‘Ambitious goals’ for Northern Areas

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The so-called Nordområdene (Northern Areas) have long been at the top of Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s agenda. On Friday, he and three fellow ministers traveled north to Bodø to roll out their strategy for Norway’s northern counties and surrounding territory, both offshore and across national borders.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (front row, far left) had no less than three fellow government ministers with him in Bodø: (from left) Tora Aasland, in charge of research and higher education; Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa, transportation, and Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, fisheries and coastal issues. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Marte Kopstad

It involves what Støre called a “completely clear framework and conditions” for development in the northern, Arctic areas. They’re considered rich in natural resources, from minerals to oil, but that also raises a long list of environmental concerns.

“We want to secure continued peace and stability in the Northern Areas,” Støre told a packed auditorium at the University of Nordland in Bodø. “We want to contribute to sustainable management of the resources here. We will strengthen international cooperation and the international laws that are crucial for all activity in the north.”

He tackled head-on the critical remarks often popping up that his agenda for the north involves a lot of talk and less action. “Some say there’s a lot of words in our commitment to the north,” Støre said, stressing that he’s proud of that, because words mark a beginning. “In the past six years we have shown that actions follow words.”

‘Now we can land our policies’
Støre could boast that border issues and disputes have been historically settled during his period in government, an important starting point for moving forward with new concrete projects. “This government has created a new framework in foreign policy (in the area),” he said. “All the borders are clarified. There aren’t any stipulated lines on the map, and we have clarified the extent of the continental shelf. The modern Norway is complete. Now we can land our policies.”

He said the state will build, among other things, a new ice-breaking research vessel based in Tromsø, along with a new border station along the Russian border at Storskog. The government will work, he said, to secure visa liberalization for residents of northern Norway and Russia, launch a surveillance system for the seas (BarentsWatch) and set up a fund for seed capital based in northern Norway. Funding will be allotted annually through the state budget.

Støre said that more has happened in the Northern Areas “than we could expect when the Stoltenberg government pinpointed the Northern Areas as our most important priority in foreign policy.” Cooperation with Russian counterparts and clarifying territorial waters and in the Barents Sea were breakthroughs, he said, that now can usher in development.

“With the Barents region as a new energy region in Europe, a good outlook for mining and increased maritime activity in the area, we’re starting an exciting chapter in Northern Norway’s history,” Støre said.

He stressed that development plans for the area are part of a national plan involving all ministries and building on cooperation between the public and private sectors.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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