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2 Objectives and instruments of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard
The Svalbard Treaty of 9 February 1920 grants Norway "the full and absolute sovereignty" overSvalbard. The Act relating to Svalbard of 17 July 1925 lays down that "Svalbard forms a part of the Kingdom of Norway". The basis for Norwegian administration of Svalbard is that Norway not only has the right to exercise authority within the framework set by the Treaty, but also has an obligation to enforce its sovereignty in a proper and credible manner. This is particularly important because the Svalbard Treaty provides that nationals and companies from the countries that have acceded to the Treaty shall have equal liberty of access and entry and freedom to engage in certain kinds of activities. Norway alone, by virtue of its sovereignty, is responsible for ensuring that this is complied with. At the same time Norway has an obvious right to safeguard its national interests on Svalbard as long as these interests do not conflict with the provisions of the Treaty or international law.
The policy towards Svalbard is the Norwegian authorities' most important instrument for achieving their aims on Svalbard, but it is not the only one. Since the archipelago is an integral part of the kingdom, Svalbard is also included in a number of other, general policy areas. However, this report focuses on the objectives, priorities and measures that apply particularly to Svalbard.
2.2 Objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard
2.2.1 Historical background
Ever since 1920 the main purpose of Norwegian Svalbard policy has been to keep the archipelago out of conflicts between the great powers and ensure that Norway governs the archipelago in a credible manner. This has primarily been achieved by consistent compliance with the provisions of the Treaty and maintenance of Norwegian activities, of which coal-mining has been the most crucial. In recent years private economic activity and research have increased considerably and now constitute a large share of the Norwegian activities on Svalbard.
In spite of a number of setbacks and acute crises during and after the Second World War, this policy has borne fruit. In the almost 75 years that have passed since Norwegian possession, Norwegian sovereignty has been challenged on several occasions, but it has rarely been seriously threatened. Today Norway enjoys considerable recognition and respect in the international community for the way it has carried out its Treaty obligations. Experience has shown, however, that the Norwegian authorities cannot relax their vigilance as regards the firm and consistent exercise of sovereignty.
A number of environmental measures were implemented in connection with the expansion of petroleum activities in the 1960s and 1970s. In spite of strong objections on the part of oil companies and certain contracting parties, extensive areas on the archipelago were made into nature reserves in 1973. This was later followed up by further regulatory measures and control mechanisms, and environmental protection is now one of the main features of Svalbard policy. On the whole Norway has gained growing international acceptance for its emphasis on environmental protection on Svalbard.
2.2.2 Overriding objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard
The objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy have remained the same for a long time and are set out in Report No. 40 (1985-86) to the Storting concerning Svalbard and in subsequent Storting documents on Svalbard. In Report No. 40 these objectives are worded as follows:
“The Government's overriding objectives in respect of the policy towards Svalbard comprise consistent and firm enforcement of sovereignty, proper observance of the Treaty relating to Spitsbergen and control to ensure compliance with the Treaty, maintenance of peace and stability in the area, preservation of the area's distinctive natural wilderness and maintenance of Norwegian communities on the archipelago.”
The Government emphasized that these objectives must be viewed in relation to each other, that they are clearly within the scope of general Norwegian policy objectives and that they are firmly anchored in national interests and attitudes.
Since 1985 there have been rapid developments, both locally on Svalbard and in the external parameters of Norwegian Svalbard policy. The main features of these changes are dealt with in Chapter 3 Developments on Svalbard since 1985.
However, in the Government's view there is no reason to make any changes in the main priorities of Norwegian Svalbard policy. The continuity and consistency of this policy has been a stabilizing factor and has helped to ensure peaceful developments in the area. The Government notes that its aims have enjoyed broad political support so far, and stresses the importance of maintaining this agreement.
Figure 2.1 Svalbard's geographical location
Svalbard comprises all the islands between 74° N and 81° N and 10° E and 35° E.
The Government's aims are long-term. The perspective on Svalbard policy outlined in this report extends well into the next century. During this period, the Government will seek particularly to further consolidate Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard and ensure viable Norwegian settlements of high quality on the archipelago. The Government will promote international cooperation and détente. All economic activity, exploitation of resources and research must be carried out within the limits set by the preservation of the natural environment and cultural remains on Svalbard.
In the following the objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy are set out in more detail, with references to the relevant chapters of the report.
2.2.3 Norwegian sovereignty
Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard is recognized in the Treaty of 1920 and has been consolidated through almost 80 years of practice. Norwegian Svalbard policy must be sound enough to tolerate changes in local and international external conditions in the long term. The Government will seek to further modernize and improve the efficiency of legislation and to maintain an effective Norwegian administration on the archipelago. Appropriate measures are described in Chapter 4 Legal framework and Chapter 5 The administration of Svalbard.
In addition to questions related to the Svalbard Treaty, the Government recognizes other important challenges that may be significant for Norwegian Svalbard policy. These challenges are particularly linked with resource management and the state of the environment in Norway's northern areas.
2.2.4 Viable local communities
The credible and effective exercise of sovereignty is dependent on a stable Norwegian presence on Svalbard. Viable local communities are probably the most important feature of this Norwegian presence. Today Longyearbyen is the only place on Svalbard that can be called a local community in the usual sense. Ny-Ålesund and Sveagruva must be regarded as a research station and an industrial installation, respectively, while the other settlements are outposts.
Over the years the population of Longyearbyen has varied considerably, and up to the 1970s this kept pace with the mining activities. In recent years the population has grown noticeably, but now as a result of more extensive and varied activities and the establishment of larger numbers of families. This growth has been accompanied by a marked improvement in the quality of infrastructure and services.
A viable community in Longyearbyen is conditional on a diversified economic sector. Profitable and varied activities will provide the best basis for a stable society. See Chapter 7 Industrial, mining and commercial activities.
The Government will not encourage further population growth in Longyearbyen. The most recent report on economic development on Svalbard, submitted by Svalbard Næringsutvikling in August 1999, indicates that this growth has levelled off. The Government will adapt the instruments of its Svalbard policy so as to ensure that the population remains at an acceptable level. At the same time the Government will emphasize the importance of the quality of developments in society, provide favourable conditions for economic activity and seek to ensure that Longyearbyen is provided with services that are in keeping with the size and structure of the community. For many years coal mining has been a central feature of economic life in Longyearbyen. Operations in Mine 7 will be considerably reduced or discontinued in the near future. The Government's aim is that the settlements should be environmentally sound and that the local communities should develop in a sustainable manner. This also entails greater responsibility for the environmentally sound use of resources and more stringent requirements as to the cost-effectiveness of state-run enterprises. It also means that the community must be of a size and social structure that make Longyearbyen an attractive place to live for all groups. The Government will not, however, facilitate the development of Longyearbyen into a "cradle-to-grave"community.
The changes that have taken place in recent years in Longyearbyen's economic and social structure combined with the new political parameters have made the question of local democracy a relevant one. The Government advocates the introduction of local democracy in Longyearbyen. The Svalbard Council, which will change its name to the Longyearbyen Community Council, will assume responsibility for the public corporation Svalbard Samfunnsdrift AS and the services it provides as soon as possible. The question of whether other tasks and responsibilities can be transferred to the Longyearbyen Community Council will also be considered. This applies to tasks that are directly controlled by central government and tasks carried out by the Governor of Svalbard. The development of the local community is discussed in Chapter 14 Development of the local community in Longyearbyen.
2.2.5 Regional and international cooperation
The improvement in relations between the former great power blocs in the 1990s has reduced tension in the northern areas, and Svalbard is one of the areas that has benefited from this. The Government will seek to consolidate this situation, and will attach particular importance to further developing contact and cooperation with the foreign settlements and agents on Svalbard.
The international presence on Svalbard has increased in recent years, in connection with both tourism, and research and education. Svalbard provides a unique opportunity for international scientific cooperation. The Government wishes to encourage this trend, partly in view of the synergy resulting from international cooperation of this kind.
If Norway is to perform its role as host in a credible and effective way, it is essential that Norwegian research on Svalbard is on a scale and of an academic standard that establish Norway as a significant contributor internationally. The Government will therefore seek to further improve conditions for Norwegian research on Svalbard. This subject is dealt with in Chapter 8 Research and higher education.
There is growing regional and national cooperation throughout the circumpolar Arctic, as illustrated by the establishment of the Barents cooperation and the Arctic Council. An important aim is to enhance awareness of the Arctic in a global, regional and national perspective. The Government wishes Norway to continue to play an active role in the cooperation processes in the northern areas.
2.2.6 Environmental protection
During the past 25 years, environmental protection has become increasingly important in Norwegian Svalbard policy. In recent years there has been an increase in the volume of traffic and the area affected on the archipelago. At the same time research has provided better documentation of current and potential environmental hazards in the form of local and long-range pollution and the wear and tear on the natural environment and cultural remains.
Protection of the environment on Svalbard has both a national and an international/global dimension. The greater share of Norway's total protected areas are on the archipelago, and the Government considers that they must be at least as well protected as those on the mainland. Moreover, Norway has undertaken international obligations with regard to environmental protection which also affect Svalbard morally, politically, and legally. The moral obligation lies in the fact that Norway is responsible for managing one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Europe. Declarations and recommendations on the natural and cultural environments in connection with environmental cooperation in the Arctic entail political obligations for the Norwegian authorities. The legal obligations follow from the environmental conventions to which Norway has acceded which also apply to Svalbard.
Report No. 22 (1994-95) to the Storting and Recommendation S. No. 11 (1995-96) set out two key environmental policy objectives for Svalbard. Firstly, Svalbard is to be known as one of the world's best-managed wilderness areas. Secondly, when environmental considerations conflict with other interests, the environment is to take precedence. The Government will adhere to these objectives and proposes new protection measures in the present report. A separate statute relating to the environment on Svalbard is also being drafted, which will replace many of the current regulations and provide a more effective legal basis for environmental management . These issues are discussed in Chapter 6 Environmental protection. Relevant factors are also dealt with in Chapter 7 Industrial, mining and commercial activities and Chapter 8 Research and higher education.
2.3 Instruments in Norwegian Svalbard policy
Since 1920, the central government authorities have had overall, direct control of most of the Norwegian activity on the archipelago. However, responsibility and authority in the various sectors have been decentralized to a large degree along with the expansion of the local administration since the 1970s and the ensuing clear distinction between public and private activity. For example, the economic development during the 1990s has resulted in the involvement of a number of private agents, which it has been considered neither desirable nor expedient to control directly through state ownership.
The state makes economic transfers to Svalbard every year. This, combined with Svalbard's status under international law and the strong national interests in this area, means that the Norwegian authorities should continue to be closely involved and to retain a corresponding degree of control.
The most important instruments available to the authorities in their Svalbard policy are legislation, the local and central government administration, financial mechanisms and economic support schemes for public and private activities, and the exercise of the state's interests as landowner and owner of companies on Svalbard. In addition, the authorities have the possibility of exercising direct and indirect control over other activities.
2.3.2 Statutes and regulations
Norwegian civil and penal law and legislation concerning the administration of justice apply in full to Svalbard. Other statutes apply only when specifically provided, with any necessary modifications. The Act of 17 July 1925 relating to Svalbard provides that the King may lay down regulations in a number of administrative areas. Traditionally, this possibility of issuing special regulations has been preferred to making new statutes applicable to Svalbard. However, in the course of the 1980s and 1990s, it has become more usual to make Norwegian statutes fully or partly applicable to Svalbard as well, when necessary with special modifications due to local conditions.
The exercise of Norwegian sovereignty is best served by a body of legislation on Svalbard that is as complete and effective as possible. At the same time, it is obvious that not all of the rules that apply to the mainland can be made applicable on Svalbard, either for practical reasons or reasons related to international law. The task facing the Norwegian authorities is to develop modern legislation that is well suited to local conditions and that can be effectively enforced with the available resources, but that differs as little as possible from the rules applicable on the mainland. With a view to Norway's credibility as sovereign state, special emphasis must be placed on the enforcement aspect.
Legislation is an important tool for further consolidating Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard and promoting environmental protection. The competence to lay down rules in various sectors has been decentralized in recent years. Therefore, the question of quality assurance with regard to the law-making process will become increasingly important as responsibility and authority are delegated.
Legal questions are dealt with in Chapter 4 Legal framework.
The central and local government administration plays an important role in the implementation of Norwegian Svalbard policy. Since 1975 the local government administration has been considerably strengthened, both in size and quality, and its ability to implement Norwegian administrative mea-sures has improved correspondingly. During the 1990s, the bodies administering Svalbard became more specialized at both local and central level, i.e. they were modernized and adapted to the administrative structure on the mainland. This development has meant that Svalbard is now less subject to unnecessary special treatment in administrative matters.
The Governor of Svalbard is the Government's local representative on the archipelago and is an important tool in the implementation of Norwegian Svalbard policy, particularly vis-à-vis foreign settlements and agents. The Governor's tasks have changed in keeping with general developments and this process of adaptation will continue. The Governor is continually being assigned new tasks, especially in connection with the environment, tourism and rescue operations outside the settlements. An efficient local branch of the central government administration is becoming increasingly important because of the increased traffic, the greater strain on the environment and the greater risk of accidents. Even though the Governor's local functions in Longyearbyen will change, not least as a result of the democratization process, the Governor's office will continue to play an important role in implementation of the state's interests both in Longyearbyen and elsewhere on Svalbard.
Svalbard too is affected by the general trend whereby public-sector agencies are first made into public enterprises and then into state-owned limited liability companies in accordance with a special act. At the same time, the state-owned limited companies have to an increasing extent hived off parts of their activities and fully or partly privatized them. As a result of this, the entire administration of Svalbard has become more complex and there is less uniform central control. Coordination of all aspects of the public administration will be an important task in future, not least in order to safeguard the need for national control and prevent conflicts between different spheres of competence.
A sound administration depends on both the local and the central government administration having sufficient insight into conditions on Svalbard. Cooperation and the exchange of information between the various agencies will become increasingly important as the activities become more diversified and more specialized. The administration will become increasingly dependent on research-based knowledge in its work.
The administration of Svalbard is dealt with in Chapter 4 Legal framework, Chapter 5 The administration of Svalbard and Chapter 14 Development of the local community in Longyearbyen.
2.3.4 Public finances
Every year the state transfers funds to Svalbard in the form of allocations over the Svalbard budget, support to public enterprises, investments in and operation of infrastructure, funding for research, etc. During recent years, more stringent requirements have been imposed as regards cost-effectiveness in operation of state activities, and this has yielded good results. On the other hand, state investments and other forms of support have increased in size so that the state's total expenditure has increased during this period.
Economic transfers to Svalbard should not rise above the current level, and it is the Government's aim that they should be reduced in the long term. However, in the foreseeable future there will be a need for allocations, both for investments and for the operation of activities. The local administration must have sufficient resources to undertake increasingly more demanding administrative tasks. At the same time the Government wishes general business principles to continue to apply in economic activities and intends to ensure a cost-effective public administration. The trend towards real cost absorption in connection with new businesses must continue. Norwegian regional policy, including the measures employed on the mainland, does not apply on Svalbard. This however, does not prevent the Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund from giving loans and grants to activities on Svalbard on the basis of independent assessments.
Favourable economic conditions for private individuals and firms have been, and continue to be, an important incentive for creating and maintaining activity on Svalbard. Taxes have therefore traditionally been low. The Svalbard Treaty also sets limits on Norway's right to collect taxes and duties on the archipelago.
An overview of economic transfers to Svalbard is provided in section 3.6 Central government transfers to Svalbard in the period 1987-1998.
2.3.5 The state's proprietary interests on Svalbard
The state owns approximately 95 per cent of all land on Svalbard. As the major landowner, the state is in a favourable position to regulate activities on the archipelago within the framework provided by the Svalbard Treaty and the Mining Code. An active exercise of its landowner's rights is necessary in order to steer developments on Svalbard in a direction that is in keeping with the authorities' overall objectives. The landowner is responsible for land-use planning, which is one of the most important measures used in the settlements.
As shareholder, the state controls Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS (Store Norske), Kings Bay AS, Bjørnøen AS and Svalbard Samfunnsdrift AS and its subsidiaries. The companies' boards of directors and management head the enterprises and are responsible for ensuring that the companies are operated as cost-effectively as possible within the given framework. The state exercises its ownership through the general meeting, and through the requirements as regards the enterprises' plans and budgets made by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in connection with its allocations.
The companies and the state's proprietary interests in them are dealt with in Chapter 7 Industrial, mining and commercial activities.
2.3.6 Control of other activities
The Norwegian authorities are able to exercise control through their funding of public and private activities on Svalbard and through their ability to impose conditions for such funding. In recent years the state has allocated substantial funds for research and higher education, particularly in the form of scientific infrastructure. Budgetary control of public institutions such as the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University Courses on Svalbard (UNIS) is one of the steering parameters for research on Svalbard. The political authorities can also influence activities indirectly through the allocations made to the Research Council of Norway and academic institutions.
Research and higher education on Svalbard must be steered and developed in such a way that it does not compromise research standards. Striking a proper balance between the need for control and respect for the independence of research calls for considerable insight and expertise. Therefore, Report No. 42 (1992-93) to the Storting on Norwegian polar research proposes that the Research Council of Norway be given responsibility for a national research strategy on Svalbard. Research and higher education are discussed in more detail in Chapter 8.
The Norwegian authorities have considerable opportunities for exercising control through their contributions to economic development, their requirements for licences and their stipulation of conditions. There are also limitations, which consist primarily of the Treaty prohibition against discrimination of nationals and activities of other contracting parties and restrictions on imposing taxes and duties as mentioned above in section 2.3.4 Public finances.
2.4 Norwegian Svalbard policy at the threshold of a new century
The extensive changes that have taken place on Svalbard since the previous general report was submitted to the Storting fully demonstrate the importance of an overall Svalbard policy that is sufficiently sound and flexible. At the threshold of a new century, it may be said that Norwegian sovereignty over the archipelago has never been in such a strong position. The basis for stable Norwegian activities and settlements is sounder than ever before. The quality of infrastructure and services provided in the Norwegian settlements is very high. Relations with foreign agents on Svalbard are characterized by openness and close cooperation, and the foreign policy climate has been favourable throughout the 1990s. Thus, the current situation must be described as favourable.
It is of course in Norway's interests to consolidate this situation in the years ahead. However, this calls for an active Norwegian policy towards Svalbard which can be adapted to new challenges and changes in external parameters, but which at the same time is characterized by firmness and long-term thinking. The main objectives and tools of Norwegian Svalbard policy have always enjoyed broad support in the Storting, and this national agreement, cutting across party lines, has been a definite advantage for Norway. It has been particularly helpful in ensuring predictability and preventing conflicts in connection with Norwegian and foreign agents on Svalbard. The Government attaches great importance to maintaining this agreement on the main lines of Norwegian Svalbard policy.
Although the main trend in developments on Svalbard has been favourable during the past 10 or 15 years, there are several areas that require the authorities' attention at the beginning of the new century. The Government wishes to call attention to three major challenges facing Norwegian Svalbard policy.
The first of these concerns the geopolitical situation. In the next century, too, it will be essential to preserve peace and stability on Svalbard and in the northern areas in general. Intensifying political and economic cooperation between the states and peoples of the northern areas will be a step in this direction.
The second major challenge will be to enhance the protection of Svalbard's unique national environment and cultural remains. The environment on the archipelago is under increasing pressure from local resource exploitation, tourism and research. It is particularly important to ensure that changes in the coal mining industry do not conflict with important nature conservation principles. In recent years, we have also learned more about the pressure put on Svalbard in the form of long-range and earlier environmental pollution. The growing exploitation of geological and biological resources in the Barents Sea will also have direct consequences for the environment on Svalbard. In many ways, the increase in activity on Svalbard in recent years has been positive, both for the Norwegian presence and Norwegian sovereignty. The challenge will be to ensure that these developments are kept within the limits imposed by Norway's high environmental aims for Svalbard.
The third major challenge will be to ensure a sound and sensible development of the local communities on Svalbard, primarily in Longyearbyen. Mining operations in Longyearbyen have been considerably reduced or discontinued in the last few years. When the results of the exploration drift in Svea Nord are available, the Government will consider whether to begin regular operations there. Regardless of what happens, the changes in the coal mining industry will have consequences for the local community in Longyearbyen, both in the short and in the long term. The social and economic structure will be affected, and these changes will be taking place in a community that has already undergone a radical restructuring in the 1990s. Thus creating security and stability in the local community will be a great challenge in the years ahead. The local population will play an increasingly important role in this process as active participants in a strengthened local democracy.
In the view of the Government, the objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy (cf. 2.2 above) and the instruments available (cf. 2.3) are well adapted to these challenges. The Norwegian authorities must, however, be on the alert for any changes in the external parameters that might require a new approach. Since the previous Report to the Storting, the Norwegian settlements have grown considerably, the local economic sector has undergone extensive privatization and diversification, and the international presence on the archipelago has increased. There are a much larger number of agents and interests to reckon with on Svalbard today than only ten years ago. This will make great demands in terms of coordination and planning in the years ahead, not least as regards the state's own activities on the archipelago.
Svalbard is important to Norway. Its geographical location is of strategic importance for the management of the country's resources. The research activities on Svalbard provide important data and give Norwegian research institutions access to international networks. The unique environmental qualities of the archipelago are a national resource, but they also entail a responsibility for protecting the natural and cultural heritage that is international. The Norwegian inhabitants of Svalbard in particular have a right to the authorities' attention, in the same way as the rest of the population of Norway. Our overall national interests on Svalbard can best be safeguarded by pursuing an active, dynamic policy based on long-term, overriding objectives.