Table of Contents

  • Rural economies are facing significant changes. Increasing global competition is transforming the nature of production, and rural entrepreneurs and businesses have to adapt quickly to maintain their competitive edge. Rapid technological change is offering new growth opportunities, but this requires investment from businesses, the reorganisation of production processes, more advanced skills, and access to markets. Although the impacts have been uneven, the legacy of the economic crisis for many rural areas is lower growth and productivity and fewer job opportunities for local people. Governments are also facing fiscal pressures, given declining revenues and higher costs due to population ageing and rising unemployment.

  • The Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) of Finland, Norway and Sweden are becoming increasingly important to the geopolitical and economic interests of these countries and the European Union (EU). The NSPA regions are located on the periphery of Europe and are part of Europe’s gateway to the Arctic and the east of the Russian Federation (hereafter ‘Russia’). A changing climate, access to hydrocarbon and mineral resources, and shifts in relations with Russia are changing the political and economic landscape. The sustainable development of these regions is crucial to managing such strategic risks and opportunities.

  • The economic and geopolitical importance of the NSPA regions to the EU and member countries has been increasing due to a changing climate, access to hydrocarbon and mineral resources, and shifts in relations with the Russian Federation (hereafter ‘Russia’) and other Arctic countries. A changing climate is placing new pressures on ecosystems and traditional ways of life, and opening up new opportunities for resource extraction. The NSPA is Europe’s gateway to the Arctic and northern Russia, and is important for energy security, food production and technological innovation, which is increasing its geopolitical importance to member countries. This importance is recognised by the EU and the national governments of Finland, Norway and Sweden. The EU, Finland, Norway and Sweden have each released Arctic policies in recent years, which set out commitments for the sustainable development of the northern regions. As an existing (albeit weak) institution the NSPA is an important stakeholder in helping to achieve these strategic policy objectives.