There appears to be large insecurity and clear disagreement over the further funding of the Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes, Norway.
On the one hand there is the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which funds the Secretariat’s running operations and the various projects funded by the Secretariat.
On the other hand, there is the Barents Secretariat leadership, as well as Nordland County Councilor Tomas Norvoll (Labour) and his party colleague, MP Eirik Svendsen.
Does not process new applications
The issue, of course, is money. The Barents Secretariat has issued a press release stating that it is unable to start processing applications for new people-to-people projects as of January this year.
The reason is, according to the press release, that there is no new agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on allocation of grant funding for this year.
Head of the Secretariat Lars Georg Fordal says to High North News that this only applies to new project applications.
- We have funding for existing projects that have already been approved, in order for them to be conducted and completed according to plan.
New agreement ready soon
The Barents Secretariat has had a three-year agreement with the MFA; however, this agreement expired on 31.12.2017. The agreement was prolonged with six months in order to complete ongoing projects during the first half of 2018.
Nearly NOK 42 million were granted to various projects during 2017. Operating the Barents Secretariat amounts to some NOK 12 million each year.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says a draft new agreement for operation of and by the Barents Secretariat is prepared already, and that it will be signed by the end of this week.
Communications Adviser Ingrid Kvammen Ekker says to HNN that this agreement has been worked out in dialogue with the Barents Secretariat and that there are technical reasons why it has not been signed yet.
- The Barents Secretariat also wants an agreement on new funding. This will come into place in due course, before the existing agreement expires on 30 June, 2018. During an agreement extending across several years, both parties go through different phases.
The fact that the Barents Secretariat towards the end of the existing agreement period has to focus on completing projects rather than initiating new ones is part of a natural cycle. Documenting the results of its work is important. This does, however, not imply any marginalization and the Barents Secretariat will be able to allocate support for new projects later this year, says Ekker.
Receives many applications
Head of Secretariat Fordal is focused on the new applications coming in.
- It is true that the Barents Secretariat and the MFA have prolonged the old agreement for 2015-2017 up until 30 June, 2018. This prolonging only applies to completion and payouts for projects approved in the 2015-2107 period.
The Barents Secretariat receives new applications for bilateral projects almost every day; however, these applications must be placed on hold until we have a new agreement that permits us to allocate new project grants for 2018. This does not exist today, Fordal says.
- The Barents Secretariat will continue to receive project applications. We are in dialogue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hope to have a new agreement on project grants in place as quickly as possible.
Wants to separate operations from grants
Ingrid Kvammen Ekker stresses that the Department wants to separate money for operations from project funding:
- Past agreements on people-to-people cooperation have included funding for both operations and grants. We now want to separate agreements for grants and operations.
The agreement on operational funding is expected to be ready very soon and contains no marginalization of the Secretariat’s operations. An agreement on funding for new grants is being prepared and will be signed relatively soon, so that it can replace the existing agreement.
Nordland County Councilor Tomas Norvoll and his party colleague MP Eirik Sivertsen argue that there is cause for worry. In a joint press release, the two write that the organizing of the Secretariat and people-to-people cooperation has been appropriate.
- At the time of writing it is 15 January and the 2018 funding is not ready yet. There is no agreement and the Secretariat is in reality operating without approved funding, says MP Eirik Sivertsen (Labour) and continues:
- The signal from the MFA is that it wants to decrease funding. This would be most unfortunate in a situation where interaction in the High North should be reinforced rather than reduced.
Parliament should allocate funds
- It is unfortunate that the funding of such an integral part of Norwegian foreign policy is left solely at the hands of the Ministry. It would be natural for Parliament to provide funding through the state budget.
That would enhance predictability and provide the national assembly with a higher level of ownership to an important initiative, stresses Nordland County Councilor Tomas Norvoll (Labour).
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