Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee presented on Wednesday its proposal for the government's revised '"white paper" outlining policy goals for Svalbard. It comes after local businesses made their case with Trine Skei Grande, a spokesperson with the Liberal Party, who visited Longyearbyen in August after the first draft of the paper was published.
Her visit offered reassurance to the local brewery and veterinarian, both of whom are seeing tangible results in the committee's updated proposal.
Grande visited veterinarian Astrid Vaag Vikaune at Svalbard Vet, getting an insight into the challenges of providing animal care in the archipelago. The Norwegian Veterinary Association also pointed out at a hearing the need to strengthen animal welfare in Svalbard. Svalbard Vet has expressed a desire for a paid duty system in line with the mainland.
"When it comes to veterinary care we believe that the government must find a better solution in terms of both animal welfare and personnel resources," Grande said.
Current law does not allow the retail sale of beer with more than 4.75 percent alcohol in Svalbard.
"Everyone should now be able to buy beer up to seven percent alcohol, including at Nordpolet," Grande said. "All the parties agreed that this was a stupid rule that we must change."
The committee is requesting the government review the rules and ensure equal treatment so the rules for the sale of beer are the same in Svalbard as the rest of the country. Grande said she believe an amended regulation can be enacted quickly.
Among the most heartfelt issues for Grande are the energy and environment. She said she is satisfied with the committee's achievements in those areas.
"When it comes to future energy in Longyearbyen we have reached a broad consensus in the committee that the government needs to produce a major report on future energy sources and quickly get down to work. All alternatives must be there, everything is open," she said, adding she has a dream of making Svalbard a green island, which also applies from a climate perspective.
The committee's recommendation is future energy supplies will be based on sustainable and renewable solutions. It also wants consideration of the possibility of linking Svalbard to the power grid on the mainland via a sea cable.
The committee declared a report drawn up by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) assessing areas in Longyearbyen at risk of avalanches must be followed up so necessary measures are implemented to ensure the safety of the population. The report, expected by the end of the year, will also have consequences for city's land-use plan.
Research strategy clear
Considerable criticism was voiced earlier this fall when the "white paper" proposed transferring management of Kings Bay AS from the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries. The provision nevertheless remains in the document.
The Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) will be responsible for implementation and follow-up research strategy in Ny-Ålesund under the current proposal. But the committee stated it is important the delegation of responsibility to the NPI occurs in an open and inclusive manner, and a research strategy exists before the actual implementation.
"We are prepared for the fact that it may take some time, perhaps several years before it is in place," Grande said.
Ensuring higher education has a significant place in the future strategy for Svalbard is another area committee members agree upon. Offerings by The University Centre in Svalbard should be both further developed and expanded, according to the committee. It also states increased investment in research and higher education presents structural challenges for UNIS, and that it will be necessary to expand the research park. The committee also asserted the main focus should be recruiting more students from Norwegian educational institutions.
"Students should continue to integrate well into the local community and an expansion of the curriculum by establishing a full course of study may contribute to a strengthening of the local community," the committee's report notes.
There has been a clamoring for a clear strategy about the future role of Store Norske.
"I had hoped that we had managed to concretize this in a better way," Grande said.
The committee stated it believes it is important to clarify the company's direction and strategy in terms of mining, housing development, infrastructure and any new businesses. The committee is calling on the government to come back to Parliament with a report about Store Norske so possible changes in the purpose and categorization of the company can be considered.
"The fact that we are unable to be more specific about future strategy for Store Norske is perhaps indicative of the situation," Grande said. "The attitude toward Store Norske is quite changed in a short time. As we understand it when I've been in Longyearbyen, much has changed in one year. Thoughts must stabilize before we can conclude anything."
On Tuesday, Nov. 22, Parliament will consider the Svalbard "white paper." There will be hopefully a good debate in the hall then.
Svalbard 'whte paper': Spokesperson Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party visits Longyearbyen in late August.