Speech/statement | Date: 2016-10-03 | Office of the Prime Minister
The Storting, October 3 2016
Mr President, Representatives of the People,
I greet the Storting as it takes up its solemn responsibilities with the wish that the fulfilment of these duties will be of benefit to our country.
Norway is a country full of promise and potential. We have a highly educated population and abundant natural resources.
We have a high level of social equality and an open economy. All this puts us in a strong position to tackle the challenges we face.
For decades, our growing petroleum industry has been a key driver of growth. This is no longer the case.
The fact that the population is aging will mean a sharp rise in public spending on pensions and health and care services.
New challenges are arising as a result of labour migration and larger numbers of asylum seekers.
The Paris Agreement provides a new framework for international climate efforts. All countries, including Norway, must follow up their obligations under the Agreement.
We need to tackle all these challenges. Each of them will demand a lot of us. And we need to tackle them simultaneously. Our Norwegian model will enter more turbulent waters in the time ahead.
The Government will base its efforts on a recognition of three key points.
Firstly, we can still achieve our goals and create the society we want. But only if we accept that this will require a willingness to change and find new solutions.
Secondly, our welfare system depends on a high level of value creation. If the Norwegian model is to remain viable, we must focus far more on private sector value creation in the future.
Thirdly, our petroleum industry put the wind in our sails and has enabled us to build up a large public sector. We must now reform the public sector if we are to be able to deal with new and existing social challenges.
Change is often difficult.
But in the past, Norway has weathered periods of change well.
Shipping has been one of our main industries for centuries, precisely because it has adapted to new markets and new technology.
Norway’s main telecommunications provider, once a state-owned monopoly, is now a profitable, competitive company. Today, Telenor provides services to over 200 million clients worldwide.
There are many such examples.
But even successful adaptation processes create uncertainty.
This was the case for sailmakers when steamships were invented. And for the staff at directory enquiries when the internet was developed.
Looking back, we now know that these changes were necessary and unavoidable.
The situation is the same today.
The biggest threat to the Norwegian model is that we will fail to adapt in time.
One of the tasks of a leader is to explain that we have to accept changes.
Society has to make it easier for individuals to adapt, by giving them opportunities to retrain, ensuring that they have an income, and providing assistance in finding a new job.
Only then will we be able to weather new processes of change, so that we can maintain and further develop our welfare society for future generations.
Very few countries in the world have our level of welfare. This is not because of a lack of will on their part, but because of a lack of value creation.
High levels of workforce participation, productivity and value creation are essential for safeguarding our future welfare system.
The Norwegian economy will need to diversify.
We will need more profitable workplaces that create real, sustained value.
We must use our expertise in the areas of aquaculture, shipping, and oil and gas to seize more of the opportunities offered by Norway’s resource-rich sea areas.
We must create value in all parts of the country, both in central and more peripheral areas.
We must promote green competitiveness and make sure that Norwegian companies are able to succeed as tougher climate policies are introduced all over the world.
That is why the Government is giving priority to investments in infrastructure, research and innovation.
This will reduce transport costs, strengthen innovation and enhance the population’s knowledge and skills.
The tax reform will promote investments and restructuring in Norwegian companies, and make it more attractive for people to work.
Our public revenues must be used wisely if we are to be able to finance our welfare system in the long run.
This will require targeted reforms in the public sector too.
Experience, both in Norway and in other countries, has shown that it can take time before reforms bring about a rise in productivity.
Tax reform, local government reform, transport reform and digitisation are examples of reforms that should lead to increased productivity and free up resources for welfare services.
Our labour force is Norway’s most important resource.
In order to safeguard our future welfare system, it is vital that as many people as possible participate in the workforce.
We have a high rate of employment, but the average number of hours worked per day is low. However, the number of hours worked per capita in Norway is in line with the EU average.
The number of people who are not working and who are receiving health-related benefits is higher than in many other countries.
Ensuring that more people are included in working life is a difficult task, but it is an important one.
The pension reform will give us a more sustainable pension system and an increased supply of labour. But it won’t close the gap between government income and expenditure in the long term.
Our life expectancy is increasing. That is a good thing. But in order for us to be able to enjoy those extra years, we will have to work a bit longer.
We also need to make better use of health and care technology and organise our care services more efficiently. New technology can be used to give people greater dignity and the opportunity to decide over their own lives.
We need to look at Norway’s welfare schemes in the light of increased migration. The Government will pursue a strict immigration policy and will make it more attractive for immigrants to work and less lucrative for them to receive social security benefits.
These long-term challenges mean that we have to dare to think creatively.
Change is the only realistic alternative in the public sector, too. If we do nothing, things won’t just stay the same.
We have a decade of reforms ahead of us. The aim is not to weaken or break up the public sector, but to ensure that it can still provide the level of welfare that we would all like to have.
In the last two years, many people have been through a tough time.
In Southern and Western Norway, unemployment rates have risen significantly, and for many people, the situation is still difficult.
However, a large number have been able to find a new job, thanks to the fact that we have a well-educated population, a good level of workforce mobility and a welfare state that can provide the necessary support.
A weaker krone is promoting growth in the parts of the business sector that are competing internationally, and a low interest rate and proactive national fiscal policy are boosting domestic demand for goods and services.
The Government will continue to work to promote employment and counter unemployment by pursuing active policies to enhance work opportunities and encourage workforce participation and restructuring.
The Government is optimistic about Norway’s future.
We are in a strong position to address any challenges that may arise, just as we have dealt with the drop in oil prices.
In the time ahead, it will be important to make sure that unemployment does not become entrenched. In particular, the Government will intensify its efforts to combat youth unemployment.
The Government is also optimistic about the prospects of achieving targeted improvements in the welfare state.
Although Norway is a good country to live in for most people, there are still tasks that need to be addressed.
The fact that the majority of people are thriving makes it all the more difficult for those who are not coping in their everyday lives.
The Government will continue its work to reduce waiting times in the health service.
The Government wishes to improve learning outcomes for school children, and strengthen early intervention schemes to help pupils who are falling behind.
The elderly and those in need of care must have access to good care services. They need to feel safe and be treated with respect. The Government will expand the provision of care services further, and will seek to improve skills and expertise in this area.
Children must grow up in a safe and caring environment, free from violence and abuse. Children from poor families must have access to recreational activities and equal opportunities.
If we succeed in making the necessary changes – increasing value creation in the private sector and reforming the public sector – before it is too late, we will also succeed in making the Norwegian model even better for an even greater number of people.
The world around us is also changing.
The security situation is now more challenging and unpredictable.
Just to the south of Europe’s borders, states are failing, societies are being destroyed, and millions of people have been forced to flee their homes.
The bruality of terrorists is causing the loss of life and human suffering in the Middle East, and it is also hitting European cities.
We must counter violent extremist ideologies and actions.
We need closer international police cooperation and better intelligence.
We must create inclusive societies, where there is a place for everyone.
Norway has never allocated more funding to a single humanitarian crisis than it has to Syria.
Stabilising other countries in fragile situations is crucial for ensuring development and security.
To the east, Russia’s actions in Ukraine, a clear violation of international law, are affecting its relations with countries in the West.
NATO has responded by strengthening its collective defence capability.
In the new long-term plan for the Norwegian Armed Forces, the Government gives the defence sector a much-needed boost. Norway must maintain a focus on its tasks in the north. In addition, we will help to strengthen NATO’s defence capability in the east.
The Government is following the process between the EU and the UK closely. It is in Norway’s interests to maintain close ties with the EU, through the EEA Agreement, and with the UK.
The Government will cooperate closely with friends and allies who value democracy, human rights and free trade.
In the Government’s view, it is vital to maintain Norway’s membership of NATO in order to safeguard Norway’s freedom and sovereignty.
We must improve our ability to deal with crises and unexpected events. This is vital for the safety and security of Norwegian citizens.
The Government will present a white paper on the future course of Norwegian foreign and security policy, and will invite the Storting to debate this topic.
I pray that God will bless the deliberations of this Storting, and I hereby declare the 161st session of the Storting to be open.