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

The Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, 1 October 2015

State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad's speech at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences 1 October for European students.


Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here. I understand that the title of this course is ‘Journalism in a changing Europe’. Yes, Europe is changing as we speak – rapidly. And I think there is a greater need than ever for the general public to understand not only what is happening in Europe, but also why it is happening and when it is happening. As future journalists, you have a crucial role to play in this context.

I will start by outlining 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. Norway is, in fact, one of the countries  that is most integrated into Europe.

[Norway’s relationship with the EU]

We are living in a time when the concept of European unity is coming under growing pressure. Illiberal values and increasing nationalism are challenging Europe from within. And failing and conflict-ridden states on Europe’s periphery are creating external challenges on an unprecedented scale. The migration issue is a case in point.

Furthermore, the economic crisis put great strain on the financial architecture of the Eurozone and the EU’s ability to create growth and jobs for its citizens. The obvious solution is to unite around a common set of values, objectives and policies.  To work to safeguard the freedom, liberty and welfare of Europe’s citizens, while ensuring that the continent remains a force for good on the global stage. However, this solution is not supported by everyone.   

Norway is at the forefront in these efforts. We receive a higher number of labour migrants per capita from the EU than any EU member, except Luxembourg. Only three EU countries trade more with the EU than we do. Norway provides higher financial contributions to the EU area than most EU members do. We are part of the Single Market. We are part of the Schengen Agreement. And we contribute significantly to the realisation of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

As you may be aware, the Norwegian people have narrowly rejected EU membership in two referendums, first in 1972 and then again in 1994. But they have never rejected the idea of Europeans working together. Norway takes part in the European cooperation framework, although in a different way from EU member states.

[The EEA Agreement and the EEA and Norway Grants]

Norway is part of the Single Market through the Agreement on the European Economic Area. This means that there are harmonised rules for business, individuals, capital and goods across 31 countries, including Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. In economic terms, the EU is therefore greater than the sum of its 28 members. The EEA Agreement has proven its economic worth to EFTA and the EU alike over its more than twenty-year history.

It has stimulated economic growth and boosted employment. Therefore, we all share a responsibility  to maintain and further strengthen the Agreement. The Norwegian Government is working closely with its EEA EFTA partners and the EU to this end.

In addition to engaging in mutually beneficial trade with EU countries, Norway continues to support European growth and stability though the EEA and Norway Grants scheme.

Since 1994, 3.3 billion euros have been allocated to the countries eligible for the EU’s cohesion funds, with the aim of reducing economic and social disparities in Europe. For the period 2009–14, 1.8 billion euros were allocated, covering 150 programmes in 16 beneficiary countries. An agreement has now been reached for the period up to 2021, and a total of 2.8 billion euros (or 388 million euros per year) will be allocated.

Norway is also a part of the Schengen cooperation, which creates a common external border and freedom of movement throughout most of Europe. The increased migration to Europe from countries in the South is currently presenting our continent with one of its greatest challenges ever, caused in great part by war, conflict and instability. A common approach is now needed to this situation and to the continuous influx of a very large number of asylum-seekers. Norway will show solidarity with those countries that face the most pressing needs.

However, in the long term, the challenges posed by migration can only be resolved in close cooperation with the countries of origin and transit. We have informed our EU partners that we intend to participate in the EU’s relocation initiative. 

In addition to the long-standing support Norway has given to the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), we have provided standby troops for EU battlegroups.

Our cooperation agreement with the European Defence Agency is another mutually beneficial arrangement, which links Norway to fundamental European defence efforts. And we are continuing our strong support for CSDP missions all over the world. Because it is in our interests too to have a strong Europe.

All these are examples of the many ways in which Norway takes part in the European cooperation framework.

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

1. Increased competitiveness and growth

Cooperating with the EU ensures economic growth and secures jobs in Norway. This is easier when companies, investors and employees know there are common rules that create a predictable situation for all parties in the European market.

A Norwegian company that exports goods to Germany should encounter the same product requirements as its competitors from EU countries. Norwegians who want to work in the Netherlands should be confident that they will enjoy the same working conditions as Dutch citizens and other EU citizens. The same applies to EU citizens who are working in Norway.

To ensure equal treatment and strengthen Norway’s competitiveness, the Government gives high priority to making new EEA rules applicable in Norway as soon as possible after they have been implemented in the EU.

However, common rules are not enough when Norwegian companies are competing in the European market. The companies themselves must also be competitive.

This means that Norwegian companies need to be innovative and constantly develop new products and better production methods. To achieve this, we are cooperating closely with the EU and its member states on innovation, research and education. We are working hard to improve conditions for businesses and employees by cooperating on infrastructure development, transport, and cutting red tape at the European level.

We are playing an active role in developing new solutions, together with European partners, and exchanging best practices in the areas of modernisation, innovation and productivity in the public sector. And we are playing a part in developing sound consumer policies at European level. Confident consumers contribute to growth.

At the same time, it is in Norway’s interest that the internal market is also a common labour market.

People who are willing to cross national borders to find work help to boost employment and growth both in Norway and in the rest of Europe. The Government seeks to ensure that nationals of other EEA countries are able to enjoy the same working conditions as Norwegian employees. We are working to combat social dumping and promote well-regulated employment conditions. And we are considering the implications of labour migration for the way the Norwegian welfare state is organised. The goal is to maintain a welfare state that is sustainable while at the same time ensuring equal treatment for all EEA nationals.

2. Higher quality research and education

The Government’s aim is for Norway to be one of the most innovative countries in Europe. Major investments in research by both the public and the private sector will help to secure the basis for employment in the future.

Norway will never have the cheapest labour, so knowledge is our most important competitive advantage. Cross-border research cooperation helps to raise the quality of Norwegian education and research, and to increase the competitiveness of Norwegian companies.

Research and education is an important part of Norway’s cooperation with the EU.

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. We must ensure that we take full advantage of our participation in these programmes. We need to make sure that teachers, students, researchers, business leaders, local and regional authorities and civil society are all aware of the opportunities for receiving project funding from the EU, and we need to help Norwegian research communities to succeed in the competition for funding.

To this end, the Government is taking steps to ensure the best possible use of the opportunities offered by programme cooperation, through a separate strategy for cooperation with the EU on research and innovation.

3.  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, in order to reach the target of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. 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. We consider emissions trading to be an important tool for promoting restructuring and technological innovation.

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.

Other high-priority measures include building cross-border gas pipelines and high-voltage power lines between European countries.

This makes the energy market more efficient and improves the security of energy supplies. During the transition to a low-carbon economy, Norway is promoting natural gas as an alternative to coal – which is a more polluting energy source – in Europe. At the same time, we are also supporting the development of carbon capture and storage technology. Norway is a major energy exporter and a participant in the internal energy market through the EEA Agreement, and it is therefore important for us to take part in the development of EU energy policy.

4. 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. In cases where our interests coincide, we seek to coordinate our positions and the action we take with the EU. By coordinating our international engagement in this way, we can gain greater influence. It is therefore in Norway’s interest for the EU to act as one and succeed in developing a common foreign and security policy.

It is our view that an improved European crisis management capability would benefit both the international community and Norway. As mentioned, Norway has provided standby troops for EU battlegroups. We wish to play an active part in EU efforts to develop and strengthen military capabilities. In this way, we can strengthen both our own military capability and that of the rest of Europe, as well as our ability to engage in joint operations.

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.

At the same time, the Government is clearly aware of the need to find a balance between considerations of security and crime policy and the protection of privacy.

Data protection is attracting increasing attention in Europe, and the Government will play an active part in the development of new legislation in this area.

5. A global approach to migration

This final 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.

We will seek to ensure that all Schengen countries take their share of the responsibility for ensuring effective control of the external borders. At the same time, we will exchange experience with other European countries on how we best can integrate immigrants into society, and not least into working life.

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.

I wish you every success in your careers as journalists in a changing Europe. Thank you.