Italy and Poland are not new to the Arctic. A clear understanding of what they hope to get out of being there is

December 23, 2015 - 4:29pm - By Kevin McGwin

Italy was admitted as an Arctic Council observer in 2013, but, according to a new Arctic section on its foreign ministry’s website, the country has a century-long history in the region. As of last week, it also has a strategy for what it is doing there.

The document, officially titled ‘Towards an Italian Strategy for the Arctic’, has two goals, according to Gabriele Altana, the country’s representative on the Arctic Council: co-ordinating policy and informing the public about the country’s Arctic goals.

To do this, the strategy, according to Mr Altana, considers the full range of Italy’s official Arctic interests, and includes input from the foreign, environmental and economic ministries, as well as the concerns of businesses that are active there.

Most of these firms are involved with mining and oil drilling, others, though, are active in shipping and aerospace. Eni, an oil producer currently operating in the Barents Sea, is perhaps the most visible, but, Mr Altana reckons, the next few years will see more companies seeking to establish themselves there. Having an overview of Italian policy and business interest, he says, will make it easier to speak on their behalf.

Other topics, like continuing scientific research and working with indigenous groups, form the foundation the strategy, as does climate, which Mr Altana says, plays a special role.

“The strategy can be part of our advocacy for efforts to address climate change. Involving the public in the idea that the Arctic is a laboratory for things that are happening globally can help us. We can use this to show people that the Arctic is not melting because of what is being done there.”

As undramatic as the policy may appear, it is, in fact, an effective method for countries to clarify their Arctic policies, according to Malgorzata Smieszek, a researcher with the Arctic Centre, Rovaniemi-based research institute.

“Working on a strategy,” she says, “helps to map what they hope to get out of an Arctic policy.”

For policy-makers, one practical benefit of drawing up a formal Arctic strategy is that it identifies national interests in the region and which institutions are involved.

Another value of strategies, Ms Smieszek says, is that the advertise that a government is involved in the Arctic. As with Italy, this can help inform citizens, but it also makes other countries and organisations aware of the type of role it hopes to play in the region.

Doing so has become particularly important after the Arctic Council announced during its biennal meeting in April that it would begin taking a closer look at the observer system, possibly kicking out some of the 32 observers if they are found to be contributing too little.

Having a strategy would not be a requirement for staying on as an observer, Ms Smieszek underscores, but for countries with less experience in the region, it would have an indirect influence. “States that go through this process will be better off,” she says.

In addition to Italy, Japan, which was also admitted as an obsever in 2013, recently published an Arctic policy statement. Spain, admitted in 2006, is expected to do so soon.

Poland, an Arctic Council observer since 1996, has chosen another way of showing its commitment to the region. Earlier this month, PAIiIZ, the national foreign-investment agency, unveiled a programme for Polish firms interested in doing business in the region. Though more narrowly focused than a traditional policy paper, the initiative may, in fact, say more about Warsaw’s attitude toward the region’s potential than a formal strategy: the two previous Go programmes focused on China and on Africa.

Both of those had thier unique aspects, as does the Arctic programme, according to Agnieszka Ciećwierz, a senior official with, PAIiIZ. She explains, however, that, as an investment area, the Arctic shares a number of similarities with the other two regions.

“The most important,” she says, “is the great market entry opportunities.”

PAIiIZ has already organised its first trip to the region, to Denmark and Greenland, at the beginning of December. Here, representatives from industries such as construction, energy technology and waste management took part. Even before the trip was done, some had already begun working on their first business plan.

“We decided to build a hotel there,” says Mateusz Halicki, an executive with Ecorys, a consultancy. “It occurred to us that, in Greenland, there is a huge gap in the hospitality industry, and every new hotel is over-booked a year in advance of its official opening.”