Regional politicians feel themselves excluded from Barents talks

Troms County Governor Pia Svensgaard and Murmansk Regional Duma Speaker Vasiliy Shambir both want a stronger network between regional politicians in the Barents Region. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Politicians from northern Russia will come for the Barents Parliamentarian Conference starting in Harstad on Monday, but will meet only one single colleague from the north. Troms Governor Pia Svensgaard says the county councils in northern Norway are not invited.


The Barents Parliamentary Conference is a bi-annual event aimed at giving inputs and recommendations to the governments in the Barents Region. Norway is the current chair of the Barents Council and the conference is located to Harstad in Troms County.

The fact sheet distributed with the program says both national and regional parliamentarians participate. Not exactly so this year; the only non-Russian regional politician that has signed up is Christine Bertheussen Killie, Deputy County Governor of Troms. No regional politicans from northern Sweden or Finland will come.

From Russia, regional parliamentarians from Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Yamal-Nenets Autonomus Okrug will come to Harstad. While both Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts are geographically in the Barents Region is Yamal-Nenets AO in Asia.

One of the participants coming to the Barents conferance is Pavel Sazhinov, vice-speaker in the Murmansk Duma.

“It’s not the first time parliamentarians from northern regions of Norway, as well as their colleagues from northern Sweden or Finland don’t participate in such conferences. It’s a pity, because usually we openly discuss problems to be solved in the regions,” Sazhinov says to BarentsObserver.

County councils not invited
Pia Svensgaard is County Governor of Troms and known as one of the most active supporters of cross-border political contacts with Barents Russia. 

“This is a conference you have to be invited to attend. I cannot see that the county councils of northern Norway have been invited to participate. It’s therefore not possible to conclude from the lack of participation that the county politicians from northern Norway do not give priority to meet their Russian colleagues,” Pia Svensgaard says to BarentsObserver via her political advisor Trond Agnar Eilifsen.

It is the secretariat at the Norwegian Parliament that is responsible for inviting participants. 

“Pia Svensgård, Runar Sjåstad and Odd Eriksen have been directly invited to participate in the Barents Parliamentary Conference in Harstad. We have also sent an invitation through other channels. But we have not received any reply,” says head of the secretariat Kjell Myhre-Jensen in an e-mail to BarentsObserver. 

“If those three are not able to attend, they are welcome to send another county politician,” says Myhre-Jensen.

Runar Sjåstad and Odd Eriksen are County Governors in Finnmark and Nordland.

Troms is key Barents player
Trond Agnar Eilifsen says there is a strong political wish among politicians in northern Norway to find meeting places with Russian colleagues. Next week, the heads of the different political parties in Troms travel to Petrozavodsk to participate at the International Forum of Young Politicians. 

“Troms County will continue to be a key player in order to strengthen cooperation with counties and regions across the Barents Region,” says Eilifsen.

Wants to join Regional Council
Vasiliy Shambir is speaker of the regional Duma in Murmansk. He says to BarentsOberver that conferences itself is not the most important.

“Participation in such conferences is important and very useful of course, but I can’t say I am disappointed that the Norwegian delegation will not take part in it. It doesn’t illustrate lack of regional interest in the Barents political cooperation, because the most important thing is not participation in the conferences, but in the result of this cooperation.”

Some 130 participants have signed up for the Barents Parliamentarian Conference, including members of the national parliaments in Norway, Russia, Sweden and Finland as well as members of the Saami parliaments in Norway and Sweden.

Russian regional Duma members have for a long time been knocking on the door to the official Barents structures. The seats in the Regional Council are today limited to include the Governors.

“I think the interest will be higher if regional parliamentarians would be included in the Barents Regional Council. We have great experience from cooperating in the Baltic Sea Council,” says Pavel Sazhinov.

In June, the Barents Regional Council is invited to participate when the Prime Ministers of Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland meet for the Barents Summit in Kirkenes, where a new declaration outlining the future of the Barents cooperation will be signed.