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Statement at the European Parliament 20 March

Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide took part in the European Parliament meeting 20 March and gave the following statement.

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Since 1994, when Norway voted against EU-membership, we have become the most integrated non-EU country.

We are the only country to have rejected membership twice, in 1972 and 1994.

But, what we never rejected is European cooperation.

We are closely linked by values and geography.

Our security and prosperity is interconnected. European challenges are also Norwegian.

Our new Government platform sums it up: Norwegian foreign policy starts in Europe.

My colleagues and I visit Brussels often, sometimes several times a month.

As an example of our close cooperation: Nearly 20 of our State Secretaries will visit the European Parliament today, and will meet several MEPs.

Let me start with some remarks on what brings me to Brussels today.

Over the past decades Norway, and partners in the international community, has invested significant diplomatic effort and resources to help reach lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

Established after the first Oslo Accord in 1993, Norway has chaired the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to the Palestinians (AHLC) ever since. We rely on close cooperation with key regional and international partners, especially the EU.

Later today, we will convene a regular AHLC meeting.

The aim is to agree on strategic measures that will further strengthen Palestinian institutions and nurture economic development including in Gaza, where the situation is dire.

In turn, this will help prepare the ground for resumption of political negotiations.

When we met for the extraordinary AHLC-meeting on January 31st it was the first meeting between the Palestinians and the Israelis – at political level - since the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The level of participation and constructive atmosphere proved that the AHLC is a highly relevant mechanism in times of distrust and instability.

We can only achieve lasting peace, with sufficient security and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians, through a negotiated two-state solution.

The main purpose of the AHLC is to create progress on the ground, to promote economic development and strengthening of Palestinian institutions. In short: state building.

The AHLC is the only international forum where both parties participate in a dialogue with the donors and the international community.

The AHLC should be a flexible and relevant mechanism to underpin efforts to enable a two-state solution. All stakeholders must work to ensure that the AHLC continues to deliver results on the ground.

This week the Syria conflict entered its eight year. The atrocious situation in Eastern Ghouta reminds us that the war is far from over.

The Security Council must work for a viable humanitarian pause. A pause is critical to deliver humanitarian aid, and evacuate the wounded.

While ISIS has been militarily defeated, I am concerned about last month's escalation in the Northwestern part of Syria. The internationalizing of the conflict is a worrying development.

The situation in Afrin and Idlib is dire. Following the Turkish offensive (in Afrin) conditions are unpredictable and uncertain.

The humanitarian needs in Syria and the neighbouring countries are massive. 13.1 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria and 5.5 million have fled as refugees.

Over the last eight years Norway has provided nearly 1 billion Euro to the Syrian crisis.

At the London conference in 2016 we pledged 1 billion Euro in humanitarian aid. In 2018 we will provide around 225 million Euro to Syria and the neighbouring countries.

Our priorities are humanitarian assistance and education, especially to girls and women.

We strongly support the UN's mediation efforts. We stand together with the EU in not pledging contributions to the reconstruction of Syria before a credible and inclusive political process is underway.

The Norwegian footprint in Sahel and North Africa is increasing. We cooperate closer with Tunisia, Mali and Niger. In February we opened our Embassy in Bamako.

The current situation in Mali and Libya has a destabilizing effect on the region as a whole.

Security in North Africa and the Sahel is important for Europe. Countering violent extremism, cross-border criminal networks, human trafficking and irregular migration depends on stability and cooperation.

Peace is crucial for sustainable development, private sector investments and job creation.

Norway will support the G5 Sahel Joint Force with capacity building on human rights and international law.

We will continue our engagement in Minusma through participation in the multinational rotation of military aircrafts, initiated by Norway.

We appreciate EUs leadership in the region.

Crisis and conflict on Europe's doorstep increases migration to Europe.

Norway is part of the European migration response, beyond the cooperation in Schengen.

It is our common interest to seek durable global and regional solutions.

Ensuring respect for international obligations and norms is our joint commitment. The Global Compact for Migration remains a priority.

We welcome the joint EU-AU-UN Task Force established to protect migrants, accelerate returns to countries of origin, and resettle those in need of international protection.

We must act in a resolute way to handle the detention centers in Libya. Norway supports this work through our contribution to the EU Trust Fund.

The EUTF-projects must prioritize assistance to the most vulnerable migrant groups, and safeguarding of human rights. Compliance with OECD/DAC standards is a prerequisite for Norwegian funding.

Norway has offered to resettle 2120 refugees in 2018. 300 refugees will be evacuated from Libya. We will do this in close co-operation with UNHCR.

The migration crisis of 2015 clearly exposed institutional and other weaknesses in the Western Balkans.

The Western Balkans face considerable social and economic challenges.

It reminded us that we are interconnected. Stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans matters to Europe. Incidents of ethnic tension and political crises could easily spill across borders.

The region deserves a strong European commitment. The Commission's recent strategy document is both important and well timed. Norway shares its priorities.

I appreciate the EPs important role towards the Western Balkans. The country specific progress reports AFET is working on will be read with great interest, also outside this committee.

I believe my colleague from Kosovo will join you later this morning, giving you an opportunity to discuss EU-Kosovo relations in depth.

European integration of the Western Balkans is vital both for the region itself and for the future security and well-being of all of Europe. Norway takes an active and supporting role.

In 2018, we will double our bilateral assistance scheme to the Western Balkans to around 33 million Euro. Rule of Law, security and migration, reconciliation and socio-economic development are priority areas. We also support investments in infrastructure projects through the Western Balkans Investment Framework.

Given our considerable engagement in the Western Balkans and complementary focus and priorities, I believe there is room for even more cooperation in the future.

I'll now make a big jump from Europe's southern flank to its northern frontier.

The Arctic is a large part of our country, home to 10 percent of our population, where people live and work, start families and start businesses.

It is not an icy and remote place. It is where we live.

The Arctic is an issue that concerns all of Europe. As the world is changing rapidly, the Arctic is changing even faster. These climatic changes are extremely worrying.

To obtain the right balance between use and conservation of resources, scientific cooperation is key. We acknowledge the valuable contributions European scientists make towards better understanding the Arctic.

The region is characterized by peace, stability and international cooperation.

We want to make sure it stays this way.

Respect for international law and the law of the sea is both vital, and the norm of the region.

The Arctic Council, the Barents cooperation, The Baltic Sea cooperation, and the Northern dimension continue to provide open channels for communication.

The Arctic Council is the key international body for handling Arctic issues. Norway has supported, and will continue to support, permanent observer status in the Arctic Council for the EU.

We have noted the strong interest that the European Parliament has shown over the years, and that your committee's work to have an integrated European Union policy for the Arctic is reflected in the EP resolution adopted last year.

The establishment of the Commission's Arctic Stakeholder Forum is a welcome follow-up measure.

In the north, we share a border, on land and at sea, with the Russian Federation.

For us, Russia is both a global actor and our neighbour.

As neighbours we pursue bilateral cooperation on practical issues of mutual interest.

The most important areas of cooperation are fisheries, including sustainable management of the cod stock in the Barents Sea; nuclear safety; environment; and search and rescue.

Cross-border people-to-people contact is an important part of life in the north.

At the same time, we must stand up for our values.

We are concerned about authoritarian trends in Russia, in particular with regard to civil society and human rights. We raise these concerns both bilaterally and in multilateral forums.

I spoke to Boris Johnson on Friday to express our support and solidarity after the Salisbury attacks. We encourage Russia to answer the questions from the UK.

In response to Russia's violations of international law in Ukraine, we stand united with our allies and partners. Norway's restrictive measures are fully aligned with those of the EU.

The Norwegian support package for Ukraine now amounts to approximately 20 million euros a year. In addition to supporting Ukraine's reform efforts, we provide substantial humanitarian support. We will continue both our economic and political support to Ukraine.

First of all: Brexit will not change Norway's relationship with the EU.

We appreciate the The EP's underlining the special status of Efta/EEA-members and the EEA-agreement.

Your role in brexit is significant. We want to maintain our close contact.

The key to the Norway-EU relationship is the EEA Agreement.

The agreement is what gives us access to the Single Market and the same regulatory framework as EU member states.

It continues to provide a stable and predictable framework for Norway's economic relations with the EU member states.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we make long-term contributions to European integration and help reduce economic and social disparities in new member states.

We contribute and we cooperate. This means that we - along with the other EEA/Efta States - are not ordinary third countries in this process.

What brexit will change is the legal framework for our economic cooperation with the United Kingdom.

The agreement reached between negotiators Barnier and Davis yesterday is a positive development. An orderly withdrawal and a new framework for the future relationship is extremely important for the EU, the UK – and for Norway.

My last point relates directly to the daily business of this Committee, the common foreign and security policy.

Council President Donald Tusk recently pointed out that the EU and the United Kingdom face similar security threats and global instability, requiring uninterrupted co-operation in defence and foreign affairs.

This cooperation must include Norway and the EEA countries.

As the EU develops its Common Foreign and Security Policy, we want to underline the need for close consultations with likeminded countries like us.

We welcome the fact that EU wants to increase its capacity to deal with Europe's security challenges.

This will strengthen European, and by extension Norwegian, security. It is in Norway's interests to cooperate closely with the EU and with EU member states in this area.

In this context, it is vital that the EU and Nato agree on a division of labour so that they continue to complement each other.

Finally, and in conclusion,

Norway wants a close and deep relationship with the EU.

We - Norway and the EU - will continue to meet challenges in Europe and around the world, and in our immediate neighbourhood, as the closest of partners.