Why are the EU and Norway at war? Inside the intense Cod war

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Svalbard, one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas that is home to more polar bears and reindeer than it is people, could run into trouble with the EU due to a row over fishing quotas. In the coming weeks, EU fishing vessels could be seized in the waters off Svalbard as Norway argues they have used up their quotes.

Norwegians have argued Brussels illegally awarded itself a larger trawl of Svalbard’s dish than it was originally entitled to.

The debate is an inflammatory legacy of the way the EU decided to reallocate fishing quotes in the wake of Brexit.

Brussels and Oslo have both accused each other of breaking international law while trying to determine the new cod catch.

Audun Halvorsen, State Secretary to the Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, said: “There is no basis in international law for the European Union to set quotas in Norwegian waters.”

Why are Norway and the EU in dispute?

The dispute was triggered by the UK’s exit from the EU, specifically from the much-maligned process of separating fishing quotas.

The EU and the UK eventually agreed to carve up each of their existing fisheries quotas, which the UK also has off the coast of Svalbard.

As a part of the Brexit deal, Brussels allocated some 26,000 tonnes for EU vessels fishing off the coast of Svalbard.

This was immediately disputed by Norway – Oslo has insisted it has exclusive rights to regulate fishing in the area, informed the EU’s quota to almost 18,000 tonnes.

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Mr Halvorsen said: “Controlling the resources in our national waters is a matter of fundamental national interest, as it is for the EU and its member states in EU waters.”

Brussels naturally challenged the assertion by Norway by referring to the Svalbard Treaty.

The Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris in 1920 and it puts limitations on Norwegian sovereignty over the islands.

The EU is now arguing Norway has discriminated against the EU in favour of Norwegian and Russian fishing vessels.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said he “will support the legitimate rights of the European Fishing Industry” and that the Commission is “analysing appropriate measures to counter the discriminatory measures by Norway.”

But Oslo is fighting back against the Commission by stating the EU’s communication “contains elements that could be read or interpreted as supporting views that would undermine legal certainty and predictability, jeopardize effective environmental controls and responsible resource management and in its logical conclusion, could give rise to potential foreign and security policy implications.”

Things are about to get less diplomatic between the two powers – with Norway threatening to arrest and prosecute EU vessels that breach Norway’s fish allowances.

Brussels warned Norway in its latest diplomatic communication in June, enforcement of the new quota would hurt overall EU-Norway relations.

But while threatening to “take all necessary remedial countermeasures in respect of Norway,” the bloc failed to specify what those countermeasures would be.

A European Commission spokesperson said the “EU believes that the correct implementation of the Paris Treaty is in the interest of all parties, including Norway” and discussions with Norway continue.

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