Opening remarks by the Prime Minister at The High North Dialogue conference in Bodø
Speech/statement | Date: 19/04/2023 | Office of the Prime Minister
By Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (The High North Dialogue conference at the High North Centre)
The first pillar of Norway’s Arctic policy is the green transition, absolutely key. I see this as an opportunity, a game changer, we are moving from the age of petroleum production to renewable energy production. A lot of that will happen in the north, said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
Full transcript of the speech
Coming to Bodø
Thank you so much, Frode (Mellemvik), and thank you rector (Hanne Solheim Hansen), and all of you. Let me be very direct and honest; for me coming to Bodø is like coming home, politically, in my heart and in my mind.
I have a fellow here, with whom I served in the navy, and we learned how to navigate radar navigation; that means that you have no screen. It was done in the port of Bodø, and we were told that if we continued that way, you would end up somewhere in the mountains with your ship. So, that was learning hard lessons for a young sailor.
Then, I was very much shaped during my years as Foreign Minister, coming here, as you said, Frode Mellemvik, and now as Prime Minister; I think it is great to be back home, and I salute you, for putting emphasis on the young, and I salute the way you do it, for here are only young people – of all ages! So, let us be proud of that.
And I also – let me say – before I leave on this note, that the dynamism of Bodø, its mayor, my dear friend Ida, is impressive in a Norwegian context. Coming here, regularly over the years, seeing how knowledge is shaping Bodø, culture is shaping Bodø, how Bodø is also shaping Europe, and we will have the Cultural Year here next year, which will be a major event.
And I must say, well I should be careful as Prime Minister, but you know, I have a special heart for football, and I was able to follow Bodø/Glimt playing Arsenal last Fall, and just a few figures: Bodø/Glimt has a budget, if I am not wrong, of about a hundred million kroner a year, Arsenal has five billion, and that match was won not by Bodø/Glimt (0-1), it was not unfair, but it was even. So, it tells something about raising to the occasion,
Let me also say – because we live in very dramatic international times – that the High North Policy that we have in Norway was really shaped during years where Bodø, the university and the High North Centre was key. The High North Centre, in 2005 – I remember well how it was established – the Nord University was also established and became another pillar of knowledge in the north, and there are individuals here – and I cannot mention all of them, but Frode, I cannot get around you – because when I have been at key High North events in the north, you are almost always there; innovative, dynamic, new ideas, and you confirm that ‘we are young of all ages’.
And I remember, in 2011 I presented the White Paper on Norway’s High North policy here at the Bodø university – and it was a great time, it was a time of opportunities, and doors were not-closed, they were semi-open. And we negotiated the delimitation line with Russia in the Barents Sea after forty years of unsolved issues, so that was really a time of opportunities.
And I would say, as a consequence of these developments, we got the notion ‘High North dialogue’, and let us take a look at this: As you said in the introduction, even in difficult times: Dialogue is a method.
Look, the opposite of dialogue is monologue – and, you know, that brings us not where we want to go. Dialogue has a mission, namely, to go further together and unleash resources and activities. Dialogue can be inclusive, dialogue can be a multiplier, and we need that.
I have not come here to dwell on the past – although it is so fun to dwell on the past sometimes – but I want to add that the years from the early start of the 1990s, the high north dialogue materialized and progressed, it changed the north, and bilaterally Norway and Russia were able to do remarkable things after decades of closed borders.
I always quote these figures: in 1990 when the Soviet Union fell, there were about 3-4 000 border crossings between Norway and Russia, as two neighbouring countries – now, in 2013 there were 320 000 border crossings. I think that is a telling number, people-to-people, economic, energy.
We saw a development of unique regional cooperation, the Barents cooperation of local authorities of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, quite unique, together with central governments, and together with indigenous peoples’ organizations – which is so important in our region – and also together with civil society.
And we had the Arctic Council coming up. In the 1990s the Arctic Council was something that people hardly could spell, it was not interesting, it was a dull thing, but during my years as Foreign Minister we observed the opposite; the whole world was coming and got interested in the Arctic. I am happy to see Italian friends here, because Italy had a foreign minister at that time who was really keen to get involved. Now the Arctic Council became a very important regional organization.
So, a new region was emerging. And for Norway’s part – I will leave that now – but just say that our high north approach started very ocean-based – it always has to be because that is Norway. But the ambition of my government is to maintain focus on the ocean – and to take the policy ashore, because here is where we live – and we have major challenges and opportunities on land that we need to realize.
Another issue I will mention, is that Norway experiences what modern leadership means in these contexts. Number one is that we need to have an ambition.
I will not, you know, make any critical remarks on the former government. I think there is a permanent thing here – where Norway is recognizable – that when we go into an initiative like this – the high north – our partners know that the major initiatives of the sitting government will be followed-up by the next government.
So then, you know, the new government has to put in new ideas and move forward. We have to have ambitions, and this is a result of dialogue as well – because there are so many key players, from different parts of society, playing in to the way we work.
And we developed the notion that Norway can, if we work well, be ahead of others on ideas. We developed Arctic policies in Norway which were copied by and inspired the European Union’s Arctic policy, the American Arctic policy and even Asian countries’ Arctic policies. So, you got to have ambitions and be ahead. And now, from here to move forward in times like now, things are really pushing borders.
The final dimension here is that we must always remember to never give up, because there will be ups and downs. There are seven Arctic states, circumpolar states, plus so many countries in the world now moving looking to the Arctic, and we must not give up.
Russia’s War in Ukraine
And I am saying this, because we have such a contrast now, as we stand here in April 2023, where we have to acknowledge that 24 February 2022 is a date that will always be a before-and-after-date; a full-scale attack war by one state against another, that is a watershed.
And as Prime Minister, I want to repeat the sentences that Norway condemns this war, we hold Russia accountable for it, Russia is responsible for the attack, and it has to be responsible for ending the war. A full-scale attack war on a neighbour is a challenge for all other neighbours, including us and our Nordic friends.
We support Ukraine’s right to defend itself, by military means, humanitarian means and by economic means, and we have based broadly in Parliament a five-year programme, ‘the Nansen program’, providing 15 bn NOK every year in support for Ukraine.
The president of Ukraine told me that he welcomes the sum of money but the most important part is the five-year dimension. And I wanted to have a five-year dimension because that binds Norway beyond the elections. So, whoever governs Norway after 2025 will commit to ‘the Nansen program’ and that I think is an important signal.
So, with this brutality of an authoritarian regime that has emerged in Russia, there are of course strong limits on contact and cooperation. It has dire implications. We do not perceive any direct military threat against Norway, but there is an intelligence threat, there is a hybrid threat, that we follow and monitor very closely. And we do not accept to have people under diplomatic coverage in Norway when they are doing other activities. Then they are kindly asked to return back home.
The Nordics in NATO
So, all of this has changed our outlook, it has changed the Nordic outlook, with Finland and Sweden, our closest partners and friends, biding for NATO membership, Finland since 4 April a NATO member, Finland is now our NATO ally and Sweden will become one. I agree with president Niinistö who says that this dimension is not fulfilled until Sweden is part of it. However, it will happen.
It has changed Norway’s relationship with Europe in deepening that relationship through the energy equation. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is right when she says that Norway is a reliable and precious partner. We are now the main provider of gas to Europe, we are deep into discussions on new energy forms, such as hydrogen, we are developing offshore wind.
On Monday I will be in Ostende in Belgium with the president of France, the chancellor of Germany and the prime ministers of Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg and Ireland on an offshore wind summit; cooperation on the North Sea grid is developing, North Sea net, a fundamental development of this dimension.
So, all of the Nordics in NATO and a changed Arctic. We are seven Arctic nations; one of them, Russia, is now in a very different position. So, the question is then – what now? We must remain focused and keep the perspective. The question we have to ask is – should we give up the vision of cooperation and dialogue in the Arctic because Russia is in such a negative trend? Should we, the remaining six and all the other countries, institutions, networks, students, young people of all ages, should we set a pause on now and end our efforts? I believe no. I think we should abide by true European values.
Firstly, we cannot hold every Russian responsible for this war. We should treat and welcome Russians living in Norway with decency and according to our rule of law principles, as we welcome Ukrainians coming here as refugees or otherwise in a decent way.
But we should lift our focus, and let me say this with a Norwegian perspective as Prime Minister: The cold winds blowing now, politically, also here in the north, do not emerge in the north. This is not a bilateral conflict between either of the Nordic countries with Russia; it is emerging out of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
Norway has been at peace with Russia for a thousand years, and we will remain so, in difficult times as in opening-up times: a predictable, responsible, firm and long-term partner, in the way we manage our oceans, in the way we develop our neighbouring relations.
And this is a tenacity I would say of the Norwegian approach; that we have to live with the ups and downs, because if we have been at peace for a thousand years, we will know that during those years there have been ups and downs, and sometimes the small state then must be able to say that, well if there are no opportunities for cooperation right now, okay, then let us then wait for the next opportunity.
In the meantime, we must be firm on our principles, on what we can accept and what we cannot accept. But let also us remind ourselves that it may come a day when we can move forward again.
I would warn against what we see in part of the debate in Europe now, where people are cutting Russia out of the map, as if it is no longer there. It is. We do not choose our geography, we are neighbours, we will remain neighbours, and we will have orderly relations with our neighbour on borders, on search and rescue, on fisheries management, and so on.
High North – Low Tensions?
Editor Arne O. Holm wrote recently in his excellent media outlet (High North News), that the notion which I coined back in time – ‘High North, low tensions’ – is no longer possible or likely to use.
Well, there are more tension, but I firmly believe that it is our responsibility, in the high north, still to strive for that vision: High North – low tensions. We are not served by increased tension.
And that is why we want to be predictable and recognisable, and we want that the safeguarding of Norway’s security is done by Norway, in close cooperation with our allies, and now, of course, very much more so with our Nordic neighbours.
So, looking ahead I have three messages: On Northern Norway, on Northern Nordic and on the Arctic.
Now, very briefly on Northern Norway:
It is key to us, as a country, because the north of Norway is the entry point to the Arctic, to the northeast passage, to the climate dimension – look, there are four times stronger climate changes than further south – and, it is so important for our identity, and it is so much more that are on our mind that we need to keep people living in the north and even encourage people to come and live in the north, be they Norwegians or be they foreign friends.
And that means that we have to work closely with universities – knowledge-based is the core of our policy, you know – with our industrial policy, energy policy, work with the Sami Parliament and indigenous peoples’ organisations, to make northern Norway liveable.
And the important thing here is that we can add to all these dimensions related to the north the security policy dimension now; much stronger than before. Because this is really also about security.
On the northern Nordic, there is now a huge opportunity to go further and deeper, and I welcome that.
We have had to draw down on projects coming out of the Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes because there is much less cooperation with Russia. However, the unique experience of ‘the Barents method’ is to develop projects people-to-people, knowledge, and civil society – now, let us maintain that ability and that methodology of working.
I would encourage that we now, in the meantime, and let me say that we do not know how long it will last; that we put these experiences in use with our Swedish and Finnish neighbours, because we can go much deeper; Finland and Sweden and Norway together – in industry, knowledge, universities, green initiatives, technology-sharing and not least defence-integration.
Our chiefs of defence have been working on this for quite a few years already; we started on that back in the time I was Foreign Minister, when we took an initiative for combined air defence planning. Now, this will happen within the framework of NATO inter-operability and it will be a much closer cooperation. We, the three Prime Ministers have given a mandate to go deep and far in imagining how we can see the region, demonstrating that we are not a threat to anyone, and an opportunity to go further together.
The Arctic. Norway chairs the Arctic Council
Then the third dimension – the Arctic:
We have to keep the Arctic agenda alive and dynamic. The ocean binds us together.
This week, we have the One Ocean week in Bergen; hundreds of experts coming together, discussing the challenges, the threats to the ocean, but also the opportunities, from food and energy and all other things, transport, etc. So, sustainable ocean management has to be on our agenda, biodiversity – preserving it, and the development of our research. We recently adopted an international agreement covering vast areas beyond national jurisdiction – this is very important – and we have to keep moving on.
So, the pause that we now have with Russia cannot influence our activities on the Arctic agenda. On 11 May, Norway takes over as chair of the Arctic Council from Russia, and our key focus is on the oceans, climate and environment, sustainable development and people, including working with indigenous peoples’ organizations and civil society, and the Arctic youth.
Obviously, we would have liked to have seven Arctic circumpolar states in the Arctic Council striving ahead, and it will require quite a bit of diplomacy to manage this relationship with Russia as we now take the chair. However, again, this can be no argument to say that we set the Arctic on pause. So, we will use the high north dialogue, spin it and put it into this more complex geopolitical situation.
The five pillars of the roadmap of Norway’s Arctic policy
Now, very briefly, in the end: In early February last year, I spoke in Tromsø – I see my friend the mayor, Gunnar Wilhelmsen here today – and he was there, we were talking about Norway’s high north policy, with the new government, and I developed what I called five pillars of that policy.
Well, then you may say that those were launched in Early February 2022 and then everything changed later in February, but I think the objectives are still there. And let me just repeat how I see those pillars from our perspective.
The first one is the green transition, absolutely key. I see this as an opportunity, a game changer, we are moving from the age of petroleum production to renewable energy production. A lot of that will happen in the north.
We have launched what we call “Grønt industriløft” – “Green Industrial Initiatives”, with seven priority areas, and more than a hundred concrete areas and initiatives. We will update this now in a short time and it will be a “Green Initiatives 2.0”, learning from what we have seen over the last year. We are into offshore wind power, hydrogen, battery technology, carbon capture and storage, and many other areas.
I read from Menon Economics the other day that the turnover from offshore wind, hydrogen and CCS together, mounted to nearly 50 billion kroner in 2021, and it may reach 250 million kroner by 2030.
Our ambitions on offshore wind is that this will not – as happened with oil and gas; be a southern Norway experience for decades before it comes to the north – no, by the end of this month NVE will announce recommendations for where we should develop offshore wind further along the coast – and I want to see the north in that. And this is surely and truly needed.
And there are so many fascinating things happening here, Varanger Kraft Hydrogen AS in Berlevåg, very concrete and fascinating initiative, Freyr Battery in Mo i Rana – clean battery solutions, these are kind of initiatives to get that going, and the government will do what it takes to support that. And, of course, the offshore wind.
The second pillar is what we call strong and resilient communities; ensuring access to services where people live, health and education, as I said – taking the high north policy ashore – where people live.
And drawing on every experience on what it really takes to build resilient communities around very solid cities, and we have a few of them in the north, and local communities related to the cities, universities taking their responsibilities, with diverse campuses; we have to fund them; rector, I agree, you reminded me of that, but that is an important part; taking experience to build resilient communities in our diverse Norway, is important.
The third pillar is on education and knowledge; Bodø, Tromsø, Alta – playing an important role and I, again, will stress that we have vast opportunities with Sweden and Finland that are there, but now we can go much deeper, much further. I intend to work on that with my Swedish and Finnish colleagues and set the ambitions and agendas for that.
The fourth pillar is the pillar you always need in Norway – namely infrastructure – very fascinating: the last time I was in Bodø we visited Widerøe and saw how they were planning for electric planes for the network of airports in the north; it can be a ground-breaking issue if we succeed.
And the fifth pillar is always influenced by the current international state of affairs, and I call it and I have always called it: presence, be it civilian and military. And we need to be attuned to this world we are in, attuned to our neighbourhood with Russia, to be present, in a predictable, long-term way. It is military, we are not a threat to anyone, but we are here to provide security, collective security with our allies, but also by being here as a forward-looking and modern nation.
So, friends, I salute the conference, I salute the High North Centre, I salute the university for always pushing ahead, but above all I think that the approach of the high north dialogue is the right approach. It can stand the test of bad weather and it can bring us through, and that is why I always think of Bodø and this conference with optimism and hope for the future. Thank you so much for your attention.
More information on the High North Center, see: High North Center (nord.no)