Speech/statement | Date: 2016-11-08 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Minister of EEA and EU Affairs, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker's biannual address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters 8 November 2016.
The past six months have been challenging for the EU and for Europe.
The UK has held a referendum and voted to leave the EU.
For many people, this was a wake-up call. In several European countries, there are strong movements rejecting deeper integration, increasing globalisation and closer European cooperation.
Increasing migration and large numbers of refugees have put European cooperation and solidarity to the test.
And we have once again seen horrific terrorist attacks in several European cities including Nice, Istanbul and Brussels.
A sense of unease and fear among the population is causing people to seek new political solutions. We are struggling to relate to a reality where the threat of terrorism has become a part of everyday life.
The question is which path to choose. Many people think we need to build stronger borders again, and look for national solutions. Others think that it is precisely now that we need to strengthen cooperation between countries. Uphold solidarity. And pull together to address common challenges.
We must not succumb to a general atmosphere of crisis. We must conduct a thorough analysis of the challenges we are facing and take appropriate and sustainable steps to meet them.
What we expect from the EU, above all, is precisely the ability to tackle challenges across borders, and to find good common solutions. History has shown that Europe can emerge stronger from a crisis.
Since 1990, we have managed to double global wealth, thanks to binding international cooperation. That is why it is important for me to stress that the EU bodies are continuing their work as before. Sustainable growth and higher employment are goals that are still high on the agenda, both for the Commission and for the member states.
The UK will not leave the EU overnight. The Brexit process will be long and complicated.
The withdrawal negotiations will start once the British Government notifies the European Council of its intention to leave the Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that this will happen by the end of March 2017.
Last week the UK High Court ruled that the Government does not have the power to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval. The ruling is not final, and the British Government has said that it intends to appeal. The case will therefore be decided by the UK Supreme Court.
Once Article 50 has been invoked, the parties will have two years to reach an agreement on the terms of withdrawal. This deadline may be extended if the parties agree to this. If the parties fail to reach agreement, the UK will automatically cease to be an EU member at the end of the two-year period.
Article 50 only sets out the procedure for withdrawal from the EU, i.e. the 'divorce' itself, not a new agreement to regulate future relations between the UK and the EU. The withdrawal negotiations will have to clarify a wide variety of practical issues, ranging from responsibility for the pensions of British EU officials to questions about contributions to the EU budget in the period leading up to the UK's withdrawal from the EU. According to Article 50, the withdrawal agreement must be drawn up in a way that eases the transition to a new form of agreement with the EU.
The negotiations between the EU and the UK on the UK's new relationship with the EU will be conducted separately. Nor is there any deadline for signing such an agreement.
The UK will also have to establish its own position within the WTO trade regime and reach bilateral trade agreements with other countries outside the EU, including Norway.
For the Government, it is important to ensure that the EEA Agreement continues to function well after Brexit. The same goes for our other agreements with the EU.
Given that the EEA Agreement is intended to apply to countries that are either EU members or Efta members, we assume that when the UK leaves the EU, it will also withdraw from the EEA Agreement. The procedure for withdrawing from the EEA Agreement is set out in its Article 127. Unlike Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, this does not require the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement with the Efta states and the EU members that are to remain as parties to the Agreement.
The Government's aim is to ensure that our cooperation with the UK after Brexit is at least as good as it is today, and that Norwegian companies retain equally good access to the British market.
We will work to ensure that the necessary transition arrangements are in place when the UK leaves the EU.
It is important to remember that the EU has a common trade policy, and enters into trade agreements on behalf of the member states. The UK will not be able to enter into new trade agreements with other countries until it has left the EU. As long as the UK is a member of the EU and the EEA, our trade relations will be regulated through the EEA Agreement and our bilateral agreements with the EU on trade in fish and agricultural products.
Prime Minister Theresa May made it clear early on that the UK is seeking a tailor-made agreement with the EU, and that neither the Norwegian nor the Swiss model is a realistic alternative for the UK.
At the Conservative Party Conference she expanded on this, saying that the Government is seeking an agreement that will make it possible to curb immigration from EU countries. She also indicated that the UK was not envisaging full participation in the internal market, and acceptance of the four freedoms that that entails. It seems therefore that participation in the EEA Agreement is not an appropriate option for the UK.
Norway's relationship with the EU is, however, an important point of reference in the discussions on possible solutions. The UK has therefore shown great interest in learning more about our agreements with the EU.
Norway will work actively to safeguard Norwegian interests in the light of the forthcoming withdrawal negotiations and the process to determine the UK's future relationship with the EU.
We have already started to put forward our views to the EU and the UK, and this work is being given high priority. We are in close contact with the UK, and have had talks in Berlin, Paris and Warsaw, as well as with the other Nordic countries.
The Government attaches importance to ensuring stable and predictable framework conditions for Norwegian companies, and the best possible market access to the UK after Brexit. We have received assurances that the UK also wants this.
It is too early to say anything about the form of any future agreement, but it will be in Norway's interests to maintain our close trade policy cooperation with the UK at the same level as today, with the same level of access to the British market. At the same time, we intend to maintain the EEA Agreement and Norway's other agreements with the EU.
The Government is assessing what the consequences of Brexit will be for Norway, and the ministries will maintain close contact with all parties whose interests will be affected. This will also involve assessing the security and foreign policy consequences of Brexit. The Storting will be kept informed of this work.
Although the recovery of the European economy appears to be slowing down somewhat due to the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote, the overall picture still shows a moderate upturn in the eurozone economy.
An expansionary monetary policy, easier access to credit, low oil prices and a number of financial stimulus measures drove growth up in the first six months of this year. Growth in private consumption was strong. Investment also picked up somewhat.
In line with the general improvement in the labour market, youth unemployment has also started to fall. But there are large differences between countries, and in certain member states and regions a high proportion of young people are unemployed.
Spare capacity in the economy has pushed down inflation in the euro area. The fall in oil and gas prices has also had a significant impact in this respect. In order to stimulate the economy and reduce the risk of deflation, the European Central Bank is keeping the policy rate at a record-low level of 0 %, and buying large volumes of bonds in the market.
Completing the capital markets union, strengthening the internal market and improving coordination and management of economic policy are key items on the economic agenda. This will involve closer cooperation in the euro area, and greater coordination of efforts in international organisations such as the IMF.
The EU is seeking to stimulate renewed economic growth through reforms and increased investment. The Commission has proposed extending and strengthening its three-year investment plan. The aim is to mobilise at least EUR 500 billion of investment by 2020, through the recently established European Fund for Strategic Investments. In addition, the Commission intends to step up its efforts to identify and remove barriers to investment.
Increased competitiveness and growth is one of the main priorities of the Government's European policy. Cooperation with EU institutions and member states in the areas of innovation, research and education is key to achieving this.
Norway's participation in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, is one example. Our participation in the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport, Erasmus+, is another. Through our participation, we are seeking to strengthen Norway's future competitiveness.
We are working to increase the share of EU funding that is returned to Norway in the form of allocations to Norwegian research, innovation and education groups and institutions.
The implementation of the European Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy and Single Market Strategy will promote growth and employment.
Norway is following up the measures set out in the two strategies and has invited stakeholders to take part in consultations in a number of areas including cross-border parcel delivery, audiovisual media services and consumer contracts.
Norway has also submitted input to European Commission consultations and took the initiative for an EEA Efta comment on the proposal to introduce a services passport – or European Services Card as it is now called.
Norway has provided extensive input to the consultation on the use of online platforms. Norway is now carrying out a national consultation process including stakeholder meetings on the Commission's recent proposal for a new regulatory framework for electronic communications, the European Electronic Communications Code. When this is complete, Norway's position will be determined.
The Government has also started the preparatory work for the incorporation into the EEA Agreement and implementation in Norwegian law of the new General Data Protection Regulation, which was adopted in April. Preparatory work is also underway to enable the implementation in Norwegian law of the EU's new Data Protection Directive for the police and criminal justice sector.
For more than 60 years, the Nordic social welfare model has demonstrated a unique ability to adapt. The Nordic countries have succeeded in developing a model that shows how binding cooperation can promote prosperity, security and stability.
The Government's programme for the Norwegian Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017 is also intended to increase the visibility of the Nordic countries in Brussels. The programme has three pillars: the Nordic region in transition, the Nordic region in Europe and the Nordic region in the world. Under the Nordic region in Europe pillar, we are seeking to submit more joint Nordic input in areas where the Nordic countries have common interests. We intend to focus on three thematic areas: energy, climate and the environment, and digitisation.
These are areas of strategic interest to the Nordic countries and areas where we believe the Nordic region has the potential to influence the development of European policy.
We must use our regional cooperation strategically and make active use of the instruments that are available at national, regional and international level. The Interreg programme, Nordic grant schemes, the EEA and Norway Grants, and the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 are examples of such instruments.
The Government regards it as one of its tasks to help Norwegian research groups make use of the opportunities offered by EU research and innovation programmes and cooperate across national borders.
Innovation and competitiveness are key elements of the presidency programme. We will, for example, be launching a project on green transition and competitiveness in Nordic urban regions.
Closer Nordic cooperation is also important in the fields of climate and energy.
The presidency programme sets out Norway's intention to further develop Nordic energy cooperation in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, research and development, and energy technology. We can learn from each other in these areas.
Nordic energy cooperation, and the Nordic electricity market in particular, is a concrete example of the influence successful Nordic cooperation can have, in this case on the development of European energy policy and the European energy market.
A new action plan for Nordic energy policy cooperation for the period 2018-2021 will also be drawn up. We will also seek to ensure that Nordic cooperation contributes to an ambitious and effective European climate policy, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Digitisation is a key component of the work to further develop European competitiveness. Norway will work with its Nordic neighbours to promote the development of a well-functioning digital single market. A Nordic-Baltic ministerial conference on digitisation is planned for the spring.
Migration and integration are two of the major political, social and economic challenges facing us today. A broad-based Nordic programme to promote regional cooperation on integration is currently being set up. A number of other projects to be launched under the Norwegian presidency will further reinforce these efforts. There will be a focus on the development and exchange of knowledge and practice in this area.
My hope is that Nordic cooperation will be a source of inspiration for new European solutions in many fields.
The EU is devoting more of its attention to the Arctic.
The EU started to develop its own Arctic policy nearly 10 years ago. Norway has had a good dialogue with EU institutions and member states. Our message has been that the EU's Arctic policy must be based on international law, and that the Law of the Sea constitutes the basic legal framework for the Arctic Ocean. We have also made it clear that the Arctic Council is the primary forum for cooperation and dialogue between the eight Arctic states. At the same time, we recognise that forums such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension are vital for good cooperation in the north.
The EU is an important partner for our work on climate and environmental issues and in the field of research.
Through the Interreg initiative, the EU is also an important partner in our cross-border regional cooperation in the north.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council discussed the EU's joint communication on a new integrated EU policy for the Arctic on 20 June this year. In its conclusions, the Council recognises 'the primary responsibility of the Arctic States', but 'considers that many of the issues affecting the region can be more effectively addressed through regional or multilateral cooperation'. The Council specifically mentions the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. The European Parliament will discuss the communication in the autumn. Norway has maintained a good dialogue with the EU, at all levels, so as to communicate Norway's views and achieve the best possible understanding of Norwegian priorities.
It is in Norway's interests to promote sustainable use of the sea areas in the north. The EU's communication is relatively balanced in this respect, and it provides a good basis for constructive dialogue with the EU in the time ahead.
At the EU summit in Bratislava in September, the need to control migration into Europe was highlighted as one of the most important issues facing the EU.
Control and registration of people crossing the EU's external borders have already been improved. This, together with measures implemented at national level, has led to a significant reduction in the numbers of refugees and migrants coming to northern Europe. In September, the EU's border agency, Frontex, was given a new legal basis and a broader mandate. This will strengthen control of the Schengen external border.
In June, Norway took the initiative, together with Sweden, Germany, Austria and Denmark, to extend temporary internal border controls within the Schengen area. This was because we believe that the refugee situation still poses challenges for Europe and that control of the Schengen external border is still not good enough.
The Commission has recommended that the internal border controls are maintained for a further three months. The matter will be decided later this week (11 November).
Return and readmission is another important area. We are now starting discussions on how to develop a sustainable refugee and migration policy. In the summer, the Commission presented proposals on the reform of the Common European Asylum System. The aim is to ensure a more efficient and coherent system.
The Government wants to see a fairer distribution of asylum seekers in Europe, and we support the proposal to establish a corrective allocation mechanism under the Dublin Regulation. Discussions about how such a system would work in practice are underway. Norway is participating in the discussion on the reform of the Dublin Regulation in the Council Asylum working group for the first time.
The agreement reachedbetween the EU and Turkey in March immediately reduced the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece. There are still unresolved issues relating to the question of visa liberalisation, and the political situation in Turkey is putting the cooperation at risk.
Migrants are still coming to the Greek islands, and also to Italy. Few are being returned to Turkey. Control and registration procedures have been improved, and as a result, fewer migrants are travelling on from Greece and Italy. This means that large numbers of asylum seekers and migrants are gathering in these countries. This is placing severe strain on their national systems.
As of 27 October, 6 399 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other member states.
This figure may seem low, but we are seeing a positive trend in terms of the number of relocation cases being registered and the number of places member states are making available.
Norway made the first places available to Italy at the end of August. And did the same for Greece at the end of September. The first asylum seekers have now come to Norway from Italy. The aim is to make a total of 750 places available by the end of 2016.
The proposal for a new Dublin Regulation includes a plan to establish a permanent corrective allocation mechanism. The criteria for this mechanism are currently being discussed in the EU.
The Commission has also proposed transforming the existing European Asylum Support Office (EASO) into a fully-fledged EU agency for asylum.
The aim is for the new agency to play a new policy-implementing role as well as a strengthened operational role. Norway has an association agreement with EASO, which entitles us to participate fully in all its activities.
Through EASO, Norwegian experts have been deployed to countries that are under particular pressure from migration. Norway made 3 500 resettlement places available in 2015, and so far 1 769 refugees have arrived in Norway. Norway is one of the countries that has offered to resettle most Syrian refugees from Turkey. Norway plans to take in 600 in 2016. So far, 588 people have been granted resettlement under the EU-Turkey agreement.
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, EUR 24 million has been provided for various migration projects in Greece. The Government wants to expand its cooperation in the field of migration with other beneficiary countries in the next funding period.
Improved European capability for crisis management would benefit both the international community and Norway. Norway will therefore play an active part in EU efforts to develop and strengthen military capabilities. In this way, we can strengthen both our own and European military capability, and our ability to operate together.
Since the UK's vote for Brexit in June, several initiatives have been put forward by key EU countries to strengthen European defence and security cooperation. The proposals for closer European defence cooperation presented in September by the French and German defence ministers are one example.
Underlying these efforts is the EU Global Strategy, which High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission Federica Mogherini presented to EU heads of state and government in June.
A great deal remains unclear about these initiatives, in terms of the specific content of the proposals, the views of the other EU member states and the level of ambition the EU is ultimately aiming for. The outline of the proposals, the main points of the discussion and the level of ambition will become clearer in the coming weeks [November/December].
It is possible that some of the proposals currently being discussed in the EU may result in European countries increasing their defence spending. This has been a clear demand from the US for many years. A stronger and more coordinated EU is good for Europe and European security. It is also good for Norwegian interests.
However, problems will arise if developments in the EU lead to a less clear division of roles between the EU and Nato, the establishment of parallel structures or competition for the same resources.
This would weaken both organisations and Europe's position. Nato and the EU have both given assurances that this will be avoided.
We need a strong EU, a strong Nato and close cooperation between the two. The EU-Nato joint declaration signed at the Warsaw Summit in July was an important step in this respect, and one that now needs to be followed up through concrete cooperation.
If we are to succeed in the fight against transnational serious crime, European countries must help each other, exchange information and coordinate their efforts. People smuggling networks are clearly driven by greed and cynicism, and the major networks are operating at the international level.
Norway is often at the 'receiving end' of the smuggling chain, whereas those at the top are based in other countries.
This type of transnational crime places considerable demands on international police cooperation. Through its participation in the Triton operation, Norway has uncovered people smugglers posing as migrants, secured evidence and passed this on to the relevant national authorities for further investigation.
The Government therefore wishes to strengthen police and judicial cooperation on criminal matters with the EU. The goal is to be better equipped to combat the networks behind criminal activities such as smuggling, human trafficking, crime for gain and the distribution of material that depicts sexual abuse of children.
The Government will also intensify its cooperation with the EU on preparedness and response to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other serious threats. For example, Norway participates actively in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Under the Mechanism, Norway is able to receive valuable assistance from other countries in the event of crises, if Norway's own capacity is insufficient or exhausted. Norway makes increasing use of the Mechanism, and has made use of the opportunities to receive funding for national training exercises and transport costs.
Norway is also at the forefront of efforts to combat violent extremism. Norway's Action Plan against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism was launched in 2014. It was drawn up partly in response to the need for more knowledge, and for closer cooperation and coordination of efforts – at both local and national level, and also at international level. The Action Plan is a dynamic document and is updated as necessary so as to ensure its continued relevance and take account of social developments and changes in the threat landscape. It has received considerable recognition internationally.
Norway participates in a number of international forums in this field, and we work closely with many EU countries on the exchange of information.
We want to continue to cooperate closely with the EU in this field. We participate in what is known as the 'Belgium group', a cooperation forum at ministerial level that meets in connection with the meetings of the justice and home affairs ministers from the EU member states. The forum provides an arena for a number of countries that have particular challenges relating to the issue of foreign terrorist fighters to discuss appropriate action and exchange information.
Several Norwegian actors also participate in the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), which provides a platform for mutual competence building, for example for frontline practitioners working to prevent radicalisation.
The Ministry of Health and Care Services has commissioned the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) to establish a pilot scheme for the recruitment and international deployment of emergency medical teams.
Health resources have been allocated for this purpose to DSB's existing emergency response teams schemes. The new EMTs will meet the standards set by WHO and the EU, and will be made available to the EU.
The Paris Agreement was adopted on 12 December 2015. It is the first legally binding climate agreement that requires all countries to prepare nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Countries may also choose to prepare nationally determined contributions for adaptation, finance, capacity building, and technology development and transfer.
Norway has conditionally undertaken a commitment to reduce its emissions by at least 40 % by 2030 compared with the 1990 level. Norway intends to fulfil its commitment jointly with the EU, and this was welcomed by the EU countries at the meeting of the Environmental Council in September 2015.
Norway formally ratified the Paris Agreement on 20 June, and the EU did so on 5 October. With EU ratification, the threshold for entry into force was achieved. The Agreement entered into force on 4 November.
Norway participates in the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS), which covers a large proportion of emissions from manufacturing, the petroleum sector, energy supply and aviation. An agreement between Norway and the EU on joint fulfilment of their climate commitment for 2030 will also include cooperation on emission reductions in non-ETS sectors, such as transport (excluding aviation and international maritime shipping), agriculture, buildings and waste management.
This summer, the European Commission presented a proposal for national emission targets for non-ETS sectors in the draft Effort Sharing Regulation. The aim is to reduce emissions from non-ETS sectors by 30 % by 2030 compared to 2005.
The 30 % emission reduction target is translated into national targets for each country, which will collectively give an EU-wide reduction of 30 % in the relevant sectors. The national reduction targets range from 0 % to 40 % below 2005 levels, and are set on the basis of relative GDP per capita, so that the wealthiest countries must make the largest cuts.
Moreover, targets for the richest countries are adjusted to reflect cost-effectiveness within this group. In the Commission's proposal, the targets for some of the countries where emission reduction costs are highest have been lowered, whereas other countries have had their targets increased. The draft regulation only applies to EU member states, but the explaNatory memorandum also discusses a possible numerical target for Norway.
The text sends a strong signal that Norway will be able to participate in effort sharing on the same lines as the EU member states.
At present, the Commission has estimated that Norway's target for emission cuts in the non-ETS sectors would be 40 % below 2005 levels. This preliminary target is calculated on the basis of Norway's per capita GDP. The Commission will carry out further calculations to determine Norway's target for the non-ETS sectors in the coming months. We are in close dialogue with the EU on this issue.
Norway cannot enter into a formal agreement with the EU until the EU has adopted the new regulation. The Commission's proposal is now being discussed by the Council and the Parliament and can be expected to be adopted in 2017.
According to the proposal, the existing flexibilities under the current Effort Sharing Decision (for the period up to 2020) will largely be maintained under the new regulation. The Commission is also proposing new flexibilities.
Norway intends to meet its emissions reduction target both by making use of the opportunities for flexibility and through emissions cuts in Norway.
In line with the white paper on Norway's new emission commitment for 2030, the Government has been advocating the option of a bilateral agreement outside the EEA Agreement for this area of Norway' cooperation with the EU.
However, the European Commission has informally expressed a clear preference for a solution within the framework of the EEA Agreement, because this would be quicker and would require fewer resources to put in place.
We also think it is important for the process to be quick and effective, and the Government is therefore willing to consider making use of Protocol 31 of the EEA Agreement on cooperation in specific fields outside the four freedoms.
The Government will decide, in consultation with the Commission, whether and how Protocol 31 could be used as the basis for an agreement.
Norway is a reliable and long-term supplier of energy to Europe. Norway meets some 25 % of the EU's demand for natural gas. We are also part of the common Nordic and European electricity market.
Electricity cables between Norway and the continent enable us to buy and sell electricity in large quantities. We will increase our capacity in the years ahead by laying new interconnectors between Norway and the UK and Norway and Germany.
The EEA Agreement encompasses around 70 legal acts relating to energy.
Europe's energy markets are undergoing a transformation process. The Government's message to the EU is that Norway will continue to contribute to energy security in Europe by being a reliable and stable energy supplier, and by promoting necessary restructuring measures through close cooperation and partnerships in the area of energy. Norwegian gas and Norwegian renewable energy sources are important for Europe today, and this will continue to be the case in the long term.
The development of the Energy Union will have an impact on the whole of the energy sector and our cooperation with the EU. The European Commission is expected to propose new energy legislation later this autumn.
Several of the proposals could have implications for us: the revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, proposals for a new renewable energy directive and a new market design directive, and the planned Energy Union Integrated Strategy on Research, Innovation and Competitiveness.
In addition, a legislative proposal for a new governance framework for the Energy Union will be presented, aimed at helping the EU member states to meet their climate and energy targets. The new governance system will include steps to streamline planning and reporting obligations related to energy and climate legislation.
The Storting has asked for a briefing from the Government on how the Energy Union will affect Norway. The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy plans to provide this in spring 2017.
The EEA and Norway Grants are a key instrument for the implementation of the Government's European policy. We will work with the 15 beneficiary countries to create a green, competitive and inclusive Europe. Growth and jobs will be promoted through programmes in the fields of innovation, business development and research.
We will also use funding provided by Norway to promote an ambitious climate policy that supports the transition to a low-carbon economy though the renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. We will help to increase the adaptive capacity of the beneficiary countries and make their ecosystems more resilient.
We will focus more on supporting cooperation between Norway and the beneficiary countries in the area of justice and home affairs. This includes police cooperation and cooperation in the field of asylum and migration.
All European countries have a common responsibility to address the refugee and migrant situation, and we can build on the experience we have gained in Greece in the current funding period.
In addition to these efforts, our focus will be on working to create an inclusive Europe at a time when we are seeing growing divisions and populist tendencies. We will continue to support civil society through the NGO programmes. Civil society is coming under pressure in many places, and our support is crucial. We are also seeing that the situation of minorities is difficult in many countries. We are seeking to increase the participation of minorities in politics and society and to protect their rights. Some of the funding will be earmarked for measures to improve the living conditions of the Roma people.
Since the agreements on the next funding period for the EEA and Norway Grants were signed on 3 May, negotiations have been in progress with each of the beneficiary countries on MoUs on the use of the funding. The first MoUs were signed with Romania on 13 October, and the rest will be signed as they are completed. The aim is to have them all signed by the end of 2017.
After that, more detailed agreements on programmes and projects will be drawn up. We do not expect to see concrete results from this work for a few years.
Being part of Europe is about sharing a common identity based on fundamental values such as freedom, solidarity and cooperation.
Today, established rules for relations between states are being challenged. The fundamental principles on which our liberal democracies are based are being put to the test. This is an extremely serious development and is threatening the core values on which modern Europe is built.
We are seeing violations of international law, violent extremism, terrorism, xenophobia, intolerance, corruption, populism and lack of respect for human rights.
These trends are being fuelled by a difficult economic situation, high unemployment rates, particularly among young people, and uncertainty about the future.
Respect for fundamental freedoms is essential to any well-functioning democracy. The Government will pursue a close dialogue with the EU aimed at ensuring respect for established human rights, democratic rules and principles of the rule of law.
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we are helping to strengthen civil society in the beneficiary countries. Priority is given to promoting human rights, freedom of expression and independent media, and protection of human rights defenders and minorities. In this work, we draw on the expertise of the Council of Europe and promote the implementation of the Council of Europe's human rights conventions.
The Article 19 negotiations (negotiations on trade in agricultural products) began in February last year. So far, three rounds of negotiations have been held, the last on 5 April this year. The next meeting is due to be held on 22 November. The negotiations to date have been constructive. As they are still ongoing, I cannot elaborate on their substance here today. It is too early to say when an agreement will be concluded. Any agreement reached will be submitted to the Storting. The Storting will be kept informed as the negotiation process continues.
Since 2013, the EU and the US have been conducting negotiations on a trade and investment agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The negotiations are unlikely to be completed before President Obama leaves office, but the agreement could become a reality in the course of the next few years. The result of the US presidential election may also affect the prospects for a TTIP agreement.
The EU and the US are our two most important trading partners. The Government has therefore commissioned an external report on the possible consequences for Norway of a TTIP agreement. The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) submitted its report to the Minister of Trade and Industry on 2 November.
The report concluded that if a TTIP agreement is signed and Norway remains outside, this would have a moderate, positive impact on the Norwegian economy. However, there is considerable variation across sectors. If Norway joins TTIP, NUPI estimates that this would have a significant positive impact on wealth creation in Norway. A clear majority of industries would benefit from Norway joining TTIP. The report also notes that if Norway joins TTIP, this would contribute to the dismantling of import protection for Norwegian agriculture.
The Government intends to study the NUPI report closely. It is an important contribution to our efforts to determine the most appropriate course of action for Norway.
In addition, we will continue to pay close attention to developments in the negotiations between the EU and the US. We will maintain the good contact we have established with the negotiating parties.
The regulatory framework for electronic communications is an important area of the EEA cooperation. In a recent proposal, the Commission proposes transforming the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) into a fully- fledged agency, in which the EEA Efta states will be able to participate. We regard this as a breakthrough. In the light of this, it is expected that the 2009 telecoms package, which among other things established BEREC, can now be incorporated into the EEA Agreement.
The EU regulations on organic production and labelling of organic products adopted in 2007 and 2008 have not been incorporated into the EEA Agreement.
As a result, the Commission decided in July this year that it would no longer be permitted to label Norwegian-produced salmon as organic on the EU market. Since this summer, it has therefore not been possible to market Norwegian salmon as organic in the UK, France and certain states in Germany. The situation is unacceptable for Norwegian companies engaged in exporting organic salmon to the EU.
The Government considers it important to safeguard Norway's interests in agriculture and fisheries, and has been working for some time to achieve certain adjustments to the EU rules on organic production and labelling for agriculture, and also an adjustment relating to the rules on labelling of origin for organic products.
Unfortunately, we have not been successful in this, and we have notified the EU that we will withdraw these requests for adjustments.
Norway is also dependent on Iceland giving its consent to incorporate the regulations on organic production and labelling into the EEA Agreement. We are aware that Iceland is seeking adaptations to the rules.
On 13 June this year, the Storting gave its consent to the incorporation of the legal acts establishing the European financial supervisory authorities into the EEA Agreement, in accordance with the EEA Joint Committee Decisions. In addition, the Storting adopted the Norwegian Act relating to the European system of financial supervision on 16 June. Liechtenstein and the EU approved the incorporation of the EU's financial supervisory legislation into the EEA Agreement in May and July respectively.
The Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, gave its consent to the incorporation of this legislation into the EEA Agreement on 23 September. However, this was too late to allow the EEA Joint Committee to adopt a decision on incorporation of the legislation on the EU's financial supervisory system at its meeting on the same day. The relevant decisions were made by written procedure on 30 September.
The decisions made by the EEA Joint Committee on 30 September incorporated 31 legal acts relating to the financial sector into the EEA Agreement. This was in accordance with the Storting's consent given on 13 June. I also refer to the account of this matter I gave to the European Consultative Committee of the Storting on 20 September.
The legislative decisions that the Storting made on 13 June (adopting both the Act relating to the European system of financial supervision and amendments to the Act relating to credit rating agencies) implement EU financial supervisory legislation in Norwegian law. On 30 September, as announced in the preparatory work for this legislation, the Government put forward a proposal for certain structural and substantive adaptations to the implementing legislation. The purpose of these is to make the implementing legislation easier to understand and more accessible.
The provisions implementing the decisions of the EEA Joint Committee on the European supervisory authorities and credit rating agencies entered into force at the beginning of October. If all goes according to plan, the provisions on short selling will enter into force on 1 January next year, and the EMIR (European Market Infrastructure Regulation) rules during the second quarter of 2017.
It will now be possible to start the work of incorporating a large number of other EEA-relevant EU legal acts relating to the financial markets. These have had to wait until the issue of the legal acts establishing the supervisory authorities was resolved. There is now a backlog of more than 200 legal acts in this area. If this backlog is reduced, legislative homogeneity relating to financial markets within the EEA will be improved, in line with the purpose of the EEA Agreement.
Pending the incorporation of this legislation into the EEA Agreement, the Norwegian authorities have given priority to developing Norwegian legislation, including capital requirements for banks and insurance companies, in accordance with developments in international legislation.
The roughly 200 legal acts include some important directives and regulations, and a large number of delegated acts. The EEA Efta states have established an order of priority for drawing up draft EEA Joint Committee decisions for most of these acts.
Among the legal acts that should have high priority are those relating
to the activities of and prudential requirements for banks, bank recovery and resolution and deposit guarantee schemes, and those relating to capital requirements for insurance companies.
A number of bills containing extensive proposals for legislation relating to the financial sector will therefore be put forward in the time ahead to implement new obligations under the EEA Agreement.
Many people are concerned about the consequences of Brexit. However, even though Brexit will entail major changes both for the UK and for the EU, there is little to suggest that European cooperation will be brought to a standstill.
The EU will still have 27 member states after the UK has left. These 27 countries will now have to build a new Union for the future. They will need to ensure that the EU is seen as the peace project that it really is. And they will need to ensure that the EU provides the welfare, the security and the solutions that its citizens want.
Brexit most definitely affects Norwegian interests as well. It is in Norway's interests that the EU and the UK clarify their new relationship in a way that promotes cooperation and solidarity, does not create new barriers to trade and can curb tendencies towards polarisation and populism in Europe.
It is also in Norway's interests for our most important markets in Europe to be stable and strong. We need a Europe that functions smoothly and that is able to deal with new security challenges. We are best served by an approach to dealing with flows of refugees and migrants to Europe that ensures proper controls and is based on a spirit of solidarity. And we are dependent on the whole of Europe pulling together to bring about the green shift that we all need.
We do not need less cooperation in Europe. On the contrary, we need a more coordinated and stronger Europe.