Arne O. Holm says Agenda Northern Norway: We Have Not Promised Much and That We Will Keep

Jonas Gahr Støre, Agenda Nord-Norge

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor) opened the Agenda Northern Norway 2023 conference in Bodø. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Commentary: Northern Norway is facing an expected wave of population aging, an energy crisis, territorial disputes, and war. This is the status after a conference organized by the business community in the North.

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In a carefully planned agenda for a conference that gathers business leaders and politicians from the North, the fish farming sector and the battery factories were kept out. The regional and international situation was gloomy enough.

Adding on businesses that demand billions in state crutches to get started or who are swimming in money while participating in demonstrations against taxes would make the conference pitch black.

Far between the bright spots

This year, the bright spots were few and far between at a conference that has traditionally appeared both blind and excessively euphoric. This year's conference, which was organized in Bodø, was instead characterized by sober realism, with debates and lectures worth listening to.

The conversations, if you can call it that, revealed almost insurmountable distances between ambitions and possibilities.

For example, in the question of how we obtain more energy when a power surplus turns into a substantial power deficit, also in Northern Norway, in a few years.

Distance between ambition and possibility.

On one side are wind power developers constantly talking about coexistence and dialogue, and on the other side, Sami reindeer husbandry interests who just as monotonously reject any thought of coexistence and thus dialogue. At times, it can seem as if electricity is an unnecessary evil that society imposes on the reindeer husbandry industry.

Or as in the question of the demographic development in the North. We have known it for a long time, but we had to be drenched up to our shirt collars before we realized that it was the wave of population aging that washed over us.

Kept out

In addition to the known factors that threaten the economic development in the North, we have a war in Europe, climate change that leaves its mark year after year, and an oil economy that weakens the value of the Norwegian krone and thereby makes all the investments more expensive than it has been for a very long time.

In fact, it is so much more expensive that offshore wind, which is the new investment in green energy, seems as realistic as the aging population speeding up the birth rate.

As stated, Agenda Northern Norway had wisely kept out battery factories and the fish farming industry in its search for bright spots.

A reputation in freefall.

And that is despite the fish farming industry benefitting from a low krone exchange rate. In the days surrounding the conference, the industry could announce profits that would normally have led to a prominent spot at this type of conference. The problem is that the surplus goes hand in hand with demonstrations and tax evasion. In addition to a reputation in freefall.

Norwegian and international media are almost daily publishing news and videos that show animal welfare out of control. At the same time, the industry's representatives in the organization Sjømat Norge (Seafood Norway, ed. translation) insist, like a parrot, that they are taking the challenges seriously.

Has had enough

Now, however, the industry's own people have had enough.

"We are about to lose confidence. We have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand," says the head of Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett, Alf-Gøran Knutsen, to NRK.

He receives support from Professor Emeritus Trygve Poppe at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Oslo. 

"They (Seafood Norway, ed.note) are exceptionally bad at handling the challenges that exist in the industry. Instead, they are world champions in denying all discomfort in the industry," says Poppe, also to NRK.

The state was to foot the bill.

At a conference strongly affected by a future power deficit, the battery industry was not awarded a seat. The industry once promised the Rana community in Northern Norway more than 2000 jobs. 

In their own world

That was also a wise decision since Freyr, in the middle of the conference, announced third-quarter reports that entailed the venture in Rana was more or less put on hold. Instead, layoffs are in progress.

However, the quarterly report contained more. According to Dagens Næringsliv, which is better qualified to analyze stock exchange announcements than most editorial staffs in Norway, Freyr had asked for a state support package of close to NOK 9.5 billion to continue the development of the Rana community. This happens after the company's share price has collapsed in the US.

Hence, the plan was that the Norwegian state would foot the bill for board members and CEOs who operate in a world with salaries and bonuses of up to NOK 30 million a year.

On the eve of the conference, a group of mayors from the North were asked which election promise they were going to break. The newly elected mayor of Bodø, Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen from the Conservative Party, delivered perhaps the best speech of the conference:

"We have not promised much and that we will keep."

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