Historical archive

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

Speech at Institute of European Affairs

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher The Office of the Prime Minister

Dublin, 6 February 2004

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

Speech at Institute of European Affairs

Dublin, 6 February 2004

Mr. Halligan,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to address you this afternoon. I wish to thank the Institute of European Affairs for the warm welcome extended to me and my delegation.

I am reminded of the Old Norse manuscript, “Kongsspeilet” or “The King’s Mirror”, a manual of wisdom, information and guidance for the King, dating back to the 13 th> Century. In it, the writer tells of the many wonders he has witnessed in Ireland.

Let me give you a couple of examples. It is written that: “Ireland lies in the part of the world where heat and cold are so well mixed together that it is never too hot or too cold,” and “that people hardly know another island country that have so many holy men as Ireland.” And that “this country is so holy that no poisonous animal will thrive there, neither snake not toad; and even if such an animal is moved there from another country, it will die at once, as soon as it comes in contact with bare earth or stone.”

The unknown author concludes that “Ireland is almost the best of all countries known to man.” So, I am very glad to have the opportunity of experiencing this at first hand.

I am here in Dublin today because it has become a tradition for Norwegian prime ministers to visit each EU Presidency early during its term. We do this in order to be briefed about current developments in the European Union, to exchange views on relations between Norway and the Union, and to discuss international issues of common interest.

I had an interesting and very useful meeting with the Taoiseach this morning. He talked about the priorities of the Irish Presidency and Irish views and perspectives on a number of European and international issues.

I am also grateful for Ireland’s welcoming attitude when it comes to inviting Norwegian ministers to attend informal EU ministerial meetings.

It may surprise you to hear that more than half the members of my government will be visiting Ireland during the Irish EU Presidency.

This reflects Norway’s keen interest in maintaining close contact with the Union, and is a unique opportunity to further develop our excellent bilateral ties and contacts.

For Norwegians, travelling to Ireland is almost like visiting family. Norwegians feel very welcome in Ireland.

I have to admit that some of the early contacts between us may not have been all that pleasant seen through Irish eyes. But when I visited the Viking Exhibition at your National Museum early this morning, I was assured that the Norwegians who arrived here a thousand years ago also brought with them knowledge, traditions and artistic skills that have had a positive impact on Irish culture.

I am pleased to say that now, a thousand years later, there are no controversial bilateral issues between our two countries. On the contrary, we have a lot in common and we have similar views on many issues.

The sea is important for both Norway and Ireland and we co-operate on protecting it from being over-exploited and polluted. Both our countries are concerned about the discharge of radioactive waste from the nuclear facility at Sellafield. And we both emphasise the need for sustainable harvesting of our marine resources.

Our bilateral economic co-operation is quite impressive, although there is certainly potential for expansion. Our people-to-people contacts, too, are expanding fast, and were lately given a boost with the establishment of direct flights between Oslo and Dublin.

Irish culture, especially your music and dancing, is very popular in Norway. I myself enjoy the beautiful music of the Irish-Norwegian duo “Secret Garden”, who won the Eurovision Song Contest some years ago. This is one of many examples of successful cultural co-operation between our countries.

Norway and Ireland are often described as like-minded nations in our thinking on international issues.

Both our countries wish to maintain strong links across the Atlantic. We both attach great importance to seeking multilateral solutions to international problems. We are staunch supporters of the United Nations. We both feel a responsibility when it comes to international peacekeeping. We have on a number of occasions served together in UN peacekeeping operations - in Lebanon, Kosovo, East Timor and elsewhere. And we both express our solidarity with less fortunate peoples through substantial development assistance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe it is important to look at Norway’s position in Europe and Norwegian European policy in a broad sense, and not focus exclusively on the question of to be, or not to be, a member of the EU.

The fact that Norway is not a member of the EU does not mean that we are not pro-Europe European, nor does it mean that we are anti-Europe. On the contrary, we have actively participated in and supported closer co-operation between countries in Europe, in particular within the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe.

Today, Norway is part of the internal market through the European Economic Area Agreement. We thus share in the vast single market of more than 375 million people.

Unlike Ireland and the United Kingdom, Norway also participates in European co-operation on unrestricted travel and common external border controls in the Schengen area. This is a concrete example of the flexibility that is needed in European co-operation, which enables individual countries to choose different solutions.

Norway actively supports European solidarity.

We contribute significant human and financial resources to stability and development in Europe, particularly in northwestern Russia and the Balkans.

Integrating Russia into a democratic Europe continues to be a high priority, both for Norway and for the EU. In this regard regional co-operation in the Baltic Sea area and the Barents Council plays an important role, and the co-operation in the NATO-Russia Council is essential in our joint efforts to expand and deepen our co-operation with Russia.

Norway welcomes EU’s contribution to peace, stability and welfare in Europe.

We have supported EU enlargement across the former East-West divide since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost 14 years ago.

Our contributions to the economic and social development of Europe will become even more visible in three months’ time, when we will have a new and enlarged EU and European Economic Area.

My Government is pursuing an active European policy, but this is not just in order to promote our own national interests. We also want to be a constructive partner in Europe and help promote joint projects and common values and ideals.

On 1 May 2004, 10 new countries and 75 million Europeans will join the Union in the most extensive EU enlargement ever.

Most of Western and Central Europe will then be part of the EU, and the last remnants of the Cold War period will disappear. But this does not mean an end to division in Europe – there will still be economic, political and cultural differences. As a matter of fact we are back to the old divide between Eastern and Western Christianity. Therefore, the next step must be to integrate the remaining parts of Eastern Europe as well. In this connection the new “Wider Europe initiative” will be important.

In Norway political support for EEA enlargement is overwhelming, and last week the bill on Norway’s ratification was passed by the parliament with only one dissenting vote. That will be a hard act to follow!

Now we are working actively, in close contact with the EU and our EFTA partners Iceland and Liechtenstein, to ensure that the expanded EEA Agreement can enter into force on 1 May 2004, at the same time as EU enlargement takes effect. I am sure we will succeed.

Norway is to contribute over 225 million Euro annually to the enlargement of the EU and the EEA. This is a tenfold increase in our contribution.

These EEA funds are to be used among other things for environmental measures, conservation of the European cultural heritage, education, research and health.

Funds provided directly by the Norwegian Government are to go primarily to measures for strengthening the judiciary, regional co-operation and technical assistance in connection with the implementation of EEA legislation.

Decisions on how to use these funds will be based on a dialogue with individual countries, so that their concrete needs and priorities are also taken into account.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Norway is one of the wealthier countries in Europe, and we have a clear responsibility for helping to reduce social and economic disparities on the continent.

It would be irresponsible and unwise of us not to contribute to the historic process that is now taking place in our part of the world.

By co-operating constructively with European partners, we are helping to build peace and stability, not only in Europe, but also beyond the EU. By doing so, we are investing in our common security.

We will continue the dialogue and co-operation with the EU on foreign policy issues and the development of the European Security and Defence Policy.

In our view, it is essential that the ESDP is developed in close co-operation with NATO. We do not want duplication of labour, but efficient use of resources. And we do not want competition, but a real partnership between NATO and the EU. This is important for Norway and crucial for maintaining confidence and co-operation across the Atlantic.

The EU’s new security strategy emphasises Europe’s responsibility for contributing to security and stability in neighbouring countries. It also aims at strengthening multilateral co-operation on combating terrorism and other security threats. The broad-based approach outlined in the strategy, with an emphasis on prevention through the combined use of the EU’s many resources, is essentially similar to Norwegian policy.

My Government endorses the EU policy aims vis-à-vis the Western Balkan countries and will continue to support the implementation of co-operation projects that will enhance their integration into both European and Euro-Atlantic co-operation. It is also important that we take our share of the responsibility for supporting local efforts to promote democratic development in the region. We must not ignore the danger signals that are still coming from this war-torn area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The parliamentary elections in Russia confirmed the widespread popularity of President Putin and his programme for reform, stability and co-operation with the West. There is every reason to believe that President Putin will use the political room for manoeuvre that the election has given him to continue the economic reforms and the close co-operation with Western countries.

At the same time, we must follow closely how this room for manoeuvre is used as regards the development of civil society, freedom of expression and democratic rights.

Norway will continue its efforts to develop its good relations with its neighbour Russia. I believe that the EU as well as Norway regards the joint initiatives and close dialogue with the EU on Russia as useful. The nations of Europe have everything to gain from binding co-operation with the Russians in all areas of common interest.

We are taking advantage of our chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, which lasts until autumn 2005, to develop the breadth and diversity of co-operation in the north.

The Plan of Action for Nuclear Safety Issues, our project co-operation with Russia and the Investment Fund for Northwestern Russia are our most important national tools for dealing with the challenges in the Barents Region.

We are also co-operating actively with Russia in the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Adjacent Areas Programme of the Nordic Council of Ministers and the EU’s Northern Dimension.

Last year we launched a new Northern Dimension Partnership on Public Health and Social Wellbeing in Oslo. This is a partnership that will encourage closer co-operation and better co-ordination on health and social issues in the region. And it is a partnership that will be one of the key elements of the second Action Plan for the Northern Dimension of the European Union during the period 2004-2006.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Although the countries of the Middle East are not precisely neighbours, Norway has long played an active role in promoting a political settlement in this troubled region.

This didn’t just start with the Oslo Accords in 1993. In fact, the Oslo Accord was made possible by a history of contacts with Israeli and Palestinian leaders going back to the nineteen-forties. Norwegian forces also took part in the first UN missions in the Middle East in 1948, and again after the Suez crisis.

However, it was not until 1993 that Norway first made the headlines as a peace facilitator when Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords.

A facilitator must help build trust between the parties and must make sure there is a sustained involvement by the international community. This is as valid today as it was during the years leading up to the Oslo Accords.

I am often asked why Norway is so involved in attempts to facilitate reconciliation around the world. There are many reasons for this, but I shall mention one of the most important.

Norway has a long tradition of active involvement in humanitarian issues and of support for international structures designed to provide collective security.

Since 1945, Norway has put its faith in the United Nations and has invested heavily in the organisation. Whatever the political colour of the Norwegian government in power, the UN has always been a vital cornerstone of Norwegian foreign policy.

In many ways our involvement in facilitating reconciliation is a continuation of our long-standing commitment to peace through humanitarian action and development co-operation, as well as through the UN, NATO and other international organisations.

The next question I am often asked is how we get involved in different peace processes.

I believe there are two main answers to this question.

Firstly, Norwegian NGOs have gained broad international experience during the past 50 years or so. As a result, we have well-established ties with both official representatives and non-governmental actors in many countries, and these are a good basis for participation in peace and reconciliation processes.

Secondly, our role is made possible by the fact that Norway is a small country without a colonial past and with few vested interests in these parts of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would now like to turn to some specific conflicts where our role is not headline news as it was in the Middle East Peace Process or in Sri Lanka.

In Guatemala, Norwegian participation in the peace process in support of the UN is an example of the close co-operation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norwegian civil entities. This is typical of Norwegian involvement in peace processes, which often starts with NGOs or academic institutions.

Today, although the final peace agreement is still not fully implemented, Guatemala is free of armed conflict.

Norway’s commitment to Haiti was initially confined to humanitarian assistance. However, in support of the efforts of the Organisation of American States, it has developed into a wider approach of consensus building. Thus for the last five years we have been involved in supporting political dialogue between various political parties in Haiti.

In Africa, Norway supports and participates in the Sudan peace talks. On 25 September last year the parties signed an agreement on security arrangements for a peace agreement. Negotiations are still in progress on a full peace agreement and will hopefully put an end to one of the world’s longest and most terrible wars.

No two conflicts are alike, and there are also different kinds of peace and reconciliation processes. Some are public, some are secret. Some require involvement at political level, some take place at civil society level. Some seek specific solutions, some simply aim to keep a dialogue going.

Nonetheless, Norway’s involvement in the various peace processes has many common features.

For one thing, the parties that are directly involved have themselves taken responsibility for the process. Norway has played the role of facilitator at their request, and has not led the negotiations as such.

Secondly, Norwegian humanitarian assistance and development co-operation have contributed to confidence-building processes and reconciliation between the parties. The support offered by Norway as a neutral outsider has helped to strengthen the parties' conviction that a negotiated solution was possible.

Secrecy and discretion have often, but not always, been a precondition for success.

We have considered it important to clearly define our own function and to complement and support other actors, be they international organisations, countries in the region or major powers.

Thirdly, we take the religious element of conflicts into account.

In many conflicts religion is considered to be part of the problem. In my view, it should be the other way around. Religion must become part of the solution.

History has shown us that nations and cultures are interdependent and constantly subject to change. A uniform society cannot endure. And change and development – and peace – require tolerance and the exchange of ideas, goods and people.

Communities of faith should not seek God and His will in order to strengthen their earthly power, but in order to strengthen the processes of healing and reconciliation in their society. That is the responsibility of the Christian churches and other religious communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On some of my travels abroad I have had meetings with the leaders of a number of different religions – in Sarajevo, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Cairo and New York.

Religion is usually not the only cause of a conflict, but sometimes it is misused for political purposes. Thus although a harmonious relationship between churches or religions does not in itself resolve conflicts, it can sometimes pave the way for lasting, peaceful political solutions.

Within Islam and within Christianity, and between the two religions, we need frameworks for dialogue and co-operation.

As government leaders, we must take responsibility for helping to build bridges between the different faiths. This is an important challenge in the new century.

The world needs more than economic and scientific rationality. Happiness does not come from worldly riches. It depends on immaterial values. We need an ethical basis for our choices. Values we believe in. Values that will give us good societies and happy lives.

In my view promoting sound values is especially important in our schools. Schools must foster tolerance and understanding; they must be a means of combating hatred and fear of those who are different. At school children must learn compassion and consideration for others.

I believe the Christian values provide an excellent foundation for this. They advocate respect for human life and sound stewardship, and they can be summed up in the commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself”.

But we cannot shut our eyes to poverty and oppression. We are all part of a global fellowship and we must join together with all those who are struggling for justice.

I do not share the fears of those who claim that the conflicts we see in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Middle East are examples of a “clash of civilisations”. In my opinion they are neither wars of religion nor signs of a general clash between the Christian West and the Muslim Orient.

The Muslims in Europe and the Americas and the Oriental Christians are all valuable citizens of the societies and countries where they live.

As far back as the Middle Ages, goods and, not least, ideas and knowledge crossed the divide between the Christian West and the Islamic Orient.

In the Muslim world, local Christians and Jews made important contributions to thinking and philosophy.

In Christian Europe the Moors in Andalucia, the Muslims in the Balkans and merchants trading with the Orient contributed greatly to the development of philosophy, science and technology.

History shows that those communities in our part of the world that were most willing to learn from others have developed most rapidly. This is an important lesson.

Again, I believe that faith is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over 40 years ago President John F. Kennedy visited Ireland, and he gave a memorable address to the Irish Parliament.

In his speech, he paid tribute to the role of small nations in international politics, and he quoted the words of one of the great orators of the English language:

"All the world owes much to the ‘little five feet high nations’. The greatest art of the world was the work of little nations. The most enduring literature of the world came from little nations. The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations were the deeds of little nations fighting for their freedom. And oh, yes, the salvation of mankind came through a little nation."

Both Ireland and Norway are ‘little five feet high nations’. Although it can at times be hard to live up to these great words, both our countries have the experience and the resources – both human and material – that can make a difference in today’s world.

So let’s get on with it!

Thank you for your attention.