Speech/statement | Date: 2014-05-09 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
'Both the financial crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea are poignant reminders that we should not take peace, prosperity and the rule of law in Europe for granted. To me, this is what European integration – and Europe Day – are all about', Minister of EEA and EU Affairs, Vidar Helgesen said in his speech at the Europe Day 2014 in Oslo on 9 May.
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Thank you for inviting me to celebrate Europe Day with you.
Europe Day does not tend to attract much attention in Norway. The distinguished audience here today is a welcome exception to this rule. Nor does Europe Day draw big crowds in most EU member states. Yet, both the financial crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea are poignant reminders that we should not take peace, prosperity and the rule of law in Europe for granted. To me, this is what European integration – and Europe Day – are all about.
Today we are celebrating an idea. The idea that mutual dependence and closer integration between European states will make war “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. An idea conceived by Jean Monnet and proclaimed by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, on 9 May 1950.
The Schuman declaration initiated the process of European integration — a process whereby European states have willingly pooled their sovereignty and established common rules and institutions that make it possible to resolve conflicts through peaceful means, to overcome differences and find solutions.
In the decades since the Schuman declaration, Europe has achieved several milestones: The establishment of the internal market. The introduction of the euro. To many people, myself included, the high point came with the enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Europe ten years ago, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europe was reunited after decades of division. Today, when we see what is happening in Ukraine, we are reminded of the importance of belonging to the European family.
[Europeanisation of Norway]
As predicted by Monnet and Schuman, Europe has not been “made all at once, or according to a single plan”. Rather, it has been a gradual process, with cooperation being extended to new spheres and to new countries. And while there has been clear progress towards an ever closer union, there have also been opt-outs, derogations and differentiated integration.
Moreover, the European integration process has not stopped at the EU borders. Through a network of agreements, the EU extends its governance beyond its institutional and legal boundaries. The EEA Agreement is the most notable example. Since its entry into force 20 years ago, this agreement has acted as the catalyst for comprehensive Europeanisation in Norway – of our legal order, our political life, our economy, society and citizens. Let me give four examples:
First, the European market is now the home market of Norwegian businesses. A market comprising 31 countries and 500 million people. A market where common rules ensure predictability and a level playing field. It is no wonder that over 80 per cent of our exports go to the EU, and more than 60 per cent of our imports come from EU countries.
Second, much of our legislation stems from decisions made at European level. The mayor of Skedsmo whom I met a couple of weeks ago, told me that 70 per cent of the municipal council’s agenda in his city derived from EU legislation.
Third, labour migration from other European countries has changed the face of Norwegian workplaces. Since the eastward enlargement of the EU (and hence the EEA) ten years ago, Norway has been one of the countries that has received most labour migrants from Central Europe in relation to its population. According to an editorial in the trade newspaper Fiskaren in November, “thanks to the Swedes and the Baltic immigrants, the houses along the coast of Norway are inhabited”. Last month, I visited Solund on the west coast of Norway. Solund is a small municipality with 800 inhabitants, 80 of whom are labour migrants from other EEA countries. This is a striking example of the benefits of a Europeanised labour market.
Fourth, since the beginning of the 1990s, thousands of Norwegians have taken part in research and education exchanges and a wide range of cooperation projects in Europe. Our participation in EU programmes has allowed Norwegian researchers to develop partnerships with outstanding research groups both inside and outside Europe. The EU’s latest research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, is the biggest research and innovation programme in the world, and offers a wealth of opportunities for Norwegian companies and research groups. Research cooperation boosts competitiveness both in Norway and in the EU.
It is worth noting that while the issue of EU membership has been the source of controversy in Norway, our participation in European integration through the EEA, Schengen and other agreements enjoys broad support in the Storting and among the population as a whole. We cooperate closely with the EU and its member states because we share the same values. Because we need common solutions to common problems. Because it furthers our interests.
At times the question is raised: Was the EEA Agreement intended to be a permanent alternative to membership? Bjørn Tore Godal, who signed the agreement in 1992 as Minister of Trade, is better qualified than I am to answer that question.
What I can say is that the agreement has served us well for 20 years. It has been robust enough to weather major changes in Europe, and it has been flexible enough to allow cooperation between Norway and the EU to grow. It has served as a springboard for cooperation in areas not covered by the agreement – in the fields of justice and home affairs, defence, and foreign and security policy. Thus, our relations with the EU have become deeper and broader.
That said, the agreement is not perfect, mainly because it was designed at a time when the institutional and political realities in Europe were quite different from today. When Jacques Delors launched the idea of a large European Economic Area in 1989, it was a logical continuation – and supplement – to the plans to establish a single market in the mid-1980s. Since then, the EC has become the EU. Cooperation has been extended into new areas, and the former pillar structure no longer exists. EU policies increasingly cut across different policy areas and sectors. The euro has replaced many national currencies. What was once the “inner six” in Western Europe has now become 28 countries across the entire continent. With so many different voices at the table, it is harder to make our voice heard.
In my view, the best remedy is to take part in policy debates at the European level, and to seek solutions that are beneficial both for Norway and for Europe as a whole. For it is rarely a question of Norwegian interests clashing with European interests, or of “us against them”.
A journalist asked me recently about the legacy I wanted to leave behind as the first Norwegian Minister for EEA and EU Affairs. The question felt slightly premature, only seven months into my tenure. Nevertheless, here is my answer: I wish to be remembered for having shifted the debate from what we think about legislation that has already been adopted in the EU, to how we wish to influence the future policies of the Union.
We have channels open to us. We have opportunities to participate. The EEA Agreement allows us to take part in the development of EU legislation when the Commission is preparing its proposals. Of course, there is no guarantee that we will be able to exert an influence. But this goes for EU member states as well. My conviction is that whether we are a member of the EU or not, if we get involved at an early stage and have sensible arguments, we are more likely to be listened to. But if we wait until 28 member states have reached a compromise, it is too late.
This line of reasoning permeates the Government’s European strategy, which we will launch in a few weeks’ time. The strategy sets out the main priorities for our cooperation with the EU in the period 2014–2017, and outlines how we intend to achieve our objectives. A key message in the strategy is that we will pick our battles and engage in the European debate as early as possible, when new policies and rules that are of importance to us are being developed.
Another message is that we will not develop our European policy behind closed doors. On the contrary, one reason for establishing the post of Minister for EEA and EU Affairs was precisely to promote discussion and debate about Europe. We know that Norwegian companies, municipalities and civil society groups have access to information and knowledge through extensive European networks. Moreover, they are first in line when new European rules are to be implemented in Norway. We are therefore keen to cooperate with all groups in society when formulating and promoting our views and positions on the European arena. Our European policy must be based on teamwork.
[Dilemmas: Ukraine and TTIP]
I see many opportunities in the EEA Agreement and the other agreements we have concluded with the EU. Opportunities to influence policies at European level, and opportunities to promote our national interests. At the same time, we are faced with some challenges and dilemmas, mainly due to developments in areas not covered by our agreements with the EU.
The European response to the crisis in Ukraine illustrates this well. It has reminded us that Schuman’s vision of a Europe where war is both unthinkable and impossible has not yet been realised. It has also brought security policy back to the centre of the European integration process. And rightly so. When part of a sovereign country in the heart of the European continent is annexed by its neighbour, Europe must react.
In Norway, we are used to considering NATO as the main guarantor for Norwegian and European security. Which it still is. Nevertheless, it is clear that the EU has played, and continues to play, a key role in handling the Ukraine crisis. Not least because the EU has means, like economic sanctions, at its disposal. The challenge for Norway is that when the EU member states meet to discuss how to react to Russian aggression and to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Norway is not at the table.
I draw two lessons from these observations: First, it is crucial for Norway and the rest of Europe that we strengthen cooperation and coordination between the EU and NATO. Second, I think we should take a closer look at how we can deepen the political dialogue between Norway and the EU on foreign policy and security issues.
Another illustration of the limitations of our existing arrangements can be seen in the current free trade negotiations between the EU and the US. This initiative will strengthen free trade and transatlantic relations and unleash significant growth potential in the US, the EU – and in Norway. However, since we are not associated with the common commercial policy of the EU, we are not part of these transatlantic discussions. This is a challenge for us, not only because the negotiations have direct and substantial consequences for us, but also because they have an important bearing on global governance.
Europe Day is an opportunity to step back for a moment and reflect on developments in our part of the world, and on our place in the European family. We will have another such occasion in a week’s time, when we celebrate the bicentenary of our Constitution. While Europe Day and our national day are celebrated in quite different ways, I would argue that they have similar foundations. They both celebrate the best Europe has to offer: the existence of common rules to protect the individual and to prevent the abuse of power. Equal treatment for all. And a European legal tradition to be proud of.
We are privileged to live in a part of Europe where these ideas are deeply rooted. However, we must not be complacent. It is our common responsibility to stand up for these principles when they are threatened. As I see it, this is our most important task in today’s Europe.