- I do not know whether the North Norwegians are naïve in relation to Russia. My starting point is that people in Northern Norway have a good relationship with Russia, historically speaking. But then again, one has to realize that Russia is a country that at present has a very nationalistic rhetoric.
That is what Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg says to High North News.
Her government will present its new High North Strategy during April. In this interview, the Prime Minister talks about the government's work on the new strategy, about Svalbard, the failed seed fund – and our relationship with Russia.
New High North Strategy
- All departments are currently working on the various projects and initiatives that we are adding up to in order to fill the High North Strategy with substantial contents. We want to initiate new and clear measures, Erna Solberg says.
- We have already done much to raise the level of allocations to the North in this government period. While our predecessors were mostly concerned with the foreign policy part, we are more concerned with there being a balance between foreign and domestic policy. We focus on knowledge, but also business development in the North. Our government probably focuses more on land-based businesses.
- Do you still intend to present the new High North Strategy in April?
- That is what we are working towards. However, we cannot guarantee anything before the government has completed its work.
Will not give up on seed fund
- The attempt at placing the management of a seed fund in Northern Norway failed. Is it still important to get this kind of financing in place in Northern Norway?
- I believe it would have been very important to provide this kind of funding in Northern Norway too. However, when it proved impossible to raise sufficient amounts of private capital, we must look at the rules and systems surrounding it. That is what we are working on at present, to see if we can raise more private capital. A seed fund is not a state fund; it is a mix of state and private capital. We have not given up on trying to establish this in Northern Norway.
- Is the lack of private capital one of the most significant challenges in Northern Norway?
- Yes, it is. There is a lot of state capital available in Norway, simply because the state is rich. Private capital is more of a challenge for all of Norway, but perhaps even more so in the North. It is important to build the capital base in Northern Norway in a better way. However, it is also about not taking out all the capital there is. 600 million Norwegian kroner leave Northern Norway every year in wealth taxes, for instance.
The Svalbard Treaty
- Several other nations are questioning Norwegian Svalbard policy at present, in particular in connection with conflicts related to the shelf off its coast. Is the Svalbard Treaty ripe for revision?
- It is always a bit dangerous to enter into full-scale renegotiations. You do not know who will join in and what the outcome may be. In such a process, we may very well end up with something we do not really want. My starting point is that we shall build on the treaty that already exists, and then be very clear that Norway holds the jurisdiction. We are the ones who have to make the regulations.
- Do you experience strong protests from other countries?
- No, we do not. Although Russia sometimes is vocal about some opinions, our experience is that they are fine with the regulations that are in place today. Norway is taking on an important responsibility. What we have to do now, is to go through everything related to rescue systems and aid systems because there is an increase in economic activity. Not only on Svalbard, but also in the areas surrounding it. It is vital to have sufficient capacity to cover the rescue and aid efforts in the North.
- You have argued that there is a fairly good relationship between Norway and Russia in the North, while at the same time you also point at what you refer to as Russian propaganda. How should, in your opinion, cooperation in the North be conducted?
- I think we must try to keep it as good as possible. We have many cooperation projects that work well. And then there are some areas in which there are sanctions in place. However, I believe we can develop good cooperation in all other areas. We can for instance develop further research cooperation and more people-to-people cooperation. At the same time this has become more difficult due to Russian legislation. In the civilian sector, and in relation to organisations, it is made all the more difficult simply because these are not allowed to receive money or cooperate too closely. Though I think we should continue having friendship towns, work more together and maintain low shoulders in this area.
- You have talked about Russian propaganda. Do you think that we northerners are naïve in our relationship with Russia?
- I do not know if one is naïve. There is a good relationship with Russia based on history and the war. Nevertheless, one also has to acknowledge that Russia is a country that at present has a very nationalistic rhetoric. They use new and different tools to affect other countries, like for instance through social media and storytelling. I do not think Norway is particularly exposed to this, but we do see it in other countries. I believe we must keep in mind that when the Russians raise a concern of theirs, their motives may be different from what we see, says Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
- We really should think like that about everyone.
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