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Nothing to report until next year

Minister of Justice, Anders Anundsen (right) will not present the new white paper of Svalbard before next spring. The picture is taken on board the Governor's helicopter on the way to Ny-Ålesund. FOTO: Eirik Palm

Nothing to report until next year

The government hopes to publish its new white paper for Svalbard next spring, but it might be even later. That's also when Store Norske needs to determine whether it will continue new mining operations.

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The report is the fifth comprehensive white paper for Svalbard. The objective is to define and update the course of development in the archipelago, and ensure stable policy goals for Svalbard policy and a robust Norwegian presence.

It now appears the report will be finished sometime next spring.

"We hope to have it dealt with in Parliament by summer of 2016, said Anders Bortne, a communications advisor for Norway's Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

On Friday, after Svalbardposten is pulisert, comes a correction from the ministry.

"The ongoing prosess in Store Norwegian is important for the white paper. For that reason it is not decided specifically time for presentation yet. The white paper is therefore not necessarily in the Parliament by summer 2016, as the ministry reported in the latest issue of Svalbardposten", Bortne says.


'As soon as we can'
Svalbard and Longyearbyen are facing their biggest transition in decades. The goal is maintaining a robust and stable Norwegian community in Longyearbyen, but last November it became clear Store Norske, the town's cornerstone business, needed emergency assistance.
In an effort to persuade its bank and its owner – Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries – to approve the crisis loan, the company laid off about 100 of its 340 employees. The company is now operating at a minimal level and it is uncertain whether operations in the new Lunckefjell mine will resume.

Justice and Public Security Minister Anders Anundsen, a Progress Party member, announced in January the coal crisis and the restructuring of society are important reasons why the government is presenting a new white paper for Svalbard.

"I must say I am very proud and pleased to be able to tell Parliament that the government has recently decided to offer a new Svalbard message, precisely because there's so much going on in Svalbard now," Anundsen said when he made the decision known to Parliament on Jan. 27.

Bortne said officials are working as fast as they can.

"The ministry is working as quickly as possible, but this is a comprehensive effort that includes many ministries," he said.

Coinciding
Store Norske's fate has far-reaching efforts for the entire community, accounting directly and indirectly for 600 about jobs in Svalbard last year. Anundsen, in his remarks to Parliament, emphasized the government's strategy for further development of Longyearbyen is one of the main themes of the forthcoming white paper. In addition, the future of coal mining in Svalbard must be considered. Store Norske is stating the company must decide no later than the spring of 2016 when it will begin new work at Lunckefjell. With the rescue package approved before summer, the coal company has funds for moderate operations through 2016 and will be dependent on more capital if the mine does start up again.

The government is therefore stating the revised Svalbard white paper needs to be completed at the same time as the final deadline for a decision about Lunckefjell.
In the meantime, the government – through the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries – has acquired Store Norske's property and infrastructure. Private investors who collectively owned less than one percent of Store Norske's shares were forced to sell their stocks to the government. In addition, a court decision about a dispute between Store Norske and Austre Adventfjord AS about mining rights to a large tract of property is scheduled to be issued this fall.

Parallel to this work, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries is planning to take over to take over the treaty property known as Austre Adventfjord on the northeast side of Adventfjorden and Adventdalen.

Considering needs

Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Mæland, a Conservative Party member, said the results of the measures will be considered as the revised white paper is drawn up.

"I am working continuously on issues related to restructuring and economic development in Svalbard," said Mæland, whose most recent visit to the archipelago was in June. "The capital injection to Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani, and the state purchasing real estate property and infrastructure are part of this work. We are looking ahead to what will be new future needs. We will come back to that when it becomes relevant and in connection with the white paper."

Mæland said the government will also emphasize the work already done by the Svalbard Business Association and Longyearbyen Community Council.

"It is done thorough work in Svalbard in the preparation of the strategic business plan for Svalbard," she said. "Just working with local government and local industry players was the reason for my two-day visit."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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Se bildet større

Monica Mæland, Minister of Trade and Industry, says she is working continuously on issues related to restructuring and economic development in Svalbard. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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