Arctic Yearbook 2012
Thawing Ice and French Foreign Policy: A Preliminary Assessment
French Polar Institute – Paul-Émile Victor or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MFA]
through the naming of an ambassador-at-large in charge of polar-related issues” (ibid).
Considering the political and diplomatic implications of such a position, Senator Gaudin had
indicated a preference for the second option (MFA) in his report, notably because of its
practicality for French foreign relations, since France is a non-Arctic state. On March 30
2009, foreign affairs minister Bernard Kouchner announced that France was appointing
Michel Rocard as polar ambassador “to serve the French national interest” in a way to
enhance governance structures for the Arctic (Ministère des Affaires étrangère, 2009).
Second, senator Gaudin’s 2007 report also mentioned that France should “strengthen” its
presence in the North as a way to “give substance” to its participation in the AC (Gaudin,
2007: 93). Accordingly, the author suggested that France should support the idea of creating
“a new status, that of ‘associated member’ [in the Arctic Council] which would allow
[France] to fully participate in the workgroups” (ibid: 94).
Indeed, France has often
mentioned its interest in having a greater role particularly within the ‘Emergency Prevention,
Preparedness and Response’ (EPPR) working group since it deals with maritime issues such
as Search and Rescue (SAR) and Arctic marine oil pollution. Correspondingly, in May 2010,
polar ambassador Michel Rocard participated in his first AC meeting in Copenhagen, with
then State Secretary for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, who acknowledged, “this was
the first time a French minister was present at an AC meeting” (Arctic Council, 2010). He
added that such an increased interest “was a sign of France recognizing the urgent challenges
in the Arctic, and its willingness to contribute in facing those challenges” (ibid).
Finally, policy-wise, Gaudin recommended that France should establish an international
‘Observatory’ for the Arctic (
Observatoire scientifique multidisciplnaire et multinational de l’Arctique
and use its EU Commission Presidency in 2008 to push this idea forward with its European
allies (Gaudin, 2008). Furthermore, the Senator also mentioned that considering the fragility
of Arctic ecosystems, it has become imperative to regulate human activities related to natural
resource exploitation and tourism in the Arctic (Gaudin, 2007: 143). Although discussions
on an observatory for the Arctic remain to be followed-up on, Gaudin’s suggestion to
enhance governance structures for the Arctic did find its way to policymakers in Paris.
Indeed, the National Assembly (French parliament) adopted a bill in 2008
the creation of a specific international commission on the Arctic. This bill – named