Minister Huitfeldt’s address to ambassadors

Address at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for ambassadors to Norway, 16 May 2023.

Excellencies, Dear Ambassadors.

It is good to see you all again. Tomorrow many of you will watch the 17th of May children’s parade on Karl Johan’s Street – the main street in Oslo.

That street is named after a king who brutally crushed down the first 17th of May parade. The so-called ‘Torgslaget’ – the battle on the square. 

It happened on 17th of May 1829. King Karl Johan had prohibited any kind of celebration on constitution day. The king was Swedish, remember, and Norway had only fifteen years prior written our own constitution.

So, when crowds gathered to celebrate on that day, at Stortorget – the square in front of the cathedral – the king sent in the cavalry and the infantry. And the result, was more widespread celebrations the following year. 

Seven years later, in 1836, the parliament itself started celebrating the 17th of May. And King Karl Johan never again intervened against the celebrations.

We are proud of 17th of May. But 17th of May has not always been a unifying day as it is now. 140 years ago, there were several different parades on 17th of May. Including workers marching, demanding the right to vote. For the labour movement, the 1st of May was more important than the national day. But after the second world war, this has been a day of celebration for all Norwegians. Gradually our constitution day became the symbol of our freedom and our national identity.

Developing a national identity takes time. Decades or even centuries. But national identity, is not a static element. It is an ever-moving landscape.

Constantly developing, as the world changes. Today we have a multi-cultural 17th of May. Because Norway is a multicultural nation. Forty percent of the pupils in the parade tomorrow, here in Oslo, have an ethnic minority background. It is indeed an inclusive celebration.

This year, solidarity with the Ukrainian people will be an important part of the celebrations. The Ukrainian people’s suffering is a stark reminder of why we celebrate the 17th of May. And tomorrow many Ukrainian refugees will for the first time join us in celebrating our freedom.

As you may know, the first High Commissioner for Refugees was Fridtjof Nansen. A name closely linked to Norway’s independence in 1905.

In 1922, Nansen received the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work, not least in Ukraine. We have named our aid programme for Ukraine after him.

Continued support for Ukraine is critical. This war could last for a long time. Which is why a united Storting earlier this year agreed on a five-year, 75 billion kroner support package for Ukraine. For 2023, we have also included a 5 billion kroner additional aid for the global south. To those who are hardest hit by the rising prices of food and energy because of Russia’s war.

All political parties have committed themselves over the next five years. And all political parties now support weapon donations to Ukraine. So that they can protect their own territory. 

An international rules-based order is a core interest for Norwegian foreign policy. A well-functioning framework for international cooperation is more important than ever. I highly appreciate the good cooperation between Norway and the countries you represent here today.

A rules-based order, international peace, and stability are closely interlinked. And that is the substance of our engagement in peace and reconciliation efforts many places around the world. We never declare nor impose solutions; we never ask for a role. We don’t have the military might – nor the wish – to put pressure on anyone. We facilitate.

As President Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”. And that is how we work. Always with discretion.

Because peace is in our own interest. A core interest for a small county like Norway. Rivalry between bigger nations and a world order where might makes right, will never benefit smaller countries.

Well, small is a relative concept. In terms of population, yes, we are a fairly small country. In terms of territory – if you count in our territorial waters – we are the 13th largest country in the world.

International maritime law is therefore of particular importance to us. During the first and second world wars, Norway had the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world. And it is still quite sizeable. In 2017, our fleet was the fourth most valuable in the world. With an estimated value of fifty-five billion US dollars. Passed only by Japan, China, and Greece.

Three weeks ago, I visited Nigeria. A country familiar with maritime security issues. Nigeria, Ghana, Norway, and other coastal states have common interests in making the sea as secure as possible. And when we work together to solve issues, we often succeed. Such as in adopting a UN Security Council resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

Ocean management is also a part of managing the Arctic. Norway took on our duty as chair of the Arctic Council last week. I make no secret of the fact that this will be a challenging task.

Our overall objective is to ensure that the Council remains the most important forum for cooperation in the Arctic.

The Arctic is where we witness the effects of climate change first. And it happens faster there than elsewhere. The Arctic is also home to one of the largest remaining fish-stocks in the world. And we must manage that in a sustainable way. The cod-stock is Russian/Norwegian and is the largest in the world today, and we must cooperate to protect it.


Security policy, energy policy and trade policy are becoming more closely intertwined. Trade and economic cooperation have long brought major economic benefits for all of us. Now we are seeing that greater weight is being given to the issues of dependence, vulnerability, and security.

This is all well and good. But these considerations must never be used as a pretext for a return to protectionism. I believe in more free trade. And more dialogue.

I therefore welcome the positive results we have achieved together. Such as at the WTO Ministerial Conference in June last year. Where an agreement to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing was concluded. And such as the landmark biodiversity agreement at COP 15 in Montreal in December.

We must protect what is critical to our interests. We must ensure our resilience in the event of a breakdown of global supply chains. As we learned during the pandemic. And as Europe has learned from its gas dependence on Russia. But we must never return to protectionism.

History has taught us that, in the long run, protectionism is not in anyone’s interests. And that it is the poorest countries that suffer most.

However, we must also recognise that security interests and particular vulnerabilities can justify protective measures. But measures must be targeted, proportional and justified.

A world in which the major countries outbid each other with subsidies will be a world for the wealthy that can afford to subsidise costs. Poor countries will see this as the rich countries pulling up the ladder behind them. The result will be greater global inequality. And more instability.

There are indeed some worrying trends in today’s world. Where rules are replaced by power. Where authoritarian regimes are on the rise, and democratic rules are set aside.

It is more important than ever to maintain freedom of speech and a free, independent media. And to maintain an independent judiciary and a free civil society. These are among the first victims of authoritarian regimes. And it affects us all.

We see a clear tendency, that when illiberal leaders threaten democracy, women are often the first to lose their rights. Targeting reproductive rights for women has proved to be a useful political tool for authoritarian leaders. Women’s access to safe abortions and contraceptives are important if we are to achieve true equality between men and women.

We will also continue to stand up for the LGBT plus community. Norwegians all over the world will celebrate our national day tomorrow. But probably even more people will come to Oslo during Oslo Pride at the end of next month. A festival for celebrating diversity, not least because of last year’s brutal terrorist attack in Oslo, at the London Pub. And Norwegians, including our diplomats, will take part in Pride parades all over the world. 

And by the way, tomorrow is not only Norway’s National Day. It is also the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Truly a day worth celebrating.

Friends, Norway is now the largest gas supplier to Europe. We are very aware of our responsibilities. We look after our many installations in the North Sea, and our 8800 kilometres of pipelines. Stable and predictable supply of energy is more important than ever.

But it will not be oil and gas which will run our economy in the years to come. It will be renewable energy.

The green transition will lead to competition over new value chains, technologies, and raw materials. And we will cooperate with countries all over the world to achieve a successful transition. With the EU as our closest partner.

The oceans also have a key role to play in the green transition, offering wide-ranging opportunities for a country like Norway. We need to increase international understanding of the importance of ocean sustainability. The oceans are therefore high on the Government’s political agenda.

Opportunities to build Norwegian export industries in connection with the green transition must also be viewed in the context of the Government’s goal to increase exports, excluding oil and gas, by fifty percent by 2030. 

New export opportunities are opening in areas such as carbon capture and storage, offshore wind, hydrogen, battery technology, and green projects in existing onshore industries.

Where we see potential for transfer of knowledge from hydropower, oil, and gas – which we in all modesty know quite a lot about – to other means of renewable energy. This will create business opportunities which will benefit other countries, and perhaps countries in the global south in particular.

I have set aside more resources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to follow up this.

I am pleased that our energy cooperation with African countries is solid. Still, I think there is room to strengthen this cooperation even further. In 10 years’ time, Africa’s working-age population will be larger than those of China and India.

The African continent is an attractive investment destination, in a range of sectors. In 2021, for example, the Government Pension Fund Global – which is not politically controlled, just to be clear on that – invested close to 40 billion kroner in one hundred and forty-four companies in Africa. Distributed among the stock markets in six African countries.

We have well-established ties with several African countries and the African Union.

The Government work on a new strategy for Norway’s Africa policy. It will focus on Africa as a continent undergoing rapid development.

Ambassadors, the security situation in Europe has deteriorated due to Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Norway’s commitment to NATO has always been very strong. At the end of this month NATO’s foreign ministers will meet here in Oslo.   

Norway stands firmly with Ukraine’s right to self-defence. We stand firmly with our NATO allies, and we stand firmly with the sanctions invoked by the EU.

We must make sure that the sanctions continue to work. We will duly consider any new sanctions being imposed by the EU, including sanctions against third parties which are actively hindering the effect of sanctions.

Our northern areas are more secure today because Finland and Sweden will make NATO stronger. We warmly welcome Finland as a member of the alliance, and we look forward to soon welcome Sweden as well. Our common membership of NATO will pave the way for deeper and more binding Nordic cooperation in defence and security policy.

Dear Ambassadors,

I will now let you continue to enjoy this delicious breakfast.

But before I do, let me remind you that back in 1829, King Karl Johan did not like the idea of Norway’s independence – and our celebrations on 17th May. But he is nevertheless a part of our history.

Sweden is now our best friend, and the king who crushed the 17th of May celebrations is on a statue in front of the Royal Palace. And we love that statue. Riding on his horse in front of the palace.

King Karl Johan did his part, for better or worse, in shaping our national unity. He did his part in making us who we are today.

I wish you all a happy 17th of May. I hope you will enjoy the children’s parade tomorrow.

And I am looking forward to meeting you again at the following reception.

Thank you.