Heated feelings on EC in cold north: Farmers in the Arctic Circle prize their hardy life, writes Leonard Doyle from Fredvang, Lofoten Islands

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The Independent Online
IT IS 11pm and the sun that has been warming the frozen ground all day is still shining through a gap in the mountains on to Martha Samuelsen's small Arctic Circle holding. 'Once it warms up around here, we get phenomenal growth, because the sun shines all night,' she said, pointing to short blades of grass already emerging from ground which a week ago was covered in a thick blanket of snow.

'But the grass grows so fast in summer that a single, cold nor'easter can ruin everything by whipping it back and forth,' she said. 'The long grass that looks like it will make great hay or silage can be ruined overnight.'

Mrs Samuelsen's family has been farming on Norway's far northern coast for three generations. She has to cope with unpredictable weather and a growing season that can be as short as 120 days, yet she produces lamb that is prized for its quality in distant Oslo.

The family also has a potato patch and prepares a small amount of fish for use during winter. Many local farmers collect seagulls' eggs instead of keeping chickens which would have to be fed.

Fiercely proud of their way of life, she and tens of thousands of farmers like her in northern Scandinavia are proving a real political headache for the governments of Norway, Finland and Sweden as they try to negotiate membership of the European Community. Most Norwegians oppose membership and in the north of this highly decentralised country, where most live within a four-mile band by the coast, feelings are overwhelmingly against the EC.

'This farm is gone if we join the EC,' Mrs Samuelsen said, 'and then it will be back to emigration and this place will be empty of people.'

Feelings are running higher than ever against Norway joining the Community because of three specific threats: the ban on whaling, a severe reduction of subsidies to farmers and the opening of Norway's rich cod-fishing grounds to the vast Spanish fleet, with the additional loss of fish-processing jobs.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 77 per cent of the average Norwegian farmer's income comes from government subsidies. Oil-rich Oslo pays its farmers, in return for braving harsh winters and isolation, an average of dollars 26,000 (pounds 17,000) a year in subsidies, compared with dollars 7,000 throughout the EC. It is much the same in Finland and Sweden, and government negotiators are trying to get special recognition for Arctic farming - in other words, large grants and subsidies from Brussels. Scandinavian governments aim at food self-sufficiency, and the subsidies are needed because only 10 or so food crops out of 100 worldwide can be produced in such harsh conditions.

Despite the hardships of running an isolated farm in the Lofoten Islands, Mrs Samuelsen has no desire to change her way of life. She is venomous in talking about the EC: like many rural Norwegians, she sees it as a fundamental threat to her way of life.

Even the tradition of collecting seagulls' eggs in spring is under threat from the EC, which long ago banned the practice and expects Norway to do the same if it wants to join the club. Norwegians who have learnt to take only the first or second clutches of eggs - which are soon replaced by the birds - are bewildered by edicts like this from Brussels. The farming community, many fishermen and whalers, are determined to resist EC membership, even to the point of saying that the issue could split Norway in two.

'What Hitler couldn't do, they are now trying to do with the EC,' Mrs Samuelsen said, 'and we won't have anything to do with it.' The hostility that the Maastricht treaty touched off in Denmark, which is being tested for a second time in tomorrow's referendum, pales by comparison with the animosity which rural Scandinavians harbour towards the EC.

In the Lofoten Islands, EC membership promises to bring rapid depopulation of coastal areas as whaling is banned, and fishing and farming are undercut to be replaced by theme villages with hired locals recreating roles to entertain German and Italian tourists.

The Germans come to northern Norway to enjoy the rugged scenery, and the Italians come misty-eyed to visit the fishing villages that produce the 'stockfish' that is a staple of so much Mediterranean cooking.

Leading article, page 17

(Photographs and map omitted)

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