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The state of play of the EU-Norway relations

Oslo, 23 February 2017

Minister of EEA and EU Affairs Frank Bakke-Jensen's statement at the 33rd EU-Norway inter-parliamentary meeting. The meeting took place in Oslo 23 February.

Thank you for the invitation.

And to our friends from the European Parliament: Welcome to Norway.

25 years ago, the EEA agreement was signed in Portugal.

It marked the beginning of close and extensive cooperation between the EU and Norway.

Why is this agreement so important to us?

It ensures market access and a level playing field for Norwegian firms.

It has contributed to an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity in our country.

But the EEA is about more than that.

The agreement establishes cooperation on a wide range of issues.

Think only of our joint efforts to combat climate change.

Not to mention our many collaborative projects on research and innovation.

The Erasmus-program, which has been in operation for 30 years now, has created a whole new generation of Europeans, also here in Norway.

Thanks to European integration, young people have grown up with very different opportunities from what I did.

They use the right to travel abroad, to study elsewhere in Europe.

They easily settle in other European countries.

Making use of these rights is a natural part of how they live their lives.

It is so natural to them that they may even take it for granted.

They may also take the other achievements of European integration for granted: Peace, freedom and justice across the national borders on our continent.

It did not come by itself.

And it certainly did not come for free.

It is the result of hard work, tough discussions, and compromises – sometimes painful compromises.

Norway is a part of this, albeit in a different manner than most other European countries.

The EEA agreement is at the heart of it all.

Around this agreement, we have built a whole network of agreements, on justice and home affairs, and on foreign and security policy.

It is time to wake up.

We must wake up and realise how important we are to one another.

We must wake up and do our utmost to preserve what we, and the generations before us, have achieved.

In my opinion, the British decision to leave the EU makes this wakeup call even louder.

Let us be frank.

We, the politicians, have not defended European integration as loud and clear as we should have done.

Across Europe, we see the result.

When I was appointed minister for EEA and EU affairs I soon realized that my main mission would be to shed light on how vital the EEA agreement is to Norway.

And to make the case for closer cooperation in Europe in an increasingly uncertain world.

It is not easy.

Far too often, the EU serves as a scapegoat for national shortcomings, including in my own country.

Of course, all is not rosy.

We have our disagreements with EU institutions and with individual EU member states.

But this does not mean that we should discard this unique architecture of institutions and agreements.

Rather, we should use the architecture to solve our differences, and to find joint solutions.

And we should develop creative ways of cooperating when new challenges arise.

Challenges we did not envisage when we concluded the EEA, Schengen and other agreements.

Norway stands ready to do our share.

We want to help shape the future of Europe in a positive way.

We are a constructive partner for the EU in many policy areas.

Our cooperation spans more areas than ever before.

We are now negotiating individual agreements with EU countries eligible for EEA grants.

In total, the grants amount to 2,8 billion euros for the period 2014-2021.

The funds are designed to promote social and economic cohesion in the EU.

I find that these efforts are more meaningful than ever.

Social and economic disparities and other dividing lines have never done Europe any good.

Through the EEA grants we target our efforts at sectors that will bring us together and which will bring us forward as a continent.

For these grants,

  • we give high priority to innovation, research, education and competitiveness;
  • we want to combat social exclusion, youth unemployment and poverty;
  • we seek to promote clean energy and other climate friendly solutions;
  • we support civil society, good governance and fundamental rights;
  • and we invest in the crucial area of justice and home affairs.

Let me finish off with a few words on the British decision to leave the EU.

It does not change the relationship between the EU and Norway.

But it will certainly have an impact on the internal market.

And the internal market does, as you all know, comprise 31 countries, including my own.

That is why we are grateful for the willingness on the EU side to engage in close consultations with Norway on this matter.

As members of the internal market, we have a stake both in the withdrawal negotiations and in the development of a new partnership between the EU and the UK.

We are in close contact both with Michel Barnier's team and with various EU capitals.

And I hope we can use the meeting today to exchange views between parliamentarians.

UK withdrawal from the EU will affect all policy areas.

At the same time, we must not let this process monopolise our attention and resources.

We have more than enough challenges to tackle together.

A quick look at today's programme confirms this:

It spans from foreign policy cooperation, the Arctic and relations with Russia, to migration, the future of the Single Market – and the Norwegian child welfare service (!)

I hope that your discussions today will be fruitful.

And I hope that they will contribute to strengthen even further the cooperation between the EU and Norway.

Thank you.          

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