Norway’s relationship with the EU and the cornerstones of our European policy

The conference ‘Model European Parliament’, Oslo, 10 October 2015

State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad's speech at the conference 'Model European Parliament’ in Oslo on 10 October 2015.

Introduction:

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me to this conference Happy to see so many young people interested in politics. […]

My presentation is about Norway’s relationship with the EU. My main point is that, despite the fact that we are not a member of the EU, we participate extensively in European cooperation. Norway is part of Europe, not only geographically, but also culturally, socially and politically. In many ways, we are ‘the most integrated outsider in Europe’. We have chosen cooperation rather than isolation, so that we can promote Norwegian views and play a part in solving challenges that concern us all.

The EEA-agreement

First – to the back bone of our relationship with the EU: The EEA Agreement

The EEA Agreement entered into force in 1994 (the same year that we rejected EU-membership). It ensures that Norway can participate in the internal market, and benefit from the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. The EEA Agreement is dynamic in that new rules are steadily incorporated. It does not allow us to participate in all emerging aspects of EU cooperation. But it has nevertheless served as a springboard for our cooperation with the EU – for example in the field of justice and home affairs, as well as in the areas of defence, foreign and security policy. In this way, Norway has cooperated more and more closely with the EU in an increasing number of areas.

We see the results of the EEA-agreement every day in Norway - in our daily lives, in our work and in our business activities. I would like to mention three areas in particular:

Firstly, Norway is part of the internal market on an equal footing with the EU member states. This means that there are harmonised rules for business, individuals, capital and goods across 31 countries, including Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Norwegian companies, organisations, the labour market and consumers reap great benefits from this every day. Despite the emergence of hungry tiger economies in the East, the EU is our largest trading partner by far. More than 80 % of our exports go to the EU, and 70 % of our imports come from there.  

Secondly, it is not just the business sector that has benefited from the EEA Agreement. Since the beginning of the 1990s, thousands of Norwegians have taken part in research and education exchanges and a wide range of cooperation projects. Our participation in EU research programmes allows Norwegian research groups to develop partnerships with outstanding research groups both in and outside Europe. And not least, our participation in Education programmes, like Erasmus + provide opportunities for our students to study, train, and gain work experience and volunteer abroad.

Thirdly, labour immigration. Since the eastward enlargement of the EU – and hence the EEA – in 2004, Norway has been one of the countries in the EEA that has received most labour immigrants from Central Europe in relation to its population. Labour immigration to Norway from the EU has enhanced business activity and profitability and benefited industries in rural districts such as agriculture, fisheries and shipbuilding. Labour migration is a natural result of perhaps the most important of the four freedoms of the internal market: the free movement of persons – the fact that each and every one of us has the freedom to seek employment in a community of 31 countries and 500 million people, all with equal rights.    

Thousands of Europeans have come to Norway because of the job opportunities. Tomorrow, it could be Norwegians who need – or wish – to look for work in other countries. The free movement of persons allows individuals, rather than people like me, to decide where they work and live. This is how it should be.

Now, let me move on to some of my Government’s priorities in the area of European policy:

Increased competitiveness and growth

As you might be aware of, Norway has steered clear of the worst repercussions of the economic crisis. But we too must reform our economy to stay competitive and prepare for a situation where oil and gas are less prominent components of our economy. The internal market will become increasingly important for us as we make this transition.

It is evident that common rules are not enough when Norwegian companies are competing in the European market. The companies themselves must also be competitive. To achieve this, we are cooperating extensively with the EU and its member states on innovation, research and education. Norway’s contributions to the major EU programmes for research and innovation, education, and culture will total around EUR 3.2 billion in the period 2014–20. That is a lot of money, and we do our best to ensure that we take full advantage of our participation in these programmes.

An ambitious climate and energy policy

Action to secure energy supplies and mitigate climate change is at the top of the European agenda. Together with the EU, the Government is playing a leading role in efforts to achieve a legally binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We will contribute to cuts in emissions in Europe, and we intend to participate in the collective delivery of an emission commitment under the Paris Agreement. The Government will work towards a tightening of the cap on emissions in the EU Emissions Trading System, so that releasing greenhouse gases becomes more costly. At the same time, we are encouraging investment in research, environmental technology and infrastructure.

Enhancing security

Along with the US, the EU member states are our most important partners in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy. We agree on a common set of values based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We also share a conviction that international cooperation must be based on international law. We maintain a close political dialogue and take part in civilian crisis response operations together. Norway has also participated in military operations under EU leadership. By coordinating our international engagement in this way, we can gain greater influence.

Moreover, if we are to fight transnational organised crime, European countries must assist each other, exchange information and coordinate their efforts. The Government therefore wishes to strengthen police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters with the EU. The goal is to be better equipped to fight the networks that organise criminal activities such as smuggling, human trafficking, crime for gain and the distribution of child pornography.

A global approach to migration

This priority is one that has risen to the top of the political agenda across Europe and beyond, not least due to the ongoing situation in Syria. Both there and elsewhere in the European neighbourhood millions of people have been forced to flee from conflict and persecution. As a participant in the Schengen cooperation, Norway is working to find common solutions to the challenges created by migration.

Many refugees are now seeking protection in Europe. Some people are responding to this situation with fear. They believe that the influx of refugees is threatening our values and welfare. I think historian Geert Mak made a valid point recently, when he said that we should not fear the refugees; rather we should fear our inability to welcome them.

Unfortunately, the recent discussions about the reception of refugees in Europe has shown that we are not all on the same page. Some countries are questioning the need for solidarity at European level. Even worse, some are stepping out of the European community of values, by refusing to help refugees who are not Christian.

We have a moral and legal obligation to help. We must welcome the refugees in an orderly and decent manner; we must help them become part of our societies; and we must address the root causes that are forcing people to flee their homes. Norway will do its share.  

We are prepared to receive 8000 asylum seekers in the period 2015–2017. We are joining, on a voluntary basis, the EU’s scheme to relocate refugees from countries like Italy and Greece. We have increased our humanitarian assistance to Syria and neighbouring areas (EUR 135 million in 2015). We have pledged extra funds to support the reception of refugees in Serbia and Macedonia.  We are taking part in the operations in the Mediterranean to strengthen external border control and save lives.

We will host a donor conference in London together with UK, Germany, and in cooperation with the UN.

We will also seek to address the underlying causes of migration. This means that, together with the EU, we must strengthen cooperation with the countries of origin and transit, with the aim of promoting human rights, democracy, peace and economic development in these countries. The EU’s neighbouring regions are also Norway’s, and we have a common interest in making sure that these areas are as secure and stable as possible.

Finally:

I believe Europe can tackle the many challenges we are facing, like migration, but only if we cooperate and uphold our values. Here. I deliberately say Europe rather than the EU. As mentioned, Norway is part of Europe, and part of the European integration process. Yes, the Norwegian people have (narrowly) rejected EU membership in two referendums. But they have never rejected the idea of Europeans working together. We are working together because we need common solutions to common challenges – more than ever.

Thank you – and the best of luck with the rest of your conference.