Legal experts: Norway's decision to block property sale contradicts the Svalbard Treaty

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The Norwegian government’s decision to halt the unrestricted sale of the last private land on Svalbard is questioned by legal experts.

On July 1, the Norwegian government announced in a press release that any sale of the property located in Søre Fagerfjord, in south-west Svalbard would require state approval under the National Security Act.

The decision was deemed necessary due to concerns over potential harm to national security interests, as the owner, Kulspids AS, is open to selling the land to actors that could challenge Norwegian laws in Svalbard.

Violation of Svalbard Treaty

Legal experts now state that the government decision goes against the Svalbard Treaty, NRK reports.

The treaty, signed in 1920, grants Norway sovereignty over the Svalbard archipelago while it ensures that all signatory countries have equal access and rights to engage in commercial activities.

The 1920 Svalbard Treaty is signed by 46 countries, among them China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

Søre Fagerfjord is located in the Sør-Spitsbergen national park.

One of the experts questioning the legality of the government’s decision is Geir Ulfstein, a leading authority on the Svalbard Treaty and Professor Emeritus of International Law at University of Oslo.

He states that the government’s decision indeed is in violation of Article 7, which grants equal rights to buy property.

Another scholar who agrees with Ulfstein is Mads Andenæs, Professor of Law at University of Oslo. 

“It is concerning that the authorities are now disregarding the limitations on Norwegian governmental authority in Svalbard.” he says.

No conflict

The Norwegian government maintains that the decision is not in conflict with the Svalbard Treaty. 

According to attorney general Fredrik Sejersted the state asserts that the decision is well within the bounds set by the treaty. 

Among other things, he states that Article 7 does not apply to this decision, which specifically imposes restrictions on the company and its current owners, requiring them to notify and seek approval before negotiations or sales.

Sejersted also emphasises that the decision is a precautionary measure to avoid “unnecessary unrest and security issues.” He describes this approach as “necessary and proportionate”.

The company AS Kulspids has Norwegian owners. The land is for sale for €300 million.

In the end of June the Norwegian state offered to buy the property for 20 million norwegian kronor, NRK reports.