We frequently visit the High North. Greetings from the Government!

Members of the government and the civil service frequently visit the High North, the government writes in a statement about the upcoming whitepaper on the High North expected this fall. Photo: Torgeir Haugaard/Forsvaret

The government made me aware the other day that it also governs the High North. Or, as it was put in a press release: “Members of the government and the civil service frequently visit the High North, courtesy of regjeringen.no (the government’s web site).

That is great, I thought. We northerners love having guests, and we frequently go visiting. As long as we can fly and do not have to travel by ferry, following a massive hike in ferry ticket prices recently.

And for all I know, the government’s publicists may have issued press releases with less remarkable news than that their bosses frequently visit the High North.

We know.

The government also wanted to tell us that we matter.

“The High North is the government’s most important strategic responsibility area”, the press release read.

We knew already, though it is nice of them to repeat it. That that is still the case, I mean.

“The governments aims to present an Arctic whitepaper in the autumn of 2020. The previous whitepaper is almost nine years old and a lot has changed since then”, the press statement continued.

It has been almost nine years since the previous Arctic whitepaper was presented; however, it is also quite exactly one year since this very same government said it was to present a new whitepaper about the same area, the High North, in the autumn of 2020.

We know that too.

In January last year, Minister of Local Government and Modernization Monica Mæland was on the podium during Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø and told the same story.

We heard the same during the Arendal Week last August, and it was stressed when the national budget for 2020 was presented on 7 October last year. In addition, this has been included in the message from every cabinet member who has “visited the High North” in the previous year.

Yet it was re-presented once again just days ago, without further explanation.

We know that it is coming, however, we know next to nothing about the political process leading up to it. Thus, we know very little about how well anchored the whitepaper will be, politically as well as geographically.

Not to be quoted

The whitepaper is written by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, it “involves” the entire government, the press release stated.

There have been input meetings, it says, in Vadsø, Tromsø, Bodø and Karasjok.

We know from before that the foundations for at least one of the input meetings, created by the Bergen-based research institution NORCE on behalf of the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, were not to be quoted. It said “Not to be quoted” on every single page of the document.

The problem is not that we do not know that a whitepaper on the Arctic is due this fall. However, there will be a problem if the process related to the whitepaper lacks political management and involvement of the geographical area it is focusing on.

Parachute policies

Visiting Karasjok and other places in Northern Norway is good and fine, however, for a government almost void of North Norwegian ministers, sending out cabinet members and civil servants to visit is not enough – by far.

When the Americans woke up to a country with Donald Trump as its president, American politicians and journalists embarked on a journey of soul searching. They had, jointly, missed out on the rebelling and dissatisfaction that was located outside the capital cities.

Before this year’s American election, both the press, researchers and politicians travel the country like bee swarms in order to capture the American mood. They may find it, though it may easily become what the Americans refer to as ‘parachute mentality’ or ‘parachute journalism’. In journalism, the term refers to being placed in a situation about which you know nothing, only to find yourself going home with the story you had decided beforehand to write.

“Parachute politics” does not sound as nice, though it may easily be the outcome if the policy is not solidly anchored.

Fortunately, autumn is still a long way away and perhaps the press release the other day is primarily a reminder to its sender, the government and its website regjeringen.no.

An internal message about taking this job seriously because the High North is both economically and strategically important for Norway as a nation.