Biannual address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters

The Foreign Minister held her biannual address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters 3 May.

Mr President,

In 10 days’ time, 13 May, it will be 74 years since Winston Churchill stood here and addressed the Storting. Just three years earlier, Europe and the rest of the world had put the bloodiest war in history behind them. Hitler’s tyranny was defeated. In the West, the democracies had won.

Churchill used the opportunity to talk about the importance of what is for me the very core of democracy: the parliamentary system. He said that, in a parliamentary system, the government and the ministers are the servants, not the masters of the people.

Around the time that he was standing here and speaking, the communists were taking power in Czechoslovakia. Following a coup d’état backed and orchestrated by a dictator in Moscow. The national assembly in Prague became a puppet body with no real influence. The Government became the people’s brutal masters, not their servants. Similar developments were seen across Eastern Europe.

Today, it is Ukraine that is fighting desperately to save its democracy and independence. As President Zelensky said in his speech to the Storting on 30 March, Ukrainians are fighting ‘to protect our state and our way of life – democratic, free, with full protection of rights and freedoms for everyone.’

And once again, there is a leader in Moscow driven by nationalism and delusions of grandeur who is trying to crush democracy.

In Norway, most of us have come to take democracy and peace almost for granted. Recent developments in Europe have been a brutal reminder that we cannot simply assume that democracy or peace will always prevail. We must fight for them. Defend them. Every single day.

And it is the will of the people that forms the core of this fight. Represented by you.

The democratically elected representatives.

In Norway, we have a parliament we can be proud of. A Storting that has promoted peace, freedom and democracy for 208 years. Not just in our own country, but across the world.

Mr President,

Today, the words ‘Europe’ and ‘democratic values’ go hand in hand. Values such as peace, freedom, democracy and human rights.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a turning point in European history. It is not just an attack on Ukraine. It is an attack on our values.

The democracies of Europe have responded. The EU has gained new relevance as a security policy actor. Putin’s brutal war has strengthened European unity and Europe’s shared commitment to its core values.


The war has dominated our cooperation with the EU in this six-month period.

And it will affect the Government’s European policy moving forward.

Norway will have to take on board the accelerated pace of EU efforts in key policy areas. This could also affect the opportunities available to us to exert an influence in our European cooperation. Today, I am therefore going to focus on key elements of our European policy.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is already having an impact on European security and defence policy. But there are also challenges relating to energy supply and Europe’s economic situation. The war is also affecting efforts relating to the European Green Deal, the restructuring process, and democracy and the rule of law. 

Mr President,

I give an address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters twice a year. This encompasses a wide range of areas. I will not be able to cover all aspects of EEA cooperation and our relations with the EU in each address. This time I will naturally be focusing on the war in Ukraine.

The EU stands united in its response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, and has done so from the outset. As the Prime Minister said in his speech to the Storting on 3 March: ‘The EU’s normative, economic, political and legislative influence has never been stronger.’ As a result, Norway’s response to the invasion has been stronger.

The EU quickly adopted the most comprehensive package of sanctions it has ever introduced. The sanctions are hitting the Russian economy hard.

The consequences are also tough for many of the EU member states. But the EU remains united.

Norway has aligned itself with the EU’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus. And in this way we are doing our part to ensure a robust and coordinated European response.

The Government has imposed these sanctions not because of the EU, but for the same reasons as the EU.

The aim is to stop the financing of the war. To prevent Russia from acquiring technology, knowledge, goods and services that it can use to pursue the war. To punish those who are supporting the Russian war effort by freezing their funds and assets. And taking away their right to travel to Norway and other European countries.  

The only EU measures that have not been implemented in Norwegian law are those relating to the suspension of the broadcasting activities of RT and Sputnik. This is because the Norwegian Constitution prohibits prior censorship. Blocking RT and Sputnik would therefore be in contravention of the Constitution. Even though we know that in reality both these outlets are propaganda machines for the Putin regime.

Norway has aligned itself with the EU’s decisions to close ports to vessels flying the Russian flag and prohibit the transport of goods by Russian road transport operators. The port entry ban applies to ships of 500 gross tonnage and beyond sailing commercially in international shipping, yachts and recreational craft or personal watercraft. The ban does not encompass fishing vessels and will normally not apply to vessels being used for search and rescue or research activities. The ban is being implemented at Norway’s mainland ports and applies as of 7 May. 

The ban on goods transport by road applies to road transport undertakings established in Russia, and entered into force immediately. The ban does not apply to mail as a universal service. In addition, it will be possible for transport undertakings to apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for authorisation to transport certain items, such as medical and agricultural products.

Mr President,

Ukraine is fighting a defensive war against the Russian invading forces. We are supporting Ukraine in this fight. Like many other European countries, Norway has sent weapons and military equipment.

For the first time in history, the EU is also providing this type of support to another country. EUR 1 billion has been set aside for military assistance to Ukraine.

EU military support to Ukraine is being funded under the European Peace Facility.

In addition, the UK has established a mechanism for the procurement of weapons and military equipment for Ukraine. As the Prime Minister informed the Storting last week, the Government will allocate NOK 400 million to this initiative. 

There is an enormous need for civilian assistance and humanitarian aid, both in Ukraine and in the neighbouring countries. Coordination is essential. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM) has been an effective channel in this respect. Norway participates in the UCPM through the EEA Agreement. To date, Norway has made NOK 365 million available through the UCPM for material assistance and medical supplies.

We have sent surgical supplies, personal protective equipment, medicines and ambulances to Ukraine through this channel. And we have also sent supplies for refugee reception centres – tents, camp beds and medicines – to Moldova and Slovakia.

Through the UCPM, we have also transferred Ukrainian patients to Norwegian hospitals. Norway has made an air ambulance available to the EU for the evacuation of Ukrainian patients to Norway and other European countries.

In connection with the EU effort to map capacity, Norway has reported that its hospitals can at present accommodate approximately 550 Ukrainian patients in need of hospital treatment. With accompanying family members, this will entail the evacuation of up to 2 750 people. 

Norwegian health experts have taken part in medical teams deployed to the region to assist in the effort to evacuate patients.

We have also agreed to allow some of the funding provided under the EEA and Norway Grants scheme to be used for the refugee response in the beneficiary countries. This will be done in close dialogue with the beneficiary countries and in line with the existing framework for the EEA and Norway Grants. 

It is important to us to ensure that the EEA and Norway Grants do not operate in a vacuum and are adapted to the changing situation in the beneficiary countries.

Mr President,

Ukraine, like Moldova and Georgia, has applied for EU membership. Its application has been received and will be considered in the ordinary way by the EU institutions. This is of great symbolic and strategic significance, both for Ukraine and the rest of Europe.

The fact that these countries are turning to the EU as a geopolitical safe haven places a great responsibility on the EU. In line with its previous practice, Norway will target its assistance to these countries in a way that supports their integration with the EU.

There will be a huge need for resources in Ukraine for many years to come. The Government is therefore launching an ambitious, long-term effort. This will extend beyond the end of the war and into a reconstruction phase. This effort will be carried out in close cooperation with the EU.

Norway has set aside NOK 2 billion for assistance to Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. In the first phase of the war, we were one of the largest humanitarian donors, also in absolute figures. Some NOK 1.8 billion has been allocated and most of this amount has been disbursed. NOK 100 million has been earmarked for Moldova. Our support is mainly being channelled to the UN and humanitarian organisations with experience of working in crisis-affected areas.

Mr President,

We had thought that large refugee flows and the threat of famine in Europe were a thing of the past. Like the famines in Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s, which Fridtjof Nansen and then Prime Minister Johan Ludwig Mowinckel worked hard to alleviate.

We are now seeing the largest refugee flows in Europe since the Second World War. Russia’s war in Ukraine has forced 12 million people to flee their homes. Many of them are internally displaced. Many of them are children or in other vulnerable groups. From the start, Norway has been cooperating closely with the EU to gain an overview of the refugee situation.

People who have been forced to leave Ukraine can receive temporary protection in Norway. Norwegian municipalities and local communities are doing what they can to welcome those who have fled their home country. The Prime Minister talked about this in detail in his address last week.

The Government considers it important to do its part to ensure the effective distribution of refugees within the framework of the European cooperation. For example, we participate in crisis management meetings with EU institutions and member states. We have offered to take in 2 500 displaced Ukrainians who are currently in Moldova. As the Prime Minister mentioned, many of these refugees have wanted to stay in Moldova in order to be able to return home quickly when this is possible.


Mr President,

Russia’s war in Ukraine has had a particularly pronounced impact on EU cooperation in two areas of policy: security and defence; and climate and energy.

The groundwork for the developments we are seeing today was laid before the war in Ukraine. For a number of years now, the EU has been strengthening its cooperation in order to increase the resilience and autonomy of the member states, and make them more proactive in the face of ever tougher international competition. The pandemic has highlighted the need for this.

The EU has also already staked out a course for achieving its climate targets that entails a comprehensive process of economic and social restructuring in Europe.

Nato’s importance as a collective defence alliance has been reinforced. Membership of Nato will continue to be the cornerstone of Norway’s defence and security policy.

Since the war began, there has been an effective division of tasks and coordination between Nato and the EU. Many European countries are now increasing their defence budgets. Germany has already decided to substantially increase its defence spending.

EU cooperation on security and defence has gradually been strengthened in recent years. Norway has taken steps to be able to participate in the EU’s new initiatives in this area as they have been adopted. One such initiative is the European Defence Fund, which we take part in through the EEA Agreement.

This is an important tool now that the EU countries are to increase their defence investments. Our participation enhances the Norwegian defence industry’s access to the European defence market.

This is good for our security, it is good for our industry and it is good for Norwegian jobs.

We are also participating in a project on military mobility under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on security and defence. In times of crisis and war, it is vital that we are able to move military personnel and assets across national borders quickly. The EU has a key role to play in this context.

No other country cooperates as closely with the EU on security and defence as Norway. The Government will continue this policy.

The EU adopted its new strategy for security and defence, the EU Strategic Compass, in March. This provides a framework for further developing the EU’s role as a security and defence policy actor in the period leading up to 2030. It sets out concrete measures, with a clear time frame, for strengthening the EU’s operational role, resilience, capabilities and partnerships.

Many of the areas covered in the EU Strategic Compass affect Norwegian interests. We have been in close dialogue with the EU on the preparation of this document. It therefore comes as no surprise that Norway is referred to as the EU’s most closely associated partner.

Mr President,

The European Green Deal now also has a security policy dimension. Or a ‘freedom’ dimension, as it is referred to in Germany.

The war has revealed the sheer extent of Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies. At a time when Russia is increasingly using energy supplies as a means of exerting pressure in its foreign policy.

This is deeply problematic. Last week, Russia halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. They were given one day’s notice.

Until now, over half of the gas imported by Poland has come from Gazprom. Imports from Russia account for some 40 % of EU’s gas consumption.

Poland has gas reserves that will probably be able to meet the country’s gas needs for the rest of this year. At that point, its agreement with Gazprom will expire. It will be replaced by gas supplies from Norway. In the long-term, a new pipeline delivering gas from Norway, the Baltic Pipe, will supply half of Poland’s gas needs.

This tells us something about Norway’s role in the situation we are currently facing. The delivery of Norwegian gas to Europe is not just an economic matter. It is also a matter of European security policy. 

Russian gas exports generate huge revenues for the Russian state. Revenues that are being used to finance the war. Continued dependence on Russian gas limits our room for manoeuvre in the face of the growing security threat from Russia. It is therefore in Norway’s interests to help Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

Norway already plays an important role in safeguarding security of energy supply in Europe. We are the second largest supplier of gas to the EU. Norway supplies around 20-25 % of the gas consumed in the EU member states. Norwegian gas exports to Europe are continuing as before.  

Gas production on the Norwegian continental shelf is not limited by demand or infrastructure, but by how much the fields can produce. Oil exports are also continuing as normal. We will remain a safe and reliable supplier of oil and gas to Europe.

But further action is needed by the EU and its member countries to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. This will involve enhancing Europe’s own security of supply and accelerating the transition to a greener economy.

Greater and more rapid investment is needed to advance the transition to renewable energy in Europe. The European Commission presented an ambitious plan for this on 8 March: REPowerEU.

The focus of the plan is not just on increasing gas supplies from sources other than Russia; it also sets out targeted efforts to strengthen hydrogen, biomethane and solar power production, combined with measures to boost energy efficiency.

More rapid development of alternative energy sources will be crucial for Europe in the time ahead. This was also a topic of discussion at the Prime Minister’s meeting with Vice Chancellor of Germany Robert Habeck in Oslo on 16 March.

We are contributing to the European effort by promoting the green transition in Norway and strengthening our green export industries. The supplementary white paper (Meld. St. 11 (2021–2022) to last year’s white paper on energy policy, the initiative to boost green industry and the effort to increase Norwegian exports are crucial in this context.

The strategic green industrial partnership with the EU, launched by Prime Minister Støre and President of the European Commission von der Leyen in Brussels on 23 February, is related to these efforts.

Areas of particular mutual interest are hydrogen development, offshore wind power, carbon capture and storage, the minerals sector, battery production and green shipping. These are areas that are vital for achieving the climate targets and for increasing Europe’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

We have agreed with the EU to work together to explore ways of making it easier for Norwegian companies to play a part in realising the European Green Deal. Norway has much to offer in this context. Closer industrial cooperation with the EU will also promote industrial development and value creation in Norway.

This is important, Mr President, because Norwegian value creation and welfare are highly vulnerable to changes in the European economy. It is therefore in our interests for the EU countries to succeed in their economic response to the Ukraine crisis.

It is also in our interests for the EU to succeed in reaching the goals it has set with regard to achieving greater strategic autonomy, the European Green Deal, and digital transformation. 

Mr President,

In addition to bringing new momentum to cooperation in the areas of security and energy, Russia’s war in Ukraine is a watershed moment in the fight to safeguard the liberal values that underpin our European democracies. 

The Russian propaganda machine is in full swing. It targets not only the Russian population, but also the world beyond. The aim is to legitimise the war by spreading disinformation and propaganda.

Liberal democracy has long been a favourite target for Russian propaganda. The intention is to discredit Western ideals and progress in order to spread fear and uncertainty, divide opinion, and undermine trust in democratically elected governments.

Where does this desire to weaken democracy come from?

The former President of the European Parliament, Italian social democrat David Maria Sassoli, who regrettably passed away earlier this year, had a good answer.

‘Have you ever wondered why authoritarian regimes – all of them – are so afraid of Europe? We do not wage war, we do not impose our model. So why are they so worried about us?’ he once asked.

He then went on to answer the question himself: ‘There is only one reason. Our values make them afraid. Because freedom leads to equality, justice, transparency, opportunities and peace. And if it happened in Europe, it can happen everywhere.’


One positive development is that illiberal democracy and association with authoritarian leaders appear to have lost their appeal in a number of European countries. We see that many of the politicians in Europe who have openly sympathised with Putin have now fallen silent.

At the same time, we must not forget that the problem of polarisation has not gone away. It is just less visible. Behind today’s impressive show of European unity, there are rumblings of a divisive political debate in many European countries. In which alternatives to liberal democracy are being promoted by the far right and the far left. The unity we are now seeing in Europe has not removed this polarisation.

Democracy and the rule of law must be protected. An intensified effort is needed. In its political platform, the Government makes it clear that we will stand up for and defend these values.


Parliamentary elections were held in Hungary on 3 April. The Fidesz alliance led by Prime Minister Orbán received over half of the votes. The alliance retained a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

The situation for democracy and the rule of law in Hungary remains a concern.

In February this year, the European Court of Justice gave the green light for reacting to violations of the rule of law by withholding transfers from the EU budget. The Commission has recently activated this conditionality mechanism against Hungary.

It is important that the EU reacts in such situations. It is also good news for Norway as an EEA country and a donor to the EEA and Norway Grants, which seek to reduce social and economic disparities in Europe.

Democracy and the rule of law will be priorities in our negotiations with the EU on a new funding period for the EEA and Norway Grants. A key requirement will be to put in place even more robust mechanisms to safeguard the values on which our cooperation is based.

We will in particular be looking at the new tools the EU has established to prevent the undermining of democracy and the rule of law in the member states. We expect to start the negotiations in the course of the spring.

Mr President,

The changes we have seen in Europe over the past six months have been dramatic. At the same time, Nato has reinforced its position as a defence alliance.

Our Nordic neighbours are considering important strategic decisions. Sweden and Finland are discussing membership of Nato. On 1 June, Denmark will hold a referendum on participation in the EU’s defence and security policy cooperation.

The decisions our Nordic neighbours make will affect us and the development of our policy in the time ahead. Nordic cooperation is rock solid. And this should continue. This is also good for Europe and our broader European cooperation.

Nato membership has been the cornerstone of Norwegian security policy ever since my predecessor Halvard Lange signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949.

We depend on the Alliance for collective security and effective deterrence.

But in many other areas relating to security policy, it is the EU that can provide the tools. During the war, we have seen that a strong and united EU has reinforced the joint international response to Russia’s actions.

For Norway, this means that our existing agreements and cooperation arrangements with the EU have gained a far clearer security dimension than was previously the case. We therefore have a strong interest in helping the EU to succeed in ensuring that its member states remain united and committed to fundamental values and rules. To succeed in strengthening Europe’s resilience and effectiveness and reducing our common vulnerabilities and dependencies.

It also reminds us of how important it is to uphold the EEA Agreement, the Schengen Agreement and our other cooperation agreements with the EU. It is in our day-to-day efforts in the early decision-shaping phase of EU policy and legislation development that we promote Norwegian interests most effectively. It is in our day-to-day efforts to fulfil our joint commitments that we lay the foundation for effective European cooperation. 

At the same time, we see that the EEA Agreement and our other cooperation arrangements with the EU do not necessarily encompass new EU initiatives and policy. Through the EEA Agreement, Norway participates in the EU’s internal market on an equal footing with the EU member states. We saw how important this was during the pandemic.

The cooperation on the European regulatory system for medicines, and the free movement of medicines, is unique. The importance of our participation in this cooperation was highlighted in connection with the pandemic response. Let me give three examples.

First, the EEA Agreement provided a framework for ensuring the continued free movement of personal protective equipment and essential supplies for Norwegian hospitals.

Second, we benefited greatly from the EU’s system for procuring vaccines. And third, we were able to introduce Covid-19 certificates for the EU and EEA at the same time, which facilitated travel in our various countries.

Other countries that do not have the same legal framework or cooperation agreements had to establish an alternative legal basis in order to respond effectively and ensure predictability. In some cases, this delayed access to vaccines and Covid-19 certificates.

Even small states like Andorra and San Marino, which are close in geographical terms and have strong ties to certain EU countries, experienced such delays. Initially, San Marino chose to purchase Sputnik vaccines from Russia, but later received deliveries from Italy.  

In order to be as prepared as possible for the next health crisis, we are now seeking to put in place an agreement that will enable Norway to participate in EU efforts to further develop and strengthen its health preparedness cooperation. This is also one of the clear recommendations in the Coronavirus Commission’s report, which was presented last week. However, there is no guarantee that we will succeed in securing an agreement. In order to do so, we will have to show what we can bring to the cooperation and demonstrate our willingness to contribute.

In times of crisis, it is clearly important to step up our cooperation with the EU and the EU member states. To provide constructive input, demonstrate that we can play a relevant role, and ensure that we are able to participate in meetings where joint crisis measures are discussed. These efforts are vital, Mr President. This is how we can ensure that Norwegian positions are taken into account in the development of policy that has direct consequences for people in Norway. For Norwegian welfare and security.

The Norwegian Foreign Service, too, will face new demands as a result of developments over the past six months. We need to enhance our expertise and intensify our efforts in the interface between European policy and security policy. We need to review how we have organised activities in the Ministry and at our missions in key European countries in order to enable us to exert an influence and promote Norwegian interests as effectively as possible.

Mr President,

Yesterday, it was 30 years since we signed the EEA Agreement. A little later that year, it was adopted by the Storting with a two-thirds majority. This shows that the Agreement enjoyed broad democratic support.

In its political platform, the Government announced that it would carry out a review to assess lessons learned from the last 10 years of EEA cooperation. The review will consider the consequences of the EEA Agreement for Norwegian citizens, the Norwegian economy – including its impact on the Norwegian model of labour relations – and the right to decent work.

The review will also look at how we use the opportunities available to us to exert an influence and how the obligations set out in the Agreement are implemented at the national level. We also want to look at the experience of like-minded non-EU countries that have other cooperation arrangements with the EU.

In light of the war in Europe, the review will also have to consider the EEA cooperation as a platform for foreign and security policy cooperation in Europe. And look at what the priorities of our European policy should be in the time ahead.  

That is why we have commissioned this report. The committee will deliver its report by the end of 2023. 

In the course of the spring, the Government will also present its work programme for cooperation with the EU for 2022–2023. 

Mr President, European cooperation is becoming increasingly vital.

In Europe, climate policy has become security policy. Energy policy has become a matter of freedom and autonomy. The EU’s decisions are increasingly broad in scope and affect ever larger segments of society.

If our neighbours, Sweden and Finland, decide to apply for Nato membership, this will benefit Nordic defence cooperation.

Over the past two months, the EU has proved to be more effective and more action-oriented than anyone, even in Brussels, could have imagined. In a short space of time, the EU coordinated sanctions against Russia, not just among its own members, but also with other international partners. And the EU bureaucracy, which is often accused of being slow-moving at best, established new unprecedented mechanisms in a period of just a few weeks. In order to provide humanitarian aid, and to provide assistance to Ukrainian refugees and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

And last but not least, Mr President, the EU has injected new impetus into the European Green Deal, spearheaded by Germany with its bold, new ambitions.

All this will affect Norway and Norwegian European policy in the years to come. By virtue of our location on the map, our Nordic and European identity, our values and our open economy, we are part of the European cooperation. We must accept this and act accordingly.

Energy, security and green solutions are areas we know well. We are among the best in the world. Developments in the EU are opening up major new opportunities for Norwegian companies and for Norway to exert an influence.

But we must not take our eye off the ball.

We must work tirelessly to safeguard Norwegian interests in our cooperation with the EU. It is this that the Government’s European policy is intended to ensure.

And we can best achieve this by working in close cooperation with the Storting.

I would like to conclude with another quote from Churchill’s speech to the Storting in 1948: ‘I wish you safety, I wish you peace, I wish you freedom. I am sure that for all those purposes the Storting will prove itself the most effective human instrument that could be devised.’

I look forward to continued consultations with the Storting on how we can best develop a European policy that will benefit the entire country.