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Norway stands alone

The Norwegian version of the Svalbard Treaty gives Norway ownership rights. It doesn't do the original.


[jus] Oil discoveries in Svalbard can cause trouble for Norway. Who really owns the rights to the archipelago and the surrounding waters?

The Norwegian authorities have defined the area that is not privately owned in Svalbard as "the state's land". This formulation is used in the Norwegian translation of the Mining Scheme, an addition to the Svalbard Treaty. In the original French version, these areas are called "Le domaine public". That means public domain. In the English text it is called "the public Lands".

If the French and English versions are taken into account, the state loses, among other things, the opportunity to enter into any project and claim 25 percent of the revenue. Today, this so-called participation right gives Norway greater opportunity to control activities in the area.

- None of the signature powers have accepted this. And that has a lot to say for foreign companies. For us, it will not make a big difference, because we are a Norwegian company, and in any case must submit to Norwegian laws, says Asbjørn Skotte, lawyer, board member and largest shareholder in Norwegian Petroleum Group (NPG), which has conducted oil exploration in Svalbard in 20 years.

- In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, no one was interested in Svalbard, but now, when the oil price rises above 60 dollars a barrel, it becomes a completely different interest, says Skotte. He thinks Norway is bad.

- The USA and Russia have become closer partners, and the EU is a major player, so in reality Norway is without friends on Svalbard, he says.

Professor Geir Ulfstein at the University of Oslo has written a doctoral dissertation on the Svalbard Treaty. He believes that the treaty prohibits discrimination between treaty countries in the exercise of property rights, and that the state cannot claim participation rights. This issue was highlighted by Professor Johs. Andenæs when in 1962 he made an investigation for the US oil company Caltex. The report was never published. Kjell Fjørtoft points to this in his 1972 book, Report from Svalbard.

From the Ministry of Trade and Industry, we get confirmation of the translation problem – and that the problem was never put properly on the forefront after Andenæs. Professor Ulfstein believes that it is the Norwegian variant of the Mining Scheme that applies, but that the French and English can be useful "moments of interpretation".

However, Scots disagree.

- It is France that is the record keeper, which means that it is the French wording that counts, he says.

Controls the Russians

[environment] The Norwegian authorities will now control Russian activities against the Svalbard Environment Act. This is despite the fact that Russia has never recognized the law that was introduced in 2002. According to the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority, 500-1000 tonnes of sulfur are emitted from the Barentsburg coal-fired power plant each year, which represents about four per cent of the total Norwegian emissions.

Recently, the Russians were ordered to clean up pollution in the abandoned mining town of Pyramid, as well as extinguish a fire in a coal dump. SFT is also considering requiring them to seek approval for power plants and mining.

- The Svalbard Environment Act allows the Norwegian authorities to ban business activities with reference to the environment. The Russians believe this is contrary to the Svalbard Treaty. Unofficially, various Russian officials have more than indicated that the law is politically and not environmentally justified, and that the intention is to push the Russians away from the whole of Svalbard, says researcher at Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI), Jørgen Holten Jørgensen.

Ny Tid has not succeeded in getting an answer from Barentsburg.

Svalbard Treaty

  • Norway gained "supremacy" over Svalbard in 1925. 39 countries have signed under the Svalbard Treaty, which restricts Norwegian sovereignty, including by giving all treaty countries the right to operate on the archipelago. Norway can introduce laws and regulations and enforce them as long as they do not conflict with the treaty.
  • Only seven per cent of Svalbard's total area of ​​62.000 km2 is privately owned.
  • Ny Tid wrote two weeks ago about the signature country's opposition to Norwegian politics around Svalbard. Both the protection zone, the shelf and the interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty are discussed.


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