Moving Mountains: can Norway give Finland a peak?

Moving Mountains: can Norway give Finland a peak? Lothar Sowada
11 Oct
Norway is looking to gift a mountain to Finland as a 100th birthday present. But is it legally feasible?

Deep within the remote and frozen Arctic circle landscape runs the border between Norway and Finland. The significance of exactly where this line lies is causing some frenzied debate between the two countries.

A campaign is currently underway within Norway to gift a very small portion of land – roughly 0.015sq km – to its Nordic neighbour, as a recognition of the centenary of the founding of the modern Finnish state. The purpose: to move the peak of Hálditšohkka, a spur on the side of Mount Halti (which straddles the border) into Finnish territory, making it Finland’s new highest point, a slight increase from 4,343ft (1,324m) to 4,367ft (1,331m). Norway would be unlikely to miss it; the country has between 230 and 300 mountain peaks above 6,562ft (2,000m) with its highest, Galdhøpiggen, reaching 8,100ft (2,469m).

‘It’s certainly a fascinating case,’ says Phil Steinberg, Director of IBRU, Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research. ‘In a way this is easy, because it’s not inhabited and it’s remote, so it doesn’t really affect anyone’s lives. It’s not really a symbolically important space to either country, nobody will really notice if Norway gives it up.’

In practice, it’s been quite common for territories to be moved, usually for political reasons. Borders get changed all the time

While the proposal was initially dismissed as a joke by the Norwegian government, the worldwide and domestic interest generated by the idea – heavily leveraging Norway’s reputation as a generous and benevolent country – led Prime Minister Erna Solberg to recently tell state broadcaster NRK that she was looking into the proposal. Nevertheless, there remain legal questions, including the part of Norway’s constitution which describes the Norwegian state as ‘inalienable’.

‘In terms of the altruism of it, I’m not aware of a case similar to this, where there’s a proposal to change a boundary for no good reason other than “Hey, why not?”,’ says Steinberg. ‘But in practice, it’s been quite common for territories to be moved, usually for political reasons. Borders get changed all the time. Boundaries can be demarcated through the middle point of a river, for instance, and rivers shift. In fact, Norway was given to Sweden by Denmark when Denmark lost the Napoleonic Wars, and the Shetland Islands were gifted to Scotland as part of a Norwegian dowry. So when you see that history, it’s not quite so outrageous an idea.’

This was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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