Meld. St. 12 (2010–2011)

Assistance to Norwegians abroad

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Summary and main message

Norwegians are travelling abroad more and more frequently, and an increasing number of Norwegian citizens are taking up residence in other countries. This has resulted in more, and more complex, requests for consular assistance, combined with high, and at times unrealistic, expectations as to the assistance and support the Norwegian authorities can provide to Norwegians abroad.

This white paper discusses the scope and nature of Norway’s consular services today, identifies key trends and challenges, and provides guidelines for how these activities should be carried out in the future. It also touches briefly on a number of specific problems that arise in connection with crises abroad where Norwegians are affected.

The Storting has dealt with individual consular cases and various aspects of Norway’s consular efforts on a number of occasions, but has not previously considered Norwegian consular services as a whole.

In order to reduce the gap between the services offered and the public’s expectations, it is important that there is general agreement on and acceptance for the kind of consular assistance that should be provided and who should be eligible for such assistance.

Norwegians abroad are subject to the host country’s legislation. This imposes clear requirements on the individual traveller and sets limits for the consular assistance that may be provided. The assistance provided by Norwegian authorities to Norwegians abroad is based on the principles of individual responsibility and self-help. The most important thing people can do to help themselves is to ensure that they have adequate travel insurance.

Most consular assistance is provided by Norway’s 95 embassies and consulates-general. Assistance is also provided by the Foreign Ministry in Oslo, for example by the Foreign Service Response Centre, and the some 380 Norwegian honorary consulates, which are spread over large parts of the world. The Foreign Service uses an estimated 200 person-years to assist Norwegian citizens abroad.

The Nordic countries cooperate closely in the consular field, for example by acting on each other’s behalf in countries where they do not all have a diplomatic or consular presence, and in crisis situations. The Government will seek to establish even closer consular cooperation with the other Nordic countries, and with the EU in cases where this is considered expedient.

In this white paper, a distinction is made between assistance in emergencies on the one hand, for example in connection with accidents, illness, death, theft and arrests, and more administrative support on the other, for example issuing passports, solemnising marriage, assistance in adoption cases, etc.

Priority will continue to be given to acute and serious matters where human life or health is at stake, and to cases that could involve violations of human rights and those involving minors.

The Government will seek to ensure that, insofar as possible, the consular services provided in different parts of the world are as equivalent as possible in comparable cases. However, this is not always possible for both formal and practical reasons. In the Government’s view, higher priority should be given to assisting Norwegians on short trips abroad than those who are permanently resident in the host country.

In accordance with current practice, the Foreign Service’s expenses in connection with consular assistance are covered over the Foreign Ministry’s operating budget, whereas the individual concerned is responsible for covering his or her own expenses. Exceptions may be made in complex, acute crises. The Norwegian authorities may also require that their expenses are refunded in exceptional cases involving gross negligence and where preventive considerations weigh heavily.

The white paper does not contain proposals for any major changes in the consular services that are currently provided. The Government will give priority to further developing Norway’s consular services so that they continue to be as professional, effective and efficient as possible in the future.

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