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The debate in the Storting following my last address on important EU and EEA matters last November showed that there is great interest in the EEA Agreement in this chamber, and that it enjoys broad support here. The EEA Agreement and other key agreements with the EU have been used as the basis of Norwegian policy by five Storting majorities and six governments.
The Official Norwegian Report 2012:2 Outside and Inside. Norway’s agreements with the EU, which reviews Norway’s experience of the EEA Agreement and other agreements with the EU, was published in January. The report is far-reaching and thorough, and based on extensive research. Not only does it provide important input for our public debate here in Norway, it has also attracted attention in a large number of European countries and in the EU. I would like to commend the research group responsible for the report on its excellent work, and not least on the way its analyses and conclusions are presented in clear and accessible language.
The report has two main findings: firstly, it highlights the positive effects the EEA Agreement has had on parts of the private sector in Norway, and on value creation and Norwegian society in general. Secondly, it shows that the agreement has weaknesses in the areas of democracy, participation and influence.
In cooperation with the other ministries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is well under way with efforts to follow up the EEA Review Committee’s assessments and recommendations. The public consultation on the report has just been completed. Many comments have been received, and these are now being processed. The views that have been expressed in connection with the consultation are important for the continued follow-up of the report.
Key principles for the EEA cooperation are common rules and equal treatment. One of the Government’s ongoing policy objectives is to ensure that Norwegian interests can be safeguarded through the principle of equal treatment. Gaining greater awareness of our room for manoeuvre within the EEA Agreement will become increasingly important for Norwegian policy, both in order to influence and participate in processes where this is desirable, and in order to set clearer limits for what is relevant to the EEA and what is not.
Good organisation and expertise are the keys to being able to exert influence and exploit our room for manoeuvre. We will intensify our efforts to ensure that we enter the political stage early enough to promote Norwegian interests as effectively as possible. We will enhance our coordination on cross-sectoral issues. And we will examine how we can exploit our room for manoeuvre in connection with implementing regulations at the national level, when this is in our interests. We would like to see greater awareness in the public administration as a whole, so that better use is made of existing expertise on the EU and EEA.
This autumn, the Government will present a white paper to the Storting on how we can make the most of the opportunities we have in our relations with the EU. We look forward to the Storting carrying out an overall review of this important policy area, using the white paper as its basis. In this context I would also like to acknowledge the report on alternatives to the present EEA Agreement, Alternativrapporten, which was presented before Easter. It provides important analyses and proposals, which we will take into account when working on the white paper.
The last year has been a difficult one for Europe. We are still in the midst of the crisis that hit the world economy in 2008. The crisis is passing through different phases, with major economic, social and political repercussions.
We have witnessed European cooperation being put to the test. We have seen the EU agenda being dominated by crisis packages. There are two issues in particular that are giving cause for concern:
Firstly, the rising level of unemployment. Secondly, the strain the crisis and its consequences are putting on people’s confidence in democracy, both in individual countries and at the European level.
In many ways, we are approaching an important crossroads in Europe as a result of the economic, political and social crises. Lots of questions are being raised. Can we defend our values? Can we continue to strengthen integration in Europe? Can we restore confidence in politics and politicians? And can we prevent minority groups from getting the blame?
Norway has been sheltered from the worst storms in Europe. Nevertheless, it is vital that we help to alleviate the crisis, both as an act of solidarity and because it is in Norway’s interests to secure economic and financial stability in our neighbouring countries. This is why Norway is contributing extensively to the International Monetary Fund’s international efforts, both in Europe and elsewhere. In December, Norway offered the IMF a new loan of almost NOK 55 billion, on the condition that the funds would be used as part of a broad-based international effort, and subject to the consent of the Storting. Agreement has now been reached on an international effort of this kind, and the Government will submit a proposition to the Storting on this loan in the near future.
As far as the economic crisis is concerned, are we now over the worst? Is this the start of an upward trend, or is the economy still spiralling downwards? No one is in a position to give the “all-clear” signal for Europe’s economy just yet. The situation now seems a little less chaotic and somewhat more stable than it was before Christmas. Nevertheless, the situation is fragile and great uncertainty remains. The meeting of the European Council on 1–2 March was the first of its kind for a long time not to be dominated by the crisis.
However, we are not out of the woods yet. Figures presented at the beginning of May showed record high levels of unemployment in the eurozone. One in five of the workforce in Greece, one in seven in Portugal, and one in ten in Italy is now out of work. But the situation is most serious in Spain, where almost one in four of the workforce is unemployed. Combined with a weak banking sector, the need for major cutbacks in the public sector and a shrinking economy, this gives cause for concern and is creating volatility in the markets.
The situation in Spain illustrates that the problems we are facing are complex and far-reaching. It is not just a question of quantitative factors such as national debts and interest rates; qualitative factors such as confidence and expectations are equally important. The fundamental problems facing the EU as a whole and many individual EU countries today can only be solved step by step and measure by measure. Courage and patience are crucial.
The increase in youth unemployment is the most serious long-term problem Europe is facing as a result of the economic crisis. In many European countries, unemployment among young people under the age of 25 has doubled, or more than doubled, since the onset of the financial crisis four years ago. In Spain, the youth unemployment rate is over 50 %, and in the EU as a whole it is over 20 %.
The consequences of the growing youth unemployment rate in Europe are now being felt in Norway as well. For the first time, we are experiencing an influx of job-seekers from Southern Europe, in addition to the immigration we are accustomed to from countries in Central Europe.
Europe simply cannot afford to have a generation of young people without jobs, whose faith in the future has been shaken. Employment is one of the Danish EU Presidency’s priorities. However, cleaning up government finances is not in itself enough to create new jobs; economic growth must also be generated. This requires striking a careful balance when developing economic policy, at a time when the monetary and fiscal measures available to the EU as a whole and EU countries individually are being put to the test. Many of the countries affected by the crisis also need to implement measures in their labour and product markets if their economies are to function better.
This weekend, there were no less than three elections in Europe. The French Presidential election was won by the socialist François Hollande, who has indicated that he will focus on the situation for young people and measures to stimulate growth and job creation, rather than a one-sided emphasis on cuts. The election results in Greece will make it difficult to form a viable government. The situation is rather confused, but one thing that is clear is that a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi party has won seats in the parliament. This is disquieting. In Serbia too, it is unclear who will form a government after this weekend’s parliamentary election. Economic problems have been an important factor in the election results there as well.
Today I would also like to mention a part of Europe that has been rather overshadowed in the news by crisis-hit Southern Europe, namely the Baltic and Central European countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. As comparatively young democracies and market economies, they are in a particularly vulnerable situation in a continent that is facing serious challenges.
As today is Victory in Europe Day it is fitting to remind ourselves of the historic journey these countries have undergone, and of how important this has been for Norway and for Europe as a whole. The decision to enlarge the EU was a brave one, with far-reaching consequences for a region of Europe that has not traditionally been part of the European democratic heartland.
The prospect of EU membership and the path to actual membership have had a stabilising effect on these countries, and have led to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and market economy becoming firmly established.
However, the economic, social and democratic challenges have been enormous, and there is more work to be done. The process of EU enlargement is still under way. Since my last address, it has become clear that Croatia is to join the EU and the EEA.
The Baltic and Central European countries are still in the middle of a demanding process of European integration, and the economic crisis is hitting many of them badly, resulting in extensive austerity measures.
My point is that Norway must take its share of the responsibility for supporting these countries, which are our partners, and in many cases our allies. We participate in the same internal market. Even though the 10 new EU member states in the Baltic region and Central Europe constitute a fairly limited export market for Norway at this stage, Norwegian exports to these countries have more than doubled between 2005 and 2011. The growth in exports has been particularly evident since 2010, and it has in fact been faster than for our exports to Asia. We currently export almost twice as much to these 10 countries in the Baltic region and Central Europe as we do to China, and there is every indication that this market will continue to grow in importance for the Norwegian export economy. Moreover, the EEA and Norway Grants have been important for our bilateral relations with these countries. They amounted to around EUR 1.28 billion for the 2004–09 period, and will total around EUR 1.79 billion for the 2009–14 period. Agreements with all beneficiary countries are now in place for the current programme period. The last framework agreement was signed with Portugal on 28 March.
The EEA and Norway Grants are a clear expression of solidarity and a contribution to reducing economic and social disparities in Europe. They also make an important contribution in the environmental field, and they are a tool for enhancing contact between Norway and the beneficiary countries. The Government will present a white paper on the EEA and Norway Grants during this session. This will provide an opportunity to examine the significance of the EEA and Norway Grants in a broader perspective.
Tomorrow marks the start of the Norwegian state visit to Poland. Norway has close relations with Poland, and they are growing ever closer. Poland is probably the European country that has developed the closest relations to Norway and Norwegians since the changes that took place in the early 1990s. Our economic cooperation is growing rapidly. In 2005, exports to Poland amounted to NOK 5.4 billion; in 2011, this figure was NOK 15.7 billion. In 2005, our imports from Poland totalled NOK 6.2 billion, compared with NOK 13.4 billion in 2011. Furthermore, Poland is the country that receives most funding from the EEA and Norway Grants; it will receive EUR 578.1 million for the 2009–14 period, and this means that we enjoy extensive cooperation.
Polish people are currently the largest group of immigrants to Norway, and this has been of great benefit to us. The Polish population in Norway helps to strengthen our ties to Poland. In a similar way, the 1500 or so Norwegian students in Poland help to strengthen Poland’s ties to Norway. We should value these points of contact and appreciate their positive effects.
So far, Poland has fared well in the economic crisis. The Polish EU Presidency in 2011 was considered to be a great success. Poland’s growing significance as a major actor in Europe makes our bilateral relations all the more important. It is highly significant for us that a nearby country to which we have so many close ties is an emerging power in European politics. The Government will therefore seek to strengthen and further develop our relations with Poland.
Norway also enjoys close relations with the Baltic countries. There is substantial Norwegian economic engagement in the region. Norway is the fourth largest foreign investor in Estonia, the sixth largest in Latvia and the eighth largest in Lithuania. Our political cooperation with the Baltic countries is closer than that with most other European countries, partly due to the Nordic–Baltic Cooperation. Our ties are also close at local and regional levels. Latvia and Lithuania have been particularly badly hit by the financial crisis, and have experienced a sharp decline in GDP and increased unemployment. Estonia, which is now a eurozone member, has fared better.
The capability the Baltic countries have demonstrated in addressing grave economic problems is striking, Mr President. Having said this, they are also examples of the vulnerability of small, open, transition economies to the social consequences of economic crises. This highlights the importance of the EEA and Norway Grants and the contribution they can make.
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we are also helping to strengthen fundamental European values such as democracy, the rule of law, and tolerance. It is important to combat racism and the use of hate speech, especially among young people. The Roma people and other vulnerable groups must be given particular attention. In Europe, we tend to look to the Council of Europe for standards for human rights and the judiciary. We have therefore sought to involve the Council of Europe as an active partner in a number of EEA programmes, with a view to strengthening efforts in these areas.
Many people, including here in Norway, are following developments in Hungary with great concern. The country’s economy is in a critical state. There is concern from many quarters over the Hungarian Government’s use of its constitutional majority in the parliament to significantly change the constitution, among other things. The EU has initiated infringement proceedings against Hungary, and warned that measures may be taken against the country. Prominent voices from civil society, both within and outside Hungary, are expressing concern over how Hungarian society is being politicised and the scope for diversity restricted. Not least, there is well-founded concern that the far-right Jobbik party has gained considerable support. Jobbik, which uses racist, anti-Semetic and demagogic rhetoric, and even has links to uniformed groups, is being allowed to harass minority groups, such as the Roma people and Jews.
When a government with a large majority in parliament uses the power it has won through free and open elections, as the Fidesz Government has, this does not necessarily constitute a democratic problem. But democracy is more than a matter of free elections. It is also a matter of fundamental rights and respect for diversity in society. This means that those in positions of political power must not undermine the platforms a society has, and must have, for promoting other views and interests than those of the powers that be. Norway is a friend, partner and ally of Hungary. We have many strong, historical ties. For that reason, it is essential that we point out that the developments we are seeing in Hungary today give cause for concern. Moreover, we must dare to raise these concerns with our Hungarian counterparts. I have also made this clear to my Hungarian colleague.
Building well-functioning democracies is an ongoing, long-term process. This applies not least to the relatively young democracies in the Baltic region and Central Europe. But the financial crisis has shown that this also applies elsewhere. There are many threats to viable and effective democracies, including governance problems, corruption, and the pursuit of personal interests at the expense of the common good. Where these threats to democracy are not curbed, the effects are clear: misrule, wasted resources, and a loss of confidence.
Problems like these thrive in societies where democracy is fragile, and where there is little public engagement, restricted access to information, and few voices are heard. That is why a strong and active civil society is crucial in the continued development of democracy in Europe.
We have now completed negotiations on the NGO funds under the EEA and Norway Grants with all beneficiary countries. These funds will make up a significant proportion of the total funding for the voluntary sector in these countries, particularly in areas such as democracy and human rights. This means that, over the coming years, Norwegian funding will help to shape the development of civil society in a large part of Europe. We must be conscious of Norway’s role in his area. It gives us a unique opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the further development of democracy in Europe.
When the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, one of the objectives was to make the EU a more distinct foreign policy actor. High Representative Catherine Ashton’s task is a tough one: to make a clear EU voice heard in international politics at a time when the EU member states are primarily concerned with addressing the economic crisis.
Gathering all 27 behind common positions is a laborious process with resistance from many quarters. Ms Ashton was assigned to establish the basis both for the European External Action Service and for a working method to develop a common foreign policy. This she has done with great patience and flexibility. Norway appreciates the fact that she and her service have maintained an open-door policy towards Norway in many areas. Together, we have shown that we can cooperate closely and effectively, for example, in relation to the Middle East, as demonstrated when Ms Ashton hosted and Norway chaired the latest AHLC meeting in Brussels in March. Other areas of cooperation include the development of Arctic policy, as reflected by Ms Ashton’s visit to Svalbard in March, and our relations with Myanmar, where we have coordinated our message to the country’s forces for reform.
The world needs a strong European voice that can stand up for values such as human rights, democracy, the rule of law and equality. We also see that the EU has again taken a leading role in the international climate negotiations. It is in Norway’s interests to have a strong EU in the foreign policy arena. It is with the European countries that we have the strongest common interests. On the whole, we share the EU’s values and assessments, and our cooperation in the foreign policy area is close.
The points of contact between the EU and Asia are developing fast. Together, the EU and Asia account for around 60 % of the world’s population and economy. The Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) provides a permanent meeting place between these regions. Following a Norwegian initiative, it has now been confirmed that other European countries that are not members of the EU can also take part in ASEM. Norway’s formal admission to ASEM will take place at the ASEM summit in Laos later this year. This will mean that we will be able to safeguard our interests in this important international arena, where issues like climate change and the environment, the economy, energy, the High North and the Arctic are discussed.
Our foreign policy cooperation with the EU also has a parliamentary aspect. In this connection, I would like to commend the Storting for ensuring that Norway has permanent observer status with four representatives in the proposed interparliamentary conference to scrutinse the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy. This is a significant breakthrough, and from the autumn will enable us to enjoy greater predictability and give us valuable insight into this area of the EU.
In certain circumstances, it is important to take a strong, common, European position, for example in connection with the developments in Belarus, which are cause for concern. The EU has introduced various sanctions against Belarus in recent years, which Norway has aligned itself with. The EU and Norway – and not least members of the Storting – are seeking to support the struggle for democracy in Belarus through contact with civil society. One example here is the European Humanities University in Vilnius, which provides higher education to Belarusian students outside Belarus. Norway supports the university through the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The EU’s neighbourhood policy does not just extend southwards and eastwards: for example to the Arab world, where Europe has both responsibilities and opportunities to make a positive contribution. It also extends northwards: to Norway’s neighbouring areas. It is in our interests that the EU becomes more engaged in the High North. In the area of High North policy too, we have many common interests with the EU.
It is also in our interests that the EU gains more knowledge about the High North, and High Representative Ashton’s visit was an important step in that context. The EU’s cross-border programmes in the north, such as Interreg, are important both for Norway and for the region. Arenas such as the Northern Dimension enable Norway – and Iceland and Russia – to maintain a close dialogue with the EU on High North policy. Norway would like the EU to become even more actively engaged in the regional councils, and we therefore support the EU’s ambition of becoming a permanent observer in the Arctic Council.
The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is under revision. Norway has taken an active part in this process, presenting our views on how fisheries policy should be developed. This is important because the EU and Norway manage shared fish stocks, but also because Norway has a fisheries policy that produces good results. The European Commission has proposed several measures that would bring the CFP closer in line with the Norwegian policy. A good example is the proposed discard ban. This would entail a ban on discarding fish that has been caught but for which there is not a quota. This is a key principle of Norway’s fisheries management. We are therefore pleased to see that the introduction of this principle has now been proposed for the whole of the EU.
I would like to round off this section on foreign policy cooperation with Europe by mentioning our dialogue on foreign and security policy with our Nordic neighbours. Nordic cooperation in this area is developing, despite the fact that different countries belong to different organisations, such as the EU and NATO. Just a few days ago, the Nordic foreign ministers met in Stavanger, where we discussed, amongst other things, how the Nordic countries can coordinate and streamline their activities vis-à-vis countries in the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of the Arab spring.
The EU’s common energy policy has become far more ambitious. Energy is an important element in relations between Norway and the EU. We are the EU’s largest supplier of energy after Russia. Now as before, security of energy supply is one of the most essential factors for economic development, both in Norway and in the EU. And this is a positive contribution that we can make to a Europe in the throes of economic crisis.
At the same time, we are seeing that energy policy is being shaped by climate policy. Moreover, major changes are on the horizon now that the EU’s largest economy – Germany –has decided to phase out nuclear power. The EU is currently preparing its Energy Roadmap 2050. The key objective is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 80–95 % of 1990 levels by 2050. The roadmap is currently being discussed in the European Council. We have provided our views on it on several occasions, and will continue to follow this process closely.
The roadmap sets out five different scenarios for the period up to 2050, all of which promote decarbonisation of the energy system. All five entail an increase in renewable energy use in the EU. And they all give gas a key role as the most climate-friendly alternative among fossil energy sources. In the longer term, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will be increasingly important. The presence of a high-level representative of the EU, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, at the opening of the CCS test centre at Mongstad yesterday was therefore welcome.
The EU has recently presented proposals concerning matters that fall partly within and partly outside the geographical scope of the EEA Agreement. I am thinking in particular of the draft regulation on offshore safety, which the European Commission presented last autumn. We share the ambition of the highest possible safety standards in the offshore industry. But this must be realised in a way that is effective and does not cause confusion. In our view, regulation of areas outside the geographical scope of the EEA Agreement will not be EEA-relevant, and the proposed regulation will only have a marginal effect on the internal market. With the exception of the specific objective of preventing pollution, the objective of the regulation also lies outside the substantive scope of the EEA Agreement. We therefore assume that there will not be any legitimate considerations indicating that the regulation – if it is adopted by the EU – needs to be incorporated into the EEA Agreement.
This does not, however, mean that Norway will refrain from engaging in efforts to improve safety in offshore petroleum activities in Europe. Over several decades, Norway has developed a sound and respected system for safety in the oil industry. This has been recognised by the EU, and serves in many contexts as an example to be followed. The Norwegian authorities will continue to cooperate closely with our partners in the EU and will contribute to the further development of EU regulations in this area.
As is clear from the report on alternatives to the present EEA Agreement, it is very important to get involved at an early stage in the development of new EU regulations and directives. Our dialogue with the EU on the regulation on offshore safety is a good example of how the Government seeks to become engaged early on in processes to develop new regulations.
The question of how we can best utilise the room for manoeuvre provided by the EEA Agreement is one we work on every day. But we can still improve. And we can become more aware of the opportunities we have, especially in terms of assessing EEA relevance and implementing legislation.
There are cases where we have used this room for manoeuvre well, such as the right of reversion case, the Gas Market Directive and the question of differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions. A more recent example is the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). I informed the Storting in February that the Government will incorporate this directive into the EEA Agreement.
The AVMSD provides a framework for television broadcasting, and is intended to ensure that programmes are broadcast unchanged within the EEA. It sets minimum requirements for alcohol advertisements, but does not prevent countries from following more stringent national rules. We will make use of this opportunity. Norway’s prohibition against alcohol advertisements in all media under Norwegian jurisdiction remains unchanged. Our position regarding incorporation of the directive into the EEA Agreement is that we assume our prohibition against the advertising of alcoholic products in foreign television broadcasts can also continue.
Another aspect of our room for manoeuvre is our right of reservation, as set out in Article 102 of the EEA Agreement. In political terms, the right of reservation is of fundamental importance. The EFTA countries have never previously made use of this opportunity to oppose the incorporation of EEA-relevant legislation into the EEA Agreement. As the Storting knows, Norway has made it clear to the EU that we do not wish to incorporate the Third Postal Directive. The Government stands firm on this position. However, we have also made it clear that we will continue to comply with the procedures set out in the EEA Agreement, and we have noted that the case is now being considered by the EU.
As has been made clear on previous occasions, there are important aspects of working life where there are tensions and challenges in the interface between EEA legislation and Norwegian law. The Government attaches importance to getting involved in matters relating to working life at as early a stage as possible.
The objective of the Temporary Agency Work Directive – a key directive in this area – is to enhance the rights of temporary agency workers. The Government is concerned that the Norwegian labour market should maintain its emphasis on permanent employment. Implementation of the Temporary Agency Work Directive would ensure equal treatment of temporary and permanent employees in important areas, at the same time as the norm of permanent, direct employment would be maintained. Our position is that the current Norwegian rules restricting the opportunity to employ temporary workers can be retained if the directive is implemented.
There is still some concern about the Posting of Workers Directive. A few judgments from the European Court of Justice in recent years have created uncertainty throughout the EEA about what demands can be made concerning pay and working conditions by workers that are posted from one EEA country to another, and how such demands are to be dealt with, as well as whether these workers have the right to engage in collective action such as strikes.
Issues relating to the Posting of Workers Directive are a high priority for the Government in the area of working life. The Ministry of Labour is still in dialogue with the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) on the regulations on pay and working conditions in public contracts. The Borgarting Court of Appeal has recently considered the consequences of the EEA Agreement for aspects of Norway’s general application of collective pay agreements. Judgment on this matter has not yet been passed.
The European Commission has recently presented a proposal for two new instruments related to the Posting of Workers Directive: an enforcement directive and a regulation on the exercise of the right to take collective action within the context of the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services (Monti II). The proposed enforcement directive sets out measures to ensure that posted workers have the working conditions they are entitled to, for example through better control systems. It also sets out that the right to take collective action should have equal footing with the four freedoms. These proposals are controversial in the EU. The social partners have divergent views on them, and they are being put forward at a time when there is considerable disagreement on labour policy and regulation of the labour market between certain countries. For example, the Governments of Spain and Italy are drawing up proposals for simplifying the appointment of new employees. It will therefore be difficult for the European Commission to win agreement on the proposed directive and regulation. We have not as yet formulated the Norwegian position on them, but we will follow the process closely in the time ahead.
The difficult situation in the finance markets is also reflected in the EEA cooperation. The EU’s new financial supervisory bodies have been in operation since 1 January 2011. Norway is interested in taking part in these. In practice, the Financial Supervisory Authority of Norway has access as an observer, and the supervisory bodies’ ability to make decisions that directly affect individual companies raises legal questions that have to be clarified.
The Government has been working hard for some time on issues relating to the Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive. As the Minister of Finance and I have previously stated, we are trying to win acceptance for a provision that will make it possible for Norway to continue its present guarantee scheme, under which bank deposits of up to NOK 2 million per depositor per bank are guaranteed. We have not yet succeeded in this. It is a difficult process. We are currently discussing the matter with individual EU countries. In its consideration of the directive, the European Parliament agreed to a provision that in practice will only affect Norway, and – if it is retained in the final directive – will make it possible for Norway to continue its guarantee scheme.
The environment is another key issue in the EEA cooperation. The EU emissions trading scheme is a mainstay of European efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
The revised Emissions Trading Directive, which will come into force in the EU on 1 January 2013, will also apply in Norway. It has not yet been incorporated into the EEA Agreement. This is a very complex matter, and it has taken considerable time to reach agreement in the EEA Joint Committee. The committee sent a draft decision to the EU at the end of March this year. Its final decision is expected in September at the latest. This presents a challenge, as the directive must be implemented in Norwegian law in good time before the summer holiday for Norway to become an integrated part of the emissions trading scheme. In order to meet this tight schedule, the Government has proposed amendments to the Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Act. The Storting has also been asked to give its prior consent to Norway’s endorsement of the EEA Joint Committee’s decision.
In my recent addresses to the Storting, I have mentioned some of the challenges facing the Schengen countries. The free movement of persons in the Schengen area means that it is vital for each of the countries concerned to ensure proper control of their part of the external border. Both the economic crisis and the political developments in Europe’s neighbouring countries to the south have put this arrangement under a degree of pressure.
With a view to strengthening the Schengen cooperation and preventing problems in the future, the European Council has decided to hold six-monthly debates at ministerial level. These are to enhance the political and strategic management of the Schengen cooperation and will take place in the Mixed Committee, in which Norway participates. These debates will give us greater opportunity to take an active part.
In January, the European Commission presented a proposal for a complete revision of EU data protection legislation. The proposal is in the form of a regulation and a directive, which will be relevant for Norway through the EEA Agreement and the Schengen Agreement respectively. The main objective is to update this legislation in line with today’s digital landscape. The aim of the proposal is to ensure better protection of consumers, for example through strengthening their rights to delete and move personal data. The role – both separately and jointly – of national data inspectorates would also be expanded. Our preliminary assessment is that the proposal would strengthen data protection both in Europe as a whole and in Norway.
Data protection was also a key issue in the Storting’s discussion of the Data Retention Directive last year. As the Storting is aware, the Data Retention Directive has not yet been incorporated into the EEA Agreement, because it is still under consideration in Iceland. Meanwhile, the EU has started revising it. This work is still at an early stage, and Norway will follow developments closely. We attach importance to having strict rules for the storage and use of data, along the same lines as those set out in Norwegian law.
An important aspect of the EEA cooperation is the opportunity it gives us to take part in EU programmes. In the autumn of 2011, the European Commission presented proposals for a number of new programmes for the next long-term EU budget period (2014–20). The largest of these is the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The next largest is Erasmus for All, which would bring together all the current schemes for education, training, youth and sport. Both these programmes include cooperation with third countries, and are in line with the Europe 2020 strategy, where education and research are two of the five targets.
Horizon 2020 integrates research and innovation, addresses social challenges, strengthens basic research, and is an important tool for developing the European Research Area. It will entail significant administrative simplification. Norway is using political and other channels to convey our views on the proposal.
Speaking of research and innovation brings me back to the crisis in Europe. There is general agreement that Europe cannot save its way out of the crisis. Europe also needs new economic growth and new jobs. Not all the growth we have seen in Europe in recent decades has been healthy and sustainable, as reflected by the high levels of government debt in many European countries. Another key challenge is to prevent the disparities we are seeing in the labour market, with mass youth unemployment in many countries, from becoming a lasting phenomenon.
The challenge is to build a culture of innovation that can generate the growth Europe needs, and to combine this with a sound budgetary policy. At the same time, it is important that growth also benefits vulnerable groups. We cannot allow the youth unemployment we are seeing in Europe today to continue in the long-term. That would jeopardise Europe’s most important asset – its social and human capital. This means that we must take coordinated approaches and seek long-term solutions within a common European framework. The EU’s growth strategy, Europe 2020, is an example of this kind of approach, and it will also have major implications for the Norwegian business sector, as around two-thirds of Norway’s exports are shipped to the European market.
Finally, Mr, President,
Developments in Europe inevitably affect us, both positively and negatively. We share the common European set of values, political system and market. This is why Norway is contributing constructively in a spirit of solidarity to the efforts to address the economic, political and social challenges the EU as a whole and many individual European countries are facing. Ultimately, these challenges are ours, too. This means that we must continue to pursue an active European policy in the time to come.