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Arena's 25th anniversary

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at the Arena Centre for European Studies' 25th anniversary.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Arena together with you. Arena is the main centre in Norway for research on European integration. It has become a leading centre in the field, and has obtained broad international recognition.

This year is a big year for European anniversaries – even beyond Arena… – looking back 25 years to the EEA agreement, and not least to Berlin 30 years ago.

***

[The 9th of November 1989 was a very busy day at the Norwegian embassy in Berlin. For weeks, the embassy had been working hard on the very important exhibition on Norwegian wood and timber, which opened up that day. However, it is fair to say that other events in Berlin that day made an even bigger splash, somewhat overshadowing the Norwegian exhibition.]

It was on the very same day that the wall came down. This not only opened up a political transformation in Germany, Europe and even around the world, but it also provided freedoms, rights and opportunities to millions of people.

This was also my political awakening. I was 13 years old and glued to the TV. I felt very strongly for all those from the east who regained their freedom and rights, and they also gave testimony to what it was like being deprived of the basic rights everyone are entitled to.

From then until I became politically active in the lead up to the referendum in 1994, it became increasingly clear to me that the EU was – and is – at its core – a peace and democracy project.

Arena started out as a research programme on the Europeanisation of the nation-state.

To me, the Europeanisation of the nation-state is best symbolised by exactly that transformation in Berlin 30 years ago: The tearing down of walls and barriers, and freedoms, rights and opportunities given to millions of individuals.

Brexit

Ladies and gentlemen,

Breaking with the pattern for most speeches about Europe during the last couple of years, today I intend not to not spend much time on Brexit. I would, however, want to give three short reminders about Norway and Brexit:

First: Brexit impacts our relationship with the United Kingdom. Because when the UK leaves the European Union, they also leave the European Economic Area.

Secondly: Brexit does not, however, alter Norway’s relationship with the European Union.

And thirdly: For Norway, it is simply not an option to base our preparations on which Brexit-outcome we think is most likely. We have to prepare, and we are prepared, for scenarios where the UK leaves with a deal and a scenario where they leave without a deal.

EEA 25

In 1994, a majority of Norwegian voters said no to membership, despite my relentless efforts in the north of Norway… Or maybe because of… The same year, the EEA Agreement entered into force.

This agreement has had a truly transformative effect on Norway. It has Europeanised our economy, our society and our governance structures.

Many of our laws are common European laws. Our networks – be that among researchers, municipalities or trade unions – are European.

The limits between what is inside and what is outside are not always clear-cut.

Put differently, the EEA has changed the boundaries between domestic and foreign policy more profoundly than other more traditional forms of international agreements. 

Its economic importance can hardly be overstated. The EU is by far Norway’s most important economic partner. Nearly 80 % of Norwegian exports go to the EU and more than 60 % of our imports originate in the EU. The EU is also the most important destination for Norwegian Foreign Direct Investments. All this is facilitated by our participation in the common regulatory framework of the Single Market.

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However, the EEA is a cooperation that goes beyond money and markets.

It provides the basis for close cooperation with the EU in key policy areas, for instance to combat climate change, promote research and innovation and enhance consumer protection.

Importantly, the EEA is a community of law, which grants individual rights and obligations to Norwegian and other European citizens.

Since the entry into force of the EEA Agreement, an entire generation of Norwegians have grown up with the right to travel, work and study in what is now 31 EEA countries.

This is something the generation before them could only dream of. 

And again, some may have come to take these opportunities for granted.

It is clear that we still have to work hard to make sure these rights are respected.

This is at the heart of the critical situation regarding social security payments that we have seen unfold in the last few weeks.

It is also a strong reminder that the EEA is far more than a regular trade agreement.

Schengen & CFSP

Since Arena was established 25 years ago, EU member states have deepened their cooperation. They have also extended the cooperation to new policy areas and new member states. Norway’s participation in European integration has reflected these developments.

We have gradually associated ourselves with the EU in new fields.

As an associated member of Schengen, we are part of a common travel area in Europe.

We participate in all Schengen instruments and we control the external Schengen border, including our land border to Russia. 

In addition to Schengen, we also cooperate more broadly with the EU in the field of justice and home affairs, through the Dublin cooperation, the European Migration Network, as well as Europol, Eurojust and the European Asylum Support Office.

We have also developed a broad partnership with the European Union in foreign and security policy.

We have a substantial policy dialogue with the EU, and we frequently align ourselves with the restrictive measures imposed by the EU against third countries.

Enlargement

The fall of the Berlin wall was the start of German reunification.

And importantly, it paved the way for European reunification through EU enlargement.

This also meant enlargement of the EEA, Schengen and other forms of cooperation that Norway is a part of.

Norway has – perhaps paradoxically – always been a strong supporter of EU enlargement. As long as it doesn’t include us…

That is because we believe that rules-based cooperation in Europe is vital for the security, stability, freedom and prosperity of our continent.

It is also clear that successive enlargements of the EU and the EEA have had a wide-reaching and largely beneficial impact on the Norwegian economy and society. 

EU strategy

Europe is our continent, and Norwegian foreign policy starts in Europe. It is in our profound interest to take part in the development of our own continent.

In May last year, I presented the Government’s strategy for our cooperation with the EU.

The strategy has four visions for Europe:

  • A secure Europe
  • A free Europe
  • An economically strong Europe
  • And a responsible Europe (which takes a joint responsibility to cooperate in the face of shared challenges that countries cannot tackle alone)

The strategy establishes a strong vision for our participation in European integration.

It is also highlights three facts that often gets too little attention:

First, we cooperate with the EU because it is in our interest.

No one is forcing Norway to be part of European integration.

We chose to participate because it is the best way to protect our interests and to promote our political priorities.

Second, we are active participants in Europe, not passive bystanders.

We put forward proposals and provide input when the European Commission and the EUs agencies are developing initiatives.

And we engage in close dialogue with both EU institutions and member states to contribute to common solutions to the challenges we face together – that are too big for only one country to solve alone.

Third, as I mentioned earlier, our relations with the EU is about much more than the economy.

Our participation in European integration is a strong statement in favour of multilateralism and rules-based international cooperation.

It contributes to protecting our security as well as our fundamental rights and values.

And increasingly, I believe it will be an important shield against the negative consequences of the emerging great power rivalry we see in the world. 

Priorities

So, with a cooperation spanning across so many policy areas and sectors, what are our priorities for the years ahead?

I see two different types of challenges for Europe.

First, what should we do to protect the security and economic future of our citizens?

The second, but certainly no less important, priority is to protect European cooperation itself.

Let me first go through some of our policy priorities for the years ahead; then I will come back to the challenges facing European cooperation as such.

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Fighting climate change is key to our planet, our security and our economy.

Norway values EU leadership in this field. We cooperate closely with the union to implement our global commitments. 

The EU and Norway are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990-levels.

Norway would like to see the EU’s target for 2030 increase even further, to 55 per cent. If so, the Norwegian government would raise its ambitions accordingly.

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We must also make sure that we invest in research and innovation to create jobs for the future. Here, our participation in EU programmes are of utmost importance.

The Single Market and the EEA is a European success story, but it remains an unfinished one.

We should prioritise unleashing the potential within services and the digital economy for the benefit of both businesses and consumers.

We also need to facilitate the transition to a green economy and more climate friendly production and consumption. 

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From a Norwegian perspective, a well-regulated labour market is essential for a Single Market in the EEA that works for all.

If social dumping and criminal activities are not prevented, the European labour market will not function properly.

It will threaten our social model and ultimately undermine Europe’s economic strength.  It may also weaken citizens’ support for the very principle of free movement.

Common European rules have strengthened the rights of workers in a number of areas. It is essential that the rules continue to create a level playing field and ensure social protection compatible with national welfare systems and modes of cooperation.

For Norway, safeguarding our model of institutionalised cooperation between the social partners and national authorities is especially important. 

***

The EU is currently strengthening its cooperation on security and defence. Norway would like to contribute to these efforts.

We believe stronger cooperation in Europe - both inside and outside of the EU framework - can contribute to strengthening Nato, and thereby our security, provided that the EU cooperation underpins and not duplicates Nato.

In September, Norway became part of the European Intervention Initiative (EI2).

This initiative strengthens our contacts with key European allies.

We hope that, over time, this initiative can contribute to strengthening Europe’s ability to handle crises, and thereby strengthen allied security and contribute to better burden sharing across the Atlantic.

We are also looking at how Norway can contribute to projects initiated as a part of the EUs permanent structured cooperation on defence, PESCO.

Another important priority for us is to make sure that Norwegian defence industries can compete on an equal footing with their European counterparts.

Through the EEA Agreement Norway is already part of the EU programme activities on defence research, which will be a part of the planned European Defence Fund.

Earlier this year, the Commission, supported by the European Parliament, recommended that the fund be open for participation from the EEA/EFTA States.

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To sum up: Combating climate change, developing a well-functioning Single Market and strengthened cooperation on security and defence are some of the key priorities of our European policy in the years to come.

However, if we are to succeed in handling these challenges we must also be able to meet the challenges facing the European cooperation itself.

In other words, we must tackle broader challenges that impede our ability to act together.

I am concerned about tendencies in some countries to undermine the independence of media, the judiciary and civil society. 

The rule of law is a precondition for a sustainable democracy.

It is also a prerequisite for the economic and legal integration in the EU and the EEA, which has contributed to prosperity and peace in Europe for decades.

We need to have full confidence in each other's legal systems if our cooperation is to continue to function properly.

Moreover, Europe’s influence as a promoter of fundamental values in the rest of the world depends on our own ability to live up to the highest standards.

Europe’s security, economic strength and international credibility are at stake.

Norway stand ready to support the ongoing work in EU institutions, the Council of Europe and other relevant fora, to preserve and promote the rule of law in Europe.

Research

Climate change, migration, challenges to the rule of law, how we deal with security threats and meet a new economic downturn if it comes, are all issues that will shape European cooperation and integration in the years to come.

Research-based knowledge on how these issues affect Europe and our capacity to deal with them - be it at the national, local or European level is crucial for an enlightened democratic debate about the choices that we face.

It is also essential to have “expert advice” (this audience will probably not mind such a politically incorrect term) to make informed policy decisions.

The government has therefore in our budget proposition for 2020 increased its funding for research on European affairs by more than 50 %, with 6 mill NOK (600.000 EUR). I hope that this will also contribute to Norwegian research centres maintaining high academic standards and succeeding internationally, and to “ask the bigger questions”.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European project is built on a willingness to work together to find common solutions to common challenges.

Our rules-based cooperation in Europe (and beyond) is currently under pressure. Some seem to believe that they have more to gain by going it alone than by engaging in mutually binding cooperation.

Let me be clear: the political discussion over the balance between national sovereignty and rules-based international cooperation is an important one, and a fair one. But it is also prone to simplifications, and it can be used to stir up a divisive, populist rhetoric.

In the face of this, the 9th of November 1989 provides us with a powerful example (and I am not here thinking primarily about the need for exhibitions on Norwegian wood and timber…). I believe it is crucial to highlight the freedoms, rights and opportunities we all have, when walls are torn – and kept - down.

Because even if too often taken for granted, I am convinced that our people fundamentally and strongly want these freedoms, rights and opportunities. Without them, we would become something less. They enable our everyday lives. They are part of what defines us.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me end where I started, by congratulating Arena on its anniversary.

Arena has certainly done its part in raising awareness and building knowledge for the last 25 years.

We may need you even more in the 25 years to come.

I wish you all the best in the years ahead. Thank you for attention!

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