Fishy business: Listhaug quits as justice minister, replaced by fisheries minister with lots of recent Svalbard experience

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Svalbard controversial and short-lived new boss is gone. Meet the next controversial new boss – who may also be short-lived.

A potential collapse of Norway’s government was avoided Tuesday when Minister of Justice and Public Security Sylvi Listhaug resigned shortly before she faced a no-confidence vote in Parliament. The crisis was sparked when Listhaug, a member of the anti-immigration Progress Party, accused members of the opposition Labor Party of putting “terrorists’ rights” before national security.

“The national debate has been turned into something of a kindergarten dispute,” Listhaug said during a press conference. “I don’t want to change. I see this as an attempt to gag the debate. I will continue to pursue the fight from Parliament.”

The ministry has administrative oversight of Svalbard and the turmoil came as Longyearbyen received the latest of numerous large-scale economic and societal setbacks in the form of an avalanche report declaring a large portion of the city center unsafe. Listhaug cancelled a meeting with locals Sunday night – which would have been her first as minister – to deal with the situation in Oslo.

Her replacement “until further notice” is Per Sandberg, who was the Ministry of Fisheries since 2015, who also has a history of controversial statements – and physical actions – involving migrants, Muslim and integration. A political commentator said the appointment is expected to be temporary since “anything else would be another provocation,” according to newsinenglish.no.

But Sandberg also has extensive recent Svalbard policy experience due to high-profile litigation with the European Union about commercial crab fishing rights in Svalbard. The lawsuit is likely to have profound consequences for the economic and political future of the archipelago since it will affect who has access to resources such as oil as well as crabs.

The lawsuit was triggered when a Latvian trawler was detained last year in Svalbard by Norwegian officials who said crabs were being caught illegally. The EU declared it had authorized 16 vessels including the trawler to fish in waters governed by the Svalbard Treaty, which states member nations will have equal access to resources, but Sandberg said Norway has the right to establish and enforce fishing quotas.

“We will not give away one crab and the next ship we see will also be arrested,” he said after meeting with EU officials a week after the trawler was detained.

The government prevailed in the lawsuit in Norwegian court, but EU representatives said they plan to appeal the case to the international court in The Hague.

Sandberg was also active in a policy chance giving Svalbard the same rights to establish commercial fish processing plants as on the mainland. Such plants are seen as a way to help replace lost coal mining jobs in the archipelago since climate change is driving more commercial species typically found in colder waters into the archipelago.

“You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that there will be a product that sells,” he said after the change was approved in 2016. But he noted “we cannot open for a fishing industry where anyone can fish in Svalbard at any time.”

 

 

 

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