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Published: 2021-03-25

The local voice in the Arctic

NEWS The Arctic Research Centre at Umeå University (Arcum) hosted in March a seminar about the 'Arctic Mayors’ Forum' with participants from several Arctic states. Cathrin Alenskär, manager of international affairs, City of Umeå, presented the relatively new transnational organization.

Text: Anngelica Kristoferqvist

Climate change impacts, sparsely populated areas, and the need for digital transformation are a few examples of the challenges in the Arctic region. Until fairly recently the local politicians lacked a channel to discuss and highlight these issues on a higher level. The need was perceived from both above and below, and to resolve this absence of a local voice, the Arctic Mayor’s Forum (AMF) was formally established in 2019. 

With partners such as the EU, Barents Euro-Arctic cooperation and national governments, the mayors and elected political leaders from local government in the Arctic aims to safeguard values, goals and interests of the Arctic people. And to safeguard good lives, sustainable development and resilient communities in the Arctic.

EU tend to put indigenous people and polar bears on all the pamphlets. But we have so much more to offer

The AMF is still a very young organization and they want to discuss specific local issues, strengths, and challenges. They hope to provide a forum for debate, and an open communication channel for the members.

- “EU tend to put indigenous people and polar bears on all the pamphlets. But we have so much more to offer", explained Cathrin Alenskär, who on a daily basis manage international affairs in the city of Umeå, one of the 14 municipalities that are members of the network.

AMF intend to impact and influence policies and legislations in all areas affecting Arctic municipalities, and to become an observer in the Arctic Council.

The 14 member cities of the Arctic Mayor’s Forum

Akureyri (Island)
Anchorage (Alaska)
Archangelsk (Russia)
Bodö (Norway)
Iqaluit (Canada)
Kemi (Finland)
Luleå (Sweden)
Murmansk (Russia)
Qeqertalik (Greenland)
Rovaniemi (Finland)
Sermersooq (Greenland)
Torshavn (Faroe Isands)
Tromsö (Norway)
Turku (Finland)
Umeå (Sweden)

During the presentation, Cathrin Alenskär extended a hand to researchers looking for collaboration:

- “We are interested in different partnerships, and we can offer a contact person in each city”, she said.

The moderator for this event Niklas Eklund, the director at Arcum, acknowledged the love/hate relationship that are common between neighbors, and wondered if AFM experienced any type of competitiveness between the municipalities.

Cathrin explained that the municipalities in the same region are used to work together, and she didn’t have any experience of rivalry, but between the region on the other hand, it seems to be more competitive. 

Peter Sköld, former director at Arcum applaud the initiative of Umeå joining the AFM.

- “Is it possible in the future to include ALL municipalities in the Arctic?” he wondered.

Cathrin Alenskär:

- “Yes – We welcome all that want to join us, to join. We need more resources to manage speaking our local voice.”

Lena Maria Nilsson, project coordinator at Arcum, wondered about the difference between the municipalities in the inland versus the coast land, and if it indeed would be beneficial for a small inland municipality like Malå, Sweden, to participate in the AMF.

Lennart Gustavsson, chairman of the municipality board in Malå, explained that the AFM is of most interest to the inland.

- “We can define ourself as Arctic more than the coast. We aren’t as urban, and we also have reindeer hearing for example”, he said.

Resources to fill all the chairs, and time to represent, is a challenge for all municipalities, but especially the small ones.

- “We work at different levels, and one challenge is the lack of political possibilities to participate. The local, reginal and national - there is a need for a voice on all the different levels. It’s a matter of recourses, staff is needed”, Cathrin Alenskär explained.

Russia's voice in the AFM

Niklas Eklund again:

- “This is a transnational organization, and you mentioned something about Russian legislation. Without the Russian municipalities the idea falls a bit”.

Cathrin explained that AFM already agreed that a Russian city should have an office, and that municipalities in Russia made it very clear that they want to participate. They have discussed at different levels but no solution yet.

- “It has become harder for Russian cities to become members of international organizations. They want to, but can’t formally sign off on it. We recognize them as full members although they can’t formally agree on it.

To be a non-governmental organization, but where observer status can take several years, allows AFM to work in groups where they still can offer the Russian perspective. Cathrin continues:

- “Today the legal status is not the most important, but that the Russian voice is heard in the AFM.

Niklas Eklund shared his view:

- “Sweden seems to have taken more of a hard turn in Arctic subject such as security issues, defense policy, the new Arctic Policy. Is it getting harder to sell the idea of transnational collaboration?”, he asked. 

Cathin explained that questions need to be directed to the national level as they are unable to discuss certain issues. 

- “As we all know, municipalities in Sweden are not to work with foreign affairs at all. But we have the opportunity to talk at a local level, so yes, people aren’t as openminded, compared to 10 years ago, regarding international cooperation.