Historical archive

French-Norwegian initiative on health and foreign policy

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

New York, 21 September 2006

- The main objectives would be to assess how foreign policy could contribute to filling gaps and loopholes in international cooperation on health; to analyse how cooperation on health related issues can be a useful tool for diplomacy, Minister of Foreign Affairs Støre said in a speech in New York 21 September. (22.09.06)

French – Norwegian initiative on the relationship between health and foreign policy. Informal working group


Words of welcome (Introduction)

Check against delivery
(Talking points)

  • Welcome to you all. My French colleague, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, and I are pleased that you have accepted our invitation to join us – at such a short notice – in this informal working group to explore the relationship between health and foreign policy.
  • In the direct contacts beforehand, we have explained briefly the idea underlying our initiative.
  • You have also received the French-Norwegian non-paper, which outlines some of our thoughts and suggests possible directions and methods of work.
  • Our meeting this morning should allow us to have a preliminary exchange of views on the substantial issues, and not least to discuss and to agree on the way forward, on objectives and methods, procedures and time frame.
  • First, a few remarks on the reasoning behind the initiative. A very general – but also very important – question we need to ask ourselves is: What is foreign policy today? For centuries, foreign policy meant defending and promoting national interests. For decades, it also meant forging a multilateral system designed to regulate relations between nation states in accordance with international law – and to help us meet common challenges, together.
  • Now, more than a decade since the end of the Cold War, we still have a long way to go before we can declare the end of the war against poverty. Social and economic disparities are increasing rather than diminishing. Wars and conflicts are raging in many regions, causing human suffering – mainly among the poor – and hindering development.
  • And still, the main feature of the world today is globalisation; the world community is coming closer together. But what does closer mean? In a globalised world, it is increasingly difficult “to hide”. We cannot just “close the door”. All the major challenges facing us today are common challenges.
  • This implies that on most (or all) major issues, national political decisions can at best only be part of the solution. Foreign policy is entering into new areas. We need to take a fresh look at how we shape foreign policy. The scope, the content of foreign policy is evolving, and we must find adequate ways to respond.
  • But why choose health, rather than one of the other important areas, to be included in foreign policy? I believe it is arguable - in the words of my friend Mr Richard Horton - that health is now one of the most important, and yet currently greatly neglected, long-term foreign policy issues of our time.
  • Some facts to support this case:
  • Health targets represent the largest component of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • The Commission on Macroeconomics and Health recently showed that health is the dominant lever for achieving growth and prosperity.
  • It is increasingly being realised that health threats can take on dimensions that also affect the security of states.
  • At the same time, health challenges demand international cooperation. Threats from the spread of infectious diseases are an obvious example.
  • International trade also has important bearings on our capacity to deal with health issues, nationally and globally.
  • We do have mechanisms to deal with these issues - but they are not adequate. There is a need for a more comprehensive approach. Global health stands to gain from being included in the foreign policy agenda of states and international organisations.
  • Analysis and dialogue for better understanding of how the relationships between the two work, how and when they could yield mutual benefit, leading on to the formulation of concrete principles and policy recommendations, could strengthen both health and diplomacy.
  • There are many concrete examples that illustrate this in terms of roles and relationships in governance, peacebuilding, in conflict and post-conflict situations, and in negotiating shared policies, strategies and regulations, through alliance building and through global and regional institutions.
  • This is – very briefly – the background for our initiative to set up an informal working group of ministers of foreign affairs.
  • As we state in the non-paper, the main objectives would be to assess how foreign policy could contribute to filling gaps and loopholes in international cooperation on health; to analyse how cooperation on health related issues can be a useful tool for diplomacy, such as in conflict and post conflict situations; contribute to an evaluation of the present international structures for health cooperation; and to suggest possible principles and political recommendations.
  • Of course, the work of a small, informal group like this one can only be a first step. However, I firmly believe that bringing together a small, but dedicated group of foreign ministers, representing different regions and perspectives, is a useful method.
  • Our aim should be to set a process in motion, to stimulate reflection and action, by providing inputs to the broader international community and inviting others to join in at a later stage.
  • Before I leave the floor to my French colleague, let me say again that I hope that our discussions this morning will help us agree on the main priorities as well as on the organisation and time frame of our work. I look forward to all your comments. Thank you.