Speech at a meeting in Berlin on the EEA and the Norway Grants

State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad's introductory remarks at a breakfast meeting in Berlin 19 May 2016 on the EEA and the Norway Grants.

Thank you very much for the invitation.

It is an honour and pleasure for me to be here today.   

I am glad to have this opportunity to give you a brief outline of the EEA and Norway Grants, including why we attach so much importance to supporting civil society.  

(Norwegian – EU relations)

It is my government’s “mantra” that our foreign policy begins in Europe.

Although we are not a member of the EU we are no less a European country. We have longstanding and close ties with the EU and are part of the internal market through the EEA Agreement.

We are deeply committed to the values that underpin European integration. Europe’s challenges are our challenges too.

Our cooperation with the EU is truly important for Norwegian interests. It is in our common interest to work together to meet common challenges, such as climate change, migration, unemployment, violent extremism, and instability in Europe’s neighbourhood.

The present Norwegian Government has argued this point strongly since it came to power in 2013.  

Within the framework of the EEA Agreement, we seek to supplement the wider EU efforts to reduce social and economic disparities and promote democracy, stability and prosperity across the continent, particularly through the EEA and Norway Grants.

(EEA Grants)

The EEA Grants is our contribution to stability and cohesion in Europe.  The Grants also provide a unique opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations.

For the 2009–2014 funding period, Norway (together with Iceland and Lichtenstein) is providing a total of EUR 1.8 billion to reduce social and economic disparities in 16 EU member states.

The areas supported include environmental protection, climate change, human and social development, justice and home affairs, research, and civil society. 

Recent developments in Europe show that peace, democracy and prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Democracy, human rights and equality require constant nurturing and attention.

We strongly believe that an active civil society, independent of governmental institutions, is fundamental to healthy and stable democracy.   

Civil Society constitute a fundamental building block in the development of fair, democratic and sustainable societies. It is both partners for the government as well as watchdogs.  

Civil Society represent channels for engaged citizens and for engaging citizens. NGOs are important carriers and promoters of universal values.  

Strengthening and supporting civil society is therefore an indispensable element in our effort to defend and promote democratic values in Europe.  

Under the EEA Grants we have set up NGO programmes in all beneficiary countries. During this funding period approximately EUR 160 million goes to support NGO programmes in the 16 beneficiary states.  

This makes Norway one of the largest donors to civil society in the region, and reflects our recognition of the role of NGOs as a fundamental building block in the development of fair, democratic and sustainable societies.  

Through the EEA Grants we hope to strengthen civil society development and their enhanced contribution to social justice, democracy and sustainable development. For example we support capacity building of NGOs, networks, awareness raising and fostering active citizenship.  

We are also building on our own experience in these efforts. The role of civil society in Norway as a watchdog, as a consultative body, and in engaging citizens has been, and continues to be, of great importance.  

An evaluation of the NGO programmes shows that they have increased the capacity of civil society in Central and Southern Europe and enabled citizens to voice their concerns and actively engage with governments. This is very encouraging. There is huge interest in our NGO programmes.  

(Next period)

On May 3, we signed a new agreement with the EU for the next period of the EEA and Norway Grants (2014-2021) with a total funding of 2.8 billion euros. We have agreed on five main sectors divided into 23 different programme areas.

In the next period, we continue to set focus on supporting civil society and a minimum of 10 % of the EEA Grants – at least EUR 150 mill – will be allocated to funds for civil society in the 15 Beneficiary states.

Although the legal framework for civil society involvement in decision-making is in place, there is a need to strengthen its capacity to fill this role.  

Both the evaluation I just mentioned and other studies show that the civil society sector in Central Europe is still weak, and individual organisations small, in the beneficiary states. This is a challenge both for the sustainability of these organisations and for their ability to voice their views. 

(Concluding remarks)  

The programme area with a more thorough description of the objectives and areas that will be supported in the next period will soon be out on an open web based consultation (www.eeagrants.org).

I invite you all to have a look and to provide comments. We welcome any comments on how we can work together to secure a stable and prosperous Europe.  

Thank you.