Speech/statement | Date: 18/04/2016 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad's speech about Norwegian European policy for officials from the European Commission on visit in Norway.
Ambassador – Officials from the European Commission,
It is a great honour for me on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to welcome you to Norway and Oslo. A year ago our Minister for EEA and EU Affairs met with Vice President Kristalina Georgieva in Brussels. Among the topics they discussed were a common interest in increasing the knowledge about the European Economic Area (the EEA) Agreement within the European Commission.
We are very pleased that the Directorate-General for Human Resources and Security as one of the follow-up initiatives from the meeting offered to organize a study visit to Norway – for the first time – and kindly asked us to set up a three day programme for you.
Thank you so much for your interest and for being here – I hope you will find the following briefings useful and that you will have a fruitful dialogue and discussions with your Norwegian counterparts during the bilateral meetings on Wednesday!
Norway's European policy
It is my Government's "mantra" that our foreign policy begins in Europe. Therefore, let me start by sharing some general comments on Norway's European policy.
We have longstanding and close ties with the EU and cooperate closely with the EU through the EEA Agreement, the Schengen association agreement and a number of other agreements.
As a result of these agreements, major and minor developments as well as various political initiatives at European level will have direct consequences also for us. At the same time, in many cases they allow Norway to take active part in the European cooperation and to provide input in key policy areas.
The EEA Agreement
The EEA Agreement is the mainstay (corner stone) of our cooperation. It ensures that Norway enjoys the benefits of the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital. It gives Norwegian companies access to the Internal market and ensures that they compete on the same terms as companies in EU countries. In equal measure though, it offers the same benefits to EU companies and citizens entering Norway.
But it is worth mentioning that the EEA Agreement also covers cooperation in other important areas, such as research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, tourism and culture, to the benefit of us all.
For more than 20 years the Agreement has broadened and deepened the cooperation between the EU and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It has been mutually beneficial and has functioned well, as confirmed by the EU and the EEA Efta states at the last meeting of the EEA Council in November 2015.
The Agreement has provided a stable and predictable framework for our economic relations with EU member states and has made an important contribution to Norway's economy and development. More than 80 per cent of our export go to the EU and more than 60 per cent of Norway's imports come from EU countries.
It has had great significance for the business sector and for working life in Norway. Norway has one of the highest proportions of EU labour migrants compared with other EU member states.
EU – Norway cooperation
Indeed, our cooperation with the EU is truly important for Norwegian interests. And I believe we can all agree that European cooperation is more important than ever.
It is crucial that European governments work closely together to meet common challenges, such as climate change, migration, unemployment, violent extremism, and instability in Europe's neighbourhood.
The present Norwegian Government has argued this point strongly ever since it came to power in 2013.
In 2014, we adopted a four-year strategy for Norway's cooperation with the EU. It contains three key messages:
We will focus on policy areas where enhanced cooperation at European level represents value added, both for Norway and for the EU.
We will seek to engage in the European debate as early as possible whenever new policies and rules of importance to us are being developed.
We will pursue an open and inclusive European policy in cooperation with a range of stakeholders in the Norwegian society.
The Government's EU Strategy
Against this background, the EU strategy sets out the main priorities for the period 2014–2017, which to a large extent respond to the challenges Europe is now facing;
increased competitiveness and growthhigher quality research and educationan ambitious climate and energy policya global approach to migration,and enhanced security.
The strategy is being implemented through annual work programmes. You have received an English version of the 2016 programme, but let me highlight some of its key points:
The European single market is at the heart of our cooperation with the EU. My Government will communicate Norway's views on the EU's Single Market Strategy at an early stage. We will also follow up relevant parts of the Circular Economy Package and its action plan.
The Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy will also be followed up closely, and we will present concrete proposals later this year. The aim of this strategy is to boost confidence in cross-border e-commerce, promote universal design of ICT solutions and modernise copyright rules.
Against this backdrop, my Government presented a white paper on Norway's digital agenda last week. Our measures at national level will be coordinated with the processes taking place at European level.
Climate and energy
Climate and energy policy is another key priority in our cooperation with the EU.
Norway is a major energy supplier to the EU, and part of the Internal energy market under the EEA Agreement. We support the EU's efforts on increasing energy security in Europe and appreciate the strong emphasis on developing efficient energy markets.
Norway is a long-term, reliable supplier of natural gas to the EU and according to new gas production profiles, Norwegian gas exports will remain at a stable, high level until at least 2035. We follow the establishment of the Energy Union closely and appreciate that the Commission accords an important role for gas in the future energy mix in the Sustainable Energy Security package recently presented.
On climate change, we have entered into a constructive dialogue with the EU on our intention to fulfil our 2030 climate commitments jointly with the EU. We already take part in the Emissions Trading System (ETS) and look forward to cooperating with the EU in the non-ETS sectors as well.
We must commend the French presidency for their outstanding diplomatic craftsmanship landing a climate agreement in Paris.
Norway aims to sign it during the ceremony in New York on 22nd April. I have great hopes it will materialize into a turning point in the international collaboration on climate change and encourage the private sector to go further green.
Of course, it is not possible to talk about our European policy without saying a few words about migration.
It is clear that no European country can deal with the migration situation alone. This crisis must be addressed through common European efforts.
Norway will continue to play an active role in seeking effective European solutions through our participation in the Dublin system and our membership of Schengen.
One way in which we are already contributing is through the EEA and Norway Grants. For example, we provided 24.1 million euros to Greece in the period 2009-2014, which included support for a programme on asylum. We hope to continue to support asylum efforts in Greece in the next funding period.
We have increased our humanitarian budget to approximately 5 billion NOK (approx. 550 mill. €).
A lot of our funding is channeledthrough the UN, the Red Cross movement, and other humanitarian organisations. The main focus is emergency aid and protection. Norway also pledged 10 billion NOK (approx. 1,1 billion €) over the next four years at the donor conference for Syria in London in February.
For Europe, it is essential to reduce the migration pressure, combat smuggling, to gain control at external borders and to have a fair distribution of responsibility between European countries. Norway will play an active role in finding effective European solutions, not least through our participation in the Schengen cooperation.
Turkey's role in stopping the migration flow towards Europe is of key importance. We welcome the progress of discussions between EU countries and Turkey recently, aiming at a reduction of the migration flow to Greece, while noting that there are still important elements that need further work and clarification. Norway will be prepared to participate in the implementation of the agreement that is reached.
I also want to point out that we must comply with our international obligations on human rights and refugee law. Those who are in real need of international protection must be given such protection.
EEA and Norway Grants
The EEA Grants call for specific mention here. It is our contribution to stability and cohesion in Europe. The Grants also provide a unique opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations – both as an overall objective of the financial mechanisms and as a platform for further bilateral cooperation. We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the EU for the next period of the EEA and Norway Grants (2014-2021).
We are now waiting for the internal EU procedures before signature of the agreements – we hope that this can take place in the near future. Formal MOU-negotiations with each beneficiary state will begin as soon as possible after the signature of the agreements.
You will learn more about the Grants later today.
Foreign and security policy
Dialogue with the EU on foreign and security policy is becoming more and more important for Norway, and the European dimension will be a priority area in the new white paper on foreign and security policy that the Government is planning to present in autumn 2016.
We have a common interest in ensuring the highest possible degree of economic development, security and stability in Europe and in our neighbouring regions. Given our shared goals and values, we are convinced that there is untapped potential for closer cooperation between the EU and Norway.
Norway's input to the EU's global strategy on foreign and security policy is set out in our policy-paper "Norwegian perspectives and contributions". We have underlined the importance of stability in the Arctic, based on the Law of the Sea and the Arctic Council as the main forum for Arctic cooperation, the importance of having a firm and consistent policy on Russia, and close cooperation between the EU and Nato.
The Government will intensify cooperation with EU institutions and individual member states to address the threats posed by terrorism and transnational organised crime.
I will stop there.
When this study visit was announced in Februar, a poster invited you to "learn more about the politics, economy and current affairs of our Member States". That phrase resulted in some witty comments and postings on social media, especially from Norwegians working in Brussels.
Well, Norway is – as you know – in many ways both outside and inside the EU. But, and I quote the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, after his meeting with Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Brussels in January 2015: «Norway is the European Union's closest partner.»
Outside and inside – it is my hope that you will return to Brussels with a little more insight about Norway and our cooperation with the EU.