Today we will have a ride through the far North of Europe, led by Mr. Ole Damsgaard, Head of the Northern Periphery Programme (NPP) Secretariat. The area covered by this programme is characterised by its harsh climate, sparse population and remoteness. Moreover, as climate change gradually modifies its morphology, this programme gives ever more attention to the Arctic.
The NPP aims to build upon common development potentials through transnational cooperation. As a starter before the round of questions and answers, Mr. Damsgaard displays the picture of a group of fishermen in a beautiful Swedish lake. It represents, in his own words, the “added value” of one of the NPP projects.
What have been the main outcomes of the NPP in the period 2006-2013?
The outcomes will be presented at the Closing Conference in Scotland, but I can tell you about individual results. All our projects should deliver new products and services. An example is the Arctic Charr, based on the idea that hydropower stations can be used for raising this fish for exports and sport fishing, creating new jobs.
We also have a project dealing with telemedicine. Considerable distances between citizens and hospitals might be a problem in maintaining an acceptable level of service. Remote services are a means to overcome such distances.
What will be different in the period 2014-2020?
The EU Commission has underlined that we should place a higher focus on results. For the NPA this implies that – particularly in innovation and development – SMEs are the main priority.
What is also important is that the new programme should trigger results in the entire programme area, rather than results related to individual projects. This is a huge challenge because our programme area is vast and the funding is limited.
The Arctic is becoming a bit more visible. The area covered is the same, but the name has changed from the North Periphery to the North Periphery and Arctic.
In terms of budget, it will increase between 20% and 30%. However, the final decision has not been taken yet.
Why this emphasis on the Arctic?
The Arctic was considered before, but the political scenario has changed during the last ten years. The EU and other countries have applied for observer status in the Arctic Council. That is an indicator of the huge international interest on what goes on in the Arctic region.
The traditional interest in the Arctic was related to scientific and security issues, but today it has been broadened to economic interests, because of the natural resources that are becoming accessible due to the climate change and the declining ice. In addition, it is expected that it will be possible to open up maritime routes through the ArcticSea, reducing the distances for the transport of commodities from the East to the West.
What are the characteristics of this Arctic dimension?
A major interest is that Arctic stakeholders and project partners are involved in different kinds of transnational projects, increasing the interaction between them and the rest of the world.
Who are the Arctic stakeholders?
There are international stakeholders, like the Arctic Council and the scientific community, but the main stakeholders are the people living there. The Arctic is not empty. One of its characteristics is its extremely low population density when considered in its entirety, but there are people living there, and even big cities. The main concern for the project is that these people become, to a higher extent, an active part of the globalization process.
You refer to the social scope, but the NPP also covers the economic and environmental potentials. How will it tackle them, without one being at the expense of the other?
You are asking whether it is possible to exploit the natural resources in the Arctic without social and environmental impacts, and that is not possible. But you can try to limit the impact to an acceptable level. An example is Greenland, which is highly dependent on economic support from Denmark. If Greenland wants to become economically independent, they need a more sustainable economy. Because there are so many natural resources there, mining would be a way of supporting the economy. However, an expert report concluded that this would require opening 24 new mines. Having 24 mega projects within a society of 60.000 inhabitants might be a social and environmental disaster. Besides, there are not enough international investors. The Greenlandic example demonstrates that the exploitation of Arctic resources has to take place over a long period to keep the impacts at an acceptable level.
The Arctic does not solely belong to Europe. Will the future NPP launch projects in cooperation with Canada, the USA or Russia?
Canada and Russia have expressed their interest in joining the new NPP, probably on a project-by-project basis. They will have the opportunity to be observers in the Monitoring Committee. Besides, there is another process initiated by the Norwegian and Scottish governments with the aim to establish a new coordination group of programmes that are working within the Arctic. This coordination body will meet a couple of times a year to share experiences and develop common initiatives.
Something to add?
Yes. The Northern Periphery has always been the far away outskirt of Europe, but it is becoming more important. Probably, in the future, the Northern Periphery will not be a periphery as such, but a more central part of Europe and the world. That is a very exciting development that will take place during the next decades. That is very interesting as a background for the new programme!
For reading the full interview and checking Mr. Damsgard Biography click here
For exploring the current NPP website, click here