Ambassador to the Russian Federation, I would like to answer two basic questions on the Arctic region that may be of interest to your readers : “Why is France a recognized partner in the ongoing Arctic Dialogue ?” and “What will be the main Arctic- related events in our 2015 calendar ?” - Mr. Jean-Maurice Ripert,
the Ambassador of France to Russia
WHAT IS FRANCE’S ROLE IN THE ARTIC DIALOGUE ?
The nature of France’s involvement in the Artic is clearer when considering that, first, France has been a long-time observer at the Arctic Council (since 2000) and has been active at various Council levels, from working groups and task forces to Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) and Ministerial Meetings. France recently reported on its active participation in the Arctic Council as, since the 2013 Kiruna Ministerial Meeting, all observers to the Arctic Council are required to justify their observer status by summarizing their past and ongoing work on the Arctic. In 2013, six non-Arctic countries have been admitted as observers to the Arctic Council, namely : China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. France of course welcomes this growing interest in the Arctic area and will continue to participate actively and positively in dis- cussions on strengthening the role of observers to the Arctic Council, such as those launched recently in Copenhagen.
One may wonder why is France interested in both polar regions. The answer to this question simply lies in France’s very long-standing sci- entific involvement first in polar exploration and later in polar research, through figures like Jules Dumont d’Urville, Jean Charcot, Paul-Emile Victor, Jean Malaurie and Jean-Louis Etienne among others. This scientific tradition is now upheld and implemented by the Paul-Emile Victor Institute (IPEV) in which a total of nine French public entities, including the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAEDI), IFREMER and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), are stakeholders. This work recently saw the creation by the CNRS of the French Arctic Initiative, whose objec- tive is to coordinate all scientific activities undertaken by French uni- versities and laboratories. In short, France is indeed recognized as a “polar nation” and, though it mostly conducts research in the Antarctic, it also has research teams in the Arctic : I am thinking in particular of the permanent French-German Arctic Research Base which includes the French Charles Rabot Station and the Jean Corbel Camp at East Lowen on Spitsbergen.
In addition to those scientific interests, France has potential econom- ic interests in the Arctic area through a number of private and public companies such as Total, Technip, CNES and Thales, to name but a few. Relevant fields of activity are transport and logistics, natural gas exploration and drilling, infrastructures, space observation, and so on.
At this stage, France does not preclude having defence interests in the Arctic region : as stated in the 2013 French White Paper on De- fence and National Security : “... the reduction in Arctic Sea ice already has strategic consequences and the prospect of regular use of new Arctic shipping lanes is drawing closer.”
Regarding this last point in particular, I would add that France is fully aware that a rapid withdrawal of summer ice pack will further encour- age a “maritimization process”, which is ongoing, whereby the Arctic will increasingly be viewed as an open sea. This process calls for a review of existing legislation on the Arctic area and the development of legal frameworks, especially as regards shipping in ice-covered waters and fishing in new fishing areas (hence the amendment of the Polar Code by the International Maritime Organization – IMO). Such multilateral reviews are all the more necessary at a time when a number of authorities have forecast a shift, ultimately, from a “land-based” to a “sea-based” economy.