(AP) - Norwegian-American groups in the Upper Midwest are not pleased that Norway is considering closing its consulate in Minneapolis.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to convert consulates in Minneapolis and Edinburgh, Scotland, to "honorary" status while opening new consulates in China and Spain. Officials said the move would make better use of government resources.
"Nobody here has any problem with Norway opening offices in China and Spain," said Bruce Gjovig, chairman of the University of North Dakota's Nordic Initiative, an effort to strengthen ties with Norway. "But for a country as rich as Norway to close the consulate in Minneapolis ... makes no sense."
The Norwegian consulate was established in Minneapolis in 1906, when Norway became independent from Sweden.
Two-thirds of Norwegian-Americans live in the Upper Midwest.Bruce Gjovig, University of North Dakota's Nordic Initiative
During World War II, it was upgraded to its current consulate general status, just beneath that of an embassy. It looks after Norwegian interests in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and several other states. Five people including an intern work there.
Consulate staff have organized visits to the region by Norwegian royalty and government leaders, looked after the interests of Norwegian nationals living in or visiting the Midwest, and promoted economic and cultural ties.
Under "honorary" status, a U.S. citizen likely would be designated to represent Norway in the region, the office said.
The honorary status is reflected in the latest budget submitted to the Norwegian parliament.
"It's in the budget, but it hasn't been determined yet what will happen," Vice Consul Linda Pederson said.
Gjovig said two-thirds of Norwegian-Americans live in the Upper Midwest.
"Norway's strongest support from Congress, from trade and business interests and from heritage and cultural groups all comes from the Upper Midwest," he said.
Officials in Norway attempted to close the Minneapolis consulate once before, in 2001. Those plans were dropped after a letter-writing campaign by Norwegian-Americans.
Consul Geir Tonnessen, deputy to Minneapolis Consul General Rolf Hansen, said a decision on the latest proposal could be made within a few weeks.
"Last time, a lot of people wrote letters and persuaded some members of the parliament that changing the Minneapolis consulate would not be a good idea, and I don't rule out something like that happening again," Tonnessen said. "But I wouldn't be quite as optimistic."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)