Sylvi Listhaug, a Progress Party member known for controversial stances on immigration, has been named Norway’s new Minister of Justice and Public Security, a job whose duties include oversight of Svalbard. But local officials, while stating it’s vital to know where she stands on matters related to the area’s major economic and societal transition, said they don’t expect her positions on immigration to be a significant factor.
“What makes Listhaug controversial is her view of immigration and that is an area that does not particularly concern Svalbard,” Oddmund Rønning, head of Svalbard’s Liberal Party, told Svalbardposten. “The local Liberal and other parties have had ambitions to look for solutions for foreign residents in Longyearbyen who have no rights, and we will continue to do that – in dialogue with the left-wing parliamentary group – regardless of who it is who is the Svalbard minister.”
Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen, a Labor Party member, told the newspaper it’s important Listhaug – along with newly appointed Minister of Trade and Industry Torbjørn Røe Isaksen – support an overall growth of business in Svalbard that goes beyond management of the government-owned Store Norske, whose primary focus will be dismantling most of its mining facilities during the next few years.
“I’m not very surprised at the choice because she has proven to be a woman who sits and acts quickly on things, manages to have a clear direction, and obviously has a strong influence on the government apparatus,” Olsen said. “That can benefit us if we manage to sell our cases well enough.”
Listuag, the Minister of Migration and Integration from December of 2015 until her new appointment this week, had an influential role on Svalbard policy as the Minister of Agriculture and Food from 2013 to 2015, when she approved the overturning of a 1928 law that prohibited the manufacture of alcohol in the archipelago.
“The ban is an offspring of the past, which has outlived itself,” she said at the time. “This is largely about facilitating business development, also in Svalbard. “In recent years microbreweries have grown in many places in the country, which has created many jobs. Beer has become a culture and in Svalbard you have every opportunity to create unique brands.”
Listuag also visited Longyearbyen in February of 2015, taking part in the first “withdrawal” from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault following the destruction of gene bank facilities in war-torn Syria. But while she praised the vault’s role in being able to help out those suffering in areas hit hard by conflict, she has showed little sympathy to refugees seeking asylum in Norway, vowing to implement policies that were among “the strictest in Europe.”
“I think those who come to Norway need to adapt to our society,” she said in October of 2016. “Here we eat pork, drink alcohol and show our face.”
Listhaug’s appointment as justice minister is part of Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s new center-right ruling coalition, with the Liberal Party’s eight Parliament members joining the 72 Conservative and Progress party members who formed a coalition after last fall’s election. But the new coalition represents only 80 of the 169 seats in Parliament, meaning it will likely need support from the Christian Democrat Party (which was part of a ruling coalition during Solberg’s first term as prime minister beginning in 2013) to pass legislation.