Svalbard sovereignty not under threat
October 28, 2011
The response was loud and clear after a major Norwegian newspaper reported earlier this week that a new report from the European Union (EU) was challenging Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard. “Misleading,” claimed other top EU officials, and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre also denied any conflicts.
“Svalbard is just as much a part of Norway as Østfold,” Støre told newspaper Aftenposten after it had reported on a report written by Diana Wallis, one of the European Parliament’s vice presidents. She suggested that the treaty governing Svalbard should be updated and even renegotiated.
“I’m sure that Aftenposten is aware that this publication does not express the EU’s position,” János Herman, the EU’s ambassador to Norway, wrote in a letter to the editor published on Thursday. “I was surprised, therefore, to read the hedline ‘EU pressure on Svalbard.’”
Herman claimed the EU’s position on Svalbard was confirmed just a few weeks ago, when top EU officials repeated that the EU has no plans to raise questions about various legal interpretations regarding the maritime areas in the region. The EU’s Arctic policies acknowledge the “special responsibiity and the special rights the Arctic states have,” Herman wrote, and focus on developing tight cooperation with these states, “especially with Norway.”
Bjørn Jahnsen, communications chief for the foreign ministry, also wrote to Aftenposten and also claimed the report was “misleading.” He claimed the EU has no desire to challenge Norway on Svalbard or set up any new management systems in the Arctic, and that Norwegian officials had been told that from the highest levels of the EU. “Norway’s sovereignty rests on several factors and the Svalbard treaty is crystal clear on this point,” Jahnsen wrote.
Aftenposten had reported that Wallis said there were many unsolved issues in the Svalbard treaty from 1920 and her report suggested, among other things, a review of how far Norway’s sovereignty should extend in the waters around Svalbard. Wallis, Aftenposten noted, played a key role in creation of the EU law that now forbids all import of seal products into the EU.
The report was followed by another that Russia also was challenging Norway’s sovereignty in the area, after Norwegian inspectors boarded a Russian trawler suspected of illegally dumping fish in the special zone around Svalbard. The owner of the trawler claimed the vessel was in international waters and that Norway overstepped its bounds.
Støre insisted neither the EU nor Russia, however, has any serious conflicts with Norway over sovereignty, although Russia suddenly cracked down again on imports of Norwegian salmon. Russian authorities claimed they’d found unwanted bacteria in fish from three producers.
“We must live with various incidents where there’s reaction to Norwegian handling in both the Norwegian economic zone and the special (fish protection) zone,” Støre told Aftenposten. “But as (Russian) Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the Barents Council meeting in Kiruna earlier this month, there exists no Norwegian-Russian conflict in the north.”
Nor is there a conflict with the EU, he said, noting that there’s a big difference between the comments of one member of the EU parliament and an actual EU challenge against Norway. The EU has made it clear, he claimed, that “Norway’s full sovereignty over Svalbard is respected.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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