Working together for a green, competitive and inclusive Europe

EØS/EU-minister Elisabeth Aspakers tale under lanseringsseminaret av EØS-midlene 2014 – 2021 på Norway House i Brussel 25. mai 2016

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that we are launching the new period of the EEA and Norway Grants here today in Brussels. I am pleased to be able to meet you all here at Norway House.

The physical location of Norway House – literally on the doorstep of the EU – is a good reflection of the close and stable relations between the EU and Norway.

We cooperate with the EU and its member states because we share a common set of values and because we need joint solutions to shared challenges. We cooperate because it is in our own national interest to do so.

The EEA Agreement

The Agreement on the European Economic Area is the most comprehensive – and important – economic agreement Norway has entered into. It extends the EU internal market to Norway and ensures that Norway enjoys the benefits of the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital. It gives Norwegian companies access to a 'domestic market' consisting of 31 countries with a total population of 500 million, and it ensures a level playing field where equal conditions of competition and the same rules apply. And it also gives EU companies access to a small, albeit interesting market in three EFTA states. Furthermore, the EEA Agreement facilitates increased cooperation between institutions and other actors, and it ensures a common labour market and provides opportunities for young Norwegians to study all over Europe.

There is broad agreement both among the Norwegian people and in the Storting (Norwegian parliament) that Norway should continue to be part of the European cooperation through the EEA Agreement. The same is true of other areas in which we have chosen to collaborate with our EU partners, such as the Schengen Agreement and foreign and security policy issues. Our views frequently coincide, and by acting together, we can have more influence internationally.

We will continue to pursue an open and inclusive European policy.

The EEA Agreement is, as mentioned, the mainstay of our cooperation.

This Agreement also includes a common goal to work together to reduce social and economic disparities in Europe. To this end, we have created the EEA and Norway Grants.

Norway has contributed 3.3 billion euros to European cohesion since the EEA Agreement entered into force in 1994, through various financial mechanisms.

As the second period of the EEA and Norway Grants 2009-2014 draws to an end, the results of the Grants are becoming visible. We have made important contributions in a number of sectors, including environment and climate change, justice and home affairs, research and civil society. From a long list of examples of the positive impact of the EEA and Norway Grants, I would just like to mention one. On Cyprus a "Home for Cooperation" has been constructed and its operations funded with the EEA and Norway Grants. This is a vibrant centre for many activities that help bring the two communities on the island closer together.

We are here today to mark the launch of the third EEA and Norway Grants period – 2014–2021.

Our contribution for this seven-year period amounts to around 2.8 billion euros.

Our contribution is based on the vision of working together for a greencompetitive and inclusive Europe.

A Green Europe

Climate change is a global problem that poses a long-term threat to our prosperity, ecosystems and food security.

The newly signed Paris Agreement can be seen as recognition of this fact. It is also a commitment made by all of us to take action now. The Paris Agreement sets out the framework for a global course towards green growth and a low carbon future. Norway is engaged in a constructive dialogue with the EU on our intention to fulfil the 2030 climate commitments jointly with the EU.

In the new period of the EEA and Norway Grants, Norway will give high priority to Environment, Energy, Climate Change and Low Carbon Economy.

The relevant programme areas give us the opportunity to make important contributions to cutting climate emissions, securing cleaner energy and building a more stable and secure energy market.

A Competitive Europe

The EU is the largest economy in the world. But it is becoming less competitive in the global economy, with high unemployment rates the most visible manifestation of this.

This is threatening our welfare and our standard of living.

In order to change this situation, and promote economic growth and increased competitiveness, we need to invest more in people – in knowledge, research and innovation.

We need to cultivate what have traditionally been our competitive advantages: competence, quality and equality.

In the coming period, the Norwegian Government will continue to emphasise the importance of innovation, opportunities for businesses, and research. This will also strengthen our ties with partners in the areas of science, technology and industry.

An Inclusive Europe

All European countries are committed to the common values of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, recent signs and trends are worrying. We are seeing reports of increased xenophobia, antisemitism, and discrimination of vulnerable groups. In many countries, we are also seeing a weak civil society that is coming under increasing pressure. Only a few days ago, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (lagt frem 18 mai under ministermøte i Bulgaria) presented his third report on the state of human rights, democracy and rule of law in Europe. The assessment and suggested measures make it quite clear that our efforts must continue.

We need to make sure that the future belongs to all of us. That everyone has an equal opportunity to lead a prosperous life. We will continue to work to ensure that

- Roma children can go to normal schools and get a good education;

- LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people are respected for who they are; and

- that refugees and migrants are met with respect, in accordance with the law and our international obligations.

This is our common moral obligation as partners and citizens of Europe.

Our funding will be based on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. We are continuing existing programme areas and introducing new ones in order to support efforts in the following fields: children and youth at risk, asylum and migration, Roma inclusion and empowerment and civil society.

The political, economic and social challenges Europe is facing are our common challenges. We can only create a greener, more competitive and more inclusive Europe if we work together. Joint efforts will benefit us all.

Working Together

Our Grants are a unique instrument in this context, given their dual objective: to contribute to reducing social and economic disparities and to strengthen our bilateral relations.

Increased cooperation will help us to tackle European challenges. Norwegian agencies that have considerable experience and expertise are ready to continue their engagement in various programmes. Our goal is to include Norwegian programme partners in all programmes of special interest to Norway.

We see that the exchange of knowledge and best practice goes both ways. I am pleased to note that we are also seeing a significant increase in political visits and contact with partner countries.

Our aim is to continue to strengthen bilateral ties with all partner countries in relevant fields and at various levels: political, economic, cultural, and people-to-people.

The Way Ahead

The EEA and Norway Grants for the coming period still resemble the Grants as we know them from previous years. However, we have revised our programme objectives and the areas eligible for support, based on evaluations, lessons learned and stakeholder consultations.

On Friday, a six-week, web-based consultation process will be launched. We are anxious to receive your comments and those of other stakeholders.

Before I finish I would like to say that I hope to be able to welcome you all – in particular representatives of the Commission and EU institutions – to Norway House again in the coming months, as we will initiate a series of seminars and meetings relevant to the EEA and Norway Grants.

My final message goes specifically to the representatives of all the National Focal Points here today:

We are looking forward to starting formal negotiations with all of you so that we can make maximum use of the funds available and further promote our bilateral relations.

We are ready to work together for a green, competitive and inclusive Europe, and I very much look forward to doing so in the new period of the Grants.

Thank you.