Innlegg på NHOs Tysklandsarrangement

Statssekretær Elsbeth Tronstads innlegg ‘Lurt å lære tysk og ta utdanning i Tyskland’ på NHOs Tysklandsarrangement 25. januar 2016.

Ladies and gentlemen, Liebe Freunde,

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this event. It is a pleasure for me to be here.

Today's topic is an important one. As the role of the oil and gas sector in the Norwegian economy declines, our trading partners in the EU will become even more important. The EU can almost be considered an extension of our domestic market; around 80 % of all Norwegian exports go to the EU. We need access to important markets in Europe if we are to achieve the necessary restructuring the Norwegian economy. We are facing tough global competition. And in this situation, European cooperation – through the EEA Agreement – offers the best form of protection and the best opportunities to build competitiveness and safeguard our high labour standards.

The main point I want to make today is that, in many ways, our point of entry to Europe is through Berlin. There is no doubt that Germany's importance for the Norwegian economy is growing. Germany has a key role to play in further developing the EU and in dealing with the financial crisis. There are few countries we have closer ties with, and Germany has traditionally been open to hearing Norway's views. For all of these reasons, more knowledge of German society, language and culture is important for the Norwegian business sector.

Secondary school pupils, apprentices, students, teachers and researchers are already involved in extensive knowledge exchange in many different fields. This contact strengthens both the development of knowledge and good relations between our countries. Given the close relationship we have with Germany, the fact that fewer Norwegian pupils have been learning German has given rise to concern. Fortunately, this trend slowly seems to be changing. At the same time, impressive numbers of young Germans are choosing to study in Norway. These young people will play a crucial role in future relations between Germany and Norway.

I would now like to briefly outline the key elements of Government's strategy for cooperation with the EU, which has five main priorities:

  1. increased competitiveness and growth;
  2. higher quality research and education;
  3. an ambitious climate and energy policy;
  4. enhanced security; and
  5. a global approach to migration.

The first two priorities – 'increased competitiveness and growth' and 'higher quality research and education' are closely linked and of special relevance for you here today. The Government's aim is for Norway to be one of the most innovative countries in Europe. Major investments in research by both the public and the private sector will help to secure the basis for employment in the future. Norway will never have the cheapest labour, so knowledge is our most important competitive advantage. Cross-border research cooperation helps to raise the quality of Norwegian education and research, and to increase value creation and the competitiveness of Norwegian businesses.

The current Government's political platform states that we will pursue an active European policy and intensify our cooperation with key countries in the EU. Our strategy for cooperation with Germany is an important tool in our work to strengthen relations between our two countries. It was most recently updated before President Gauck visited Norway in June 2014.

This strategy is intended to be a dynamic document. I am pleased that the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, the University of Oslo, the German-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce and the Oslo education authorities are responding to the need identified by the Norwegian business sector to further develop cooperation with Germany in the areas of education, culture and business. This event provides important input for the Government's intensified efforts in this context.

Research and education is an important part of Norway's cooperation with the EU. Norway's contributions to the major EU programmes for research and innovation, education, and culture will total around EUR 3.2 billion (NOK 26 billion at the current rate of exchange) in the period 2014–20. We must ensure that we take full advantage of our participation in these programmes. We need to make sure that teachers, students, researchers, business leaders, and NGOs are aware of the opportunities for project funding from the EU, and we must help Norwegian research communities to succeed in the competition for funding.

In October 2015, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research presented its strategy for cooperation with Germany, which outlines its intention to expand cooperation its German counterparts. The Ministry has appointed an internal working group for strengthening bilateral cooperation, and plans are being made to co-host a conference on higher education and research in Berlin later this year.

All of the major and influential countries of Europe are important to Norway. Norway is (unfortunately) not equally important to all of them, but Norway is important to Germany. Germany imports more Norwegian gas than any other country (to a value of NOK 90 billion in 2014, with the UK in second place with gas imports from Norway valued at NOK 56 billion in 2014. The British import more oil.) Nearly 30 % of the gas used in Germany comes from Norway; Germany relies on gas from Norway for its energy security.

Germany's interest in climate change and energy security provides an excellent opportunity for developing and intensifying our dialogue in these areas. Germany plays a key role in further developing cooperation within the EU on climate change, environmental technology, efficient use of resources, nature management, the green economy and research. It is important that Norwegian business and industry and Norwegian research institutions grasp this opportunity.

The gas pipelines that transport Norwegian gas to Germany and other European markets have created concrete ties between our two countries. In just a few years' time, new subsea cables will connect the Norwegian and German electricity markets for the first time, enabling the exchange of green energy – hydroelectric power from Norway to Germany, and surplus wind and solar power from Germany to Norway (NORDLINK). The possibility of laying a subsea fibre optic cable between Norway and Germany is also being considered. If realised, this could make Norway an attractive location for large-scale data storage. Low energy costs based on green energy, a well-developed broadband market, low average annual temperatures for cooling servers and a highly educated population are good reasons for German ICT companies to invest in Norway.

In 2014, trade between Norway and Germany was valued at about NOK 220 billion – only exceeded by trade between Norway and the UK. The number of Norwegian cultural workers in Berlin is nearly as high as it was in the 1800s when it was at its peak, and Germany is Norway's most important market for its cultural exports.

My main message is that you who are here today have a key role to play if we are to achieve the necessary restructuring of the Norwegian economy. Germany offers a wealth of opportunities, particularly for the Norwegian business sector and the Norwegian research and education community. It is in our interests to seek to influence the course of developments in Germany and the rest of Europe, and we are in a good position to do so. I urge you to make full use of the opportunities on offer.

Thank you.