Speech/statement | Date: 07/06/2021
By Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (Berlin, 7 June)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at the conference of the heads of German missions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a real honour to be here with you. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Berlin will always represent a political point of departure for me. I was 13 years old in 1989 when I watched on TV the people in this city tearing down a wall, demanding their freedom. Those very images, that very event, was my political awakening.
Germany is Norway’s most important partner in Europe. This is not only my words. The entire Norwegian Government is behind this statement, which is a quote from the Norwegian Government’s Deutschlandstrategie.
This strategy spells out in detail our ambitions for taking our already excellent bilateral relations even one notch further on a whole range of areas, way beyond merely traditional foreign policy issues.
And it was an honour for us that Heiko was in Oslo when the Strategy was launched alongside our own White Paper on Multilateralism back in the summer of 2019.
We have extensive cooperation in pretty much every field, but let me touch briefly on two: energy and defense.
Norway has for a long time been an important exporter of energy to Germany. Two weeks ago, Prime minister Solberg and Chancellor Merkel opened the 623 km long NordLink power cable that connects our two countries. Power will flow both ways, providing further opportunities for investments in renewable energy. This is also a European project.
And beyond mere energy exports, we have solutions and expertise in fields as diverse as hydrogen, gas, offshore wind and carbon capture and storage. That makes us a natural partner for Germany in your transition to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply.
In the area of defense, we have an extensive and tight cooperation. I’ve experienced this firsthand for almost eight years. First as minister of defense, and now as foreign minister. When I took office as defense minister in 2013, one of my top priorities was to deepen our cooperation with Germany. We appreciate our close partnership in the German-Dutch Corps. And then defense minister Ursula von der Leyen, our Dutch colleague and I together took the initiative to form the pilot for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in Nato. We also cooperate in Alliance`s enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. These days we work closely to strengthen Nato before the summit next Monday.
I am very pleased about our bilateral long-term, strategic partnership on new submarines and missiles. This is beneficial to our two nations, but I also see this cooperation as an important step towards strengthening European defense cooperation within Nato.
Norway will participate fully in the European Defense Fund (EDF) from its initiation this year. We are also pleased to be able to contribute on military mobility under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco).
We are grateful for the crucial role played by Germany in facilitating third country participation in individual Pesco projects. Your support throughout the process has been critical.
But you are not only our most important partner in Europe. You are also a key partner in global affairs.
Norway and Germany enjoy shared values and more often than not shared interests. We are enthusiastic supporters of a strong, active Germany on the international scene. We are not least grateful for your support for a rules-based, multilateral world order, and I look forward to the launch of your white paper later today.
So when I get the chance to speak to you, I think I have mainly two tasks. The first is to say thank you. The second is to lend our perspectives, in the hope that they may reinforce and supplement those of your own.
So, what does the world look like, from a vantage point a bit smaller and a bit further North?
Well, these last few years have sometimes felt like the foreign policy horsemen of the apocalypse have been allowed to run wild.
- Firstly, inequality and populism have fueled polarization and protectionism. Not only foreign policy events, but foreign policy itself, have felt more unpredictable.
- Secondly, great power rivalry has reemerged as a defining feature of global politics, putting multilateral cooperation, alliances and institutions under severe strain.
- Thirdly, perhaps sensing weakened global leadership, autocratic forces have challenged hard earned advances in the field of human rights, including on our own continent.
- And last but not least, the pandemic has ravaged societies, health systems and economies across the globe. It has reversed decades of progress on poverty, health care and education, and accelerated other worrying trends along the way. In short, the pandemic has laid bare some fundamental weaknesses in our global system.
Faced with these and other challenges, it has been hard enough to keep up with crisis management efforts, let alone devise a coherent foreign policy strategy.
Yet that is precisely what we need.
While events will continue to prove unpredictable, there are some things we can reasonably predict. Great power competition and rivalry will remain a defining feature of the foreign policy landscape in the years ahead.
The pandemic, in all its destructiveness, should also be an opportunity to re-think, reset and re-calibrate policy. And while I won’t be so foolish as to pretend to have the precise map to successfully navigate such a landscape, I would like to mention five reminders I believe to be important for the way ahead.
First, and even if we are all here foreign policy practitioners, I believe the best foreign policy move is to keep reminding ourselves that this is not only about foreign policy.
Domestic policy is key. Invest in human capital, research and development, education and safety nets. In short, build good, resilient societies that can not just withstand an open economy, but thrive in it.
Industrial policy appears to be making a comeback. For the most part, we can expect this to rest on good intentions. Hopefully the benign side of this can revitalize economies and be part of building back better and greener after the pandemic. Fighting climate change and encouraging climate-neutral growth is a defining task. Norway shares the aim of rebuilding to promote a greener, fairer, and more sustainable Europe and we would like to be a partner in this work. I think the European Green Deal, which also provides massive opportunities for Norwegian companies in collaboration with German counterparts, is a prime example of this.
But we should also keep in the back of our minds that the road to protectionism is often paved with the same good intentions. It is about creating and protecting jobs and about avoiding vulnerability. Yet protectionism and economic self-reliance have been tried and failed. It is a mistake too costly to repeat.
Secondly, we should not underestimate our interest in others’ success.
Interdependence and shared cross border challenges means that I don’t win by you losing. On the contrary.
Vaccines is an obvious example. The IMF has estimated that spending a mere 50 billion dollars on an international vaccine plan, can provide gains of 9 trillion dollars. As Martin Wolf of the Financial Times said: “This must be among the highest-return investments ever!”
The ACT-A partnership and its Covax facility is fundamental in ensuring that all countries are included in our common fight to stop the pandemic. Norway fully supports this effort, including by co-chairing the Facilitation Council of the ACT Accelerator together with South-Africa. We have contributed more than NOK 4,5 billion (USD 500 million). It is both an economic and a moral imperative.
Germany is a major donor and invaluable partner. You stepped up early and forcefully and you are an example to others. And you keep stepping up not just at a political level, but in diplomatic efforts where we are pleased to cooperate. Only two weeks ago in Tokyo, our respective ambassadors joined forces in order to mobilise additional resources for ACT-A from our Japanese friends. Your minister counsellor colleagues did the same in Beijing the week before, in the lead-up to the Global Health Summit. These are great examples of how we work together, and obviously a reflection of our like-mindedness.
Thirdly, we have to ensure that not everything becomes sucked into the rivalry. Some issues will have strategic importance and security implications. But many will not.
As a small country with a big neighbour, our perspective on this is influenced by our relationship with Russia.
Norwegian security policy is and has always been based on a balance between deterrence and reassurance towards Russia. There are areas where security considerations will take priority, or where we have to react to completely unacceptable behaviour. But with a shared border with Russia we also have to cooperate pragmatically with the Russians where it is in our interest, in fields as diverse as joint fisheries management, nuclear safety and search and rescue at sea.
Although obviously your interaction with Russia is not based on the same asymmetry in size and power, my sense is that Germany’s approach is built on the same balance. Steadfast on values and interests, yet willing to find cooperation and common solutions.
Fourth, we cannot let shared values and human rights fall by the wayside when security policy and great power rivalry enter the traffic. This is as relevant in far flung corners of the world as it is closer to home.
Internal cohesion is a precondition for an effective European voice globally. European cooperation is built upon shared trust and shared values.
It is therefore deeply regrettable to observe the development in some EU member states when it comes to democracy and the rule of law.
The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement is not just a mechanism for securing greater welfare, jobs and opportunities for our citizens. It is also a platform for maintaining, preserving and defending our shared fundamental values and rights.
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, the EEA Agreement contributes to upholding democracy and the rule of law across the Single Market.
That is why we insist that funds go through operators independent of the Government when supplying grants to civil society work – even when this causes delays and no small amount of friction, as was the case with Hungary. And that is why we have stopped transfers to regions and municipalities in Poland that have passed resolutions declaring themselves “LGBTI-ideology-free zones” – as if anything like that even existed. This is the principle of conditionality put into practice.
This is yet another agenda where Norway and Germany have a shared outlook and a shared determination. And I can only encourage you to maintain and reinforce an unambiguous stance.
Fifth, finally, and also an important key to how we achieve the other four: we must expend every effort in order to create, safeguard and reinforce institutions and rules in order to manage international co-existence and cooperation.
A wise man once said that to tackle our manifold problems and challenges, the world must strive for a “Weltinnenpolitik”, nothing less than a global domestic policy. That man happened to be a very famous Norwegian and an even more famous German – the iconic Chancellor Willy Brandt
And while we may not be able to deliver fully on that high aspiration, our goal remains to protect and strengthen multilateralism and a rules based world order.
Global cooperation is the only solution to threats that transcend borders. Germany is a true friend of multilateralism. You show this on a myriad of fields, including through your “Alliance for Multilateralism” where we are proud to take part.
As an elected member of the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022, Norway follows in the footsteps of an impressive predecessor.
Germany was and is a strategic partner for us, both during our campaign and during our preparations – and now during our tenure. Our priorities for our term in the Council are very similar to yours, and we are happy to carry the torch on. And I am delighted to see that the close co-operation between our diplomats continues, in Oslo and New York as well as in Berlin and in third countries.
After six months, the Council and Norway have already faced multiple challenges. The volatile situation in the Middle East, the military coup in Myanmar and the precarious situation in Tigray are three prominent examples.
But despite its many shortcomings, and despite geopolitically challenging circumstances, my main impression is that the Security Council has been able to address the most pressing issues on the international agenda so far during our membership.
While the relationships between the great powers on the Council remain contentious on some important issues, there can be no doubt that the Biden-administration's return to the UN has brought a substantial change of tone and atmosphere.
Norway intends to take full advantage of this more constructive dynamic among Council members on some of the files that are important to us.
Be it as chairman of the sanctions committee on North Korea, as penholder for Afghanistan and the humanitarian file in Syria, or as champions for the inclusion of women, Norway strives hard to carry your impressive work forth.
Climate and security will be a key focus for us in the time to come. And we sincerely hope that Germany’s pioneer work on a thematic resolution can come to fruition while we serve on the council.
As a true friend of multilateralism, I am tempted to leave you with a challenge – but one that we would be pleased to assist in meeting.
One aspect of multilateralism that is often overlooked is a critical look at how we organize our work.
Looking back at all the different ministerial gatherings that have taken place on a digital platform for over a year now, I am always struck by how much goes missing when we lose out on the informal chat in the coffee queue, or the short bilaterals on the margin of the meeting. We depend on building relations and trust to solve big and small issues.
But the fact that so much of the value from these meetings stem from activities outside the meeting room can also reflect on of what takes place inside. A lot of time is spent reading or listening to pre-prepared three-minute statements that don’t always move us discernibly in any particular direction.
So I think it could be a common challenge for us to look at how we can set ourselves higher ambitions for meetings. To make them more interactive, and try to spend more of decision makers’ multilateral time actually making multilateral decisions. (Less “moo”, more milk, to put it bluntly).
Ladies and gentlemen; excellencies; Diplomats.
Norwegians are not known for bringing out the biggest words or most salutary phrases, but I hope you forgive me if I step out of character for a moment in closing, in order to address you and thank you. Because:
The diplomatic mission at its core goes beyond that of conveying national positions. Beyond that of maximising national interest.
The diplomatic mission is one of peace. It is one of co-existence between peoples. It is one of tearing down walls, identifying not what we can do to each other, but what we can do for each other, alongside each other, together.
For that reason, when the foreign policy horsemen of the apocalypse threaten, you are our front line.
For that reason, I wish nothing more for the age we are entering, than for it to be a great age for diplomacy.
For that reason, as you embody the diplomatic mission so proudly and strongly, I can think of no better partner to have by our side, than Germany.
Thank you for the invaluable work you do, for our great cooperation, and for inviting me here.