Norway in Europe

EØS- og EU-minister Marit Berger Røslands innlegg under møtet med EU-ambassadørene i Norge.

Thank you for the invitation. I appreciate having this opportunity to meet close friends and partners.

Preparing for the speech today I was asking myself – what can Norway tell ambassadors from the EU countries about Europe that you do not already know? What will happen now – is that you will listen to a non-EU country talking about what we think will happen in Europe. While you represent the countries that actually participate in the meetings that shape the future of the EU.

I must admit that – looking at EU's Leaders Agenda we get a bit envious. It highlights that some of the most important issues that requires close international cooperation – will be discussed among the EU leaders the next 18 months. For Norway – a country that is always seeking international partnerships and cooperation – it feels almost unnatural not to be part of this agenda.

It is my personal view that the future of Europe attracts too little attention in Norway – and I plan to use my role to do something about that.

Today, I will not be talking about the implementation of this or that directive. And I am not planning to discuss pending cases before the Efta Court. I would like to go beyond the daily nitty gritty of the EEA Agreement and place Norway in the broader European context.

I see two clear tendencies in today's Europe. One is the search for unity. The other is differentiation.

Unity

Let my first share some thoughts about unity. As President Macron pointed out in his speech at the Sorbonne University, promoting unity is not about seeking uniformity. Rather, it is about standing together to defend our common values. It is about standing together to promote our common interests. And it is about sticking to the commitments we have made.

In my view, unity of this kind is Europe's greatest asset. It is our best strategy in a world where power is shifting, economic competition is fierce, and fundamental principles and values are coming under pressure. Unity is what has made Europe – Europe. Looking forward it is our best strategy for addressing international and global challenges, such as terrorism, climate change and migration.

The European Union is in many ways the symbol of European unity. But we often remind friends and colleagues in your home countries that the quest for unity transcends EU membership. Norway is not a member of the EU, but we consistently seek European cooperation, because we are a part of the broader integration process. We acknowledge our share of the responsibility to secure a stable and prosperous Europe.

We should also remember that Europe represents diversity. We are Europeans – but first and fore most – citizens of nations with our own national interests, cultural heritage and borders. The European Union will succeed if finding the right balance between ensuring unity, but also respecting diversity. That brings me to my next point -

Differentiation

How can we foster unity when many people now think that differentiation is the best way forward?

In my view, we are not heading towards a differentiated Europe. We already have a differentiated Europe. Opt-outs have had an impact on the EU for many years, as has closer cooperation among certain member states. One of the most recent examples is permanent structured cooperation in the field of defence (Pesco).

The EU's relations with the outside world are also highly differentiated. In some cases, outsiders are so integrated into the EU that they cannot be considered 'Third States' in the usual sense. This means that the internal differentiation between EU Member States also has an impact on them.

Norway is a case in point. We are part of the internal market through the EEA Agreement. We manage parts of the Schengen external border. The EEA and Norway Grants scheme complements the EU structural funds and helps to fill a funding gap. We contribute to joint European action in the field of foreign and security policy.

The key questions for all of us are: How can we manage differentiation? And how can we continue the process of differentiation in an inclusive manner that preserves and promotes European unity?

In my view, closer integration between certain states, whether they are inside or outside the EU, can be beneficial to Europe as a whole. However, in order to make sure that differentiation is not an obstacle to unity, there are three important points we should bear in mind:

First, differentiation should not undermine existing cooperation. We must prevent the fragmentation of our common regulatory framework. There must be a level playing field.

Second, we believe it is important that initiatives are inclusive. Likeminded partners must be able to join forces to reach common goals, to seek unity.

Third, Europe should not – and cannot – accept differentiation when it comes to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Again, let me cite President Macron, who has said that when it comes to values, there cannot be a two-speed Europe. This is not only a matter of principle. It is crucial for the smooth functioning of our highly integrated legal orders.

When it comes to values, what we need most urgently in Europe today is consensus on how our multicultural societies can function well. We see that migration is one of the most divisive election issues in many European countries. There is a need to find 'the European way' – to find common ground for managing the migration challenge and ensuring safe and inclusive societies. The European way must also be a matter of promoting tolerance and fighting extremism.

Yesterday we commemorated the deportation of 532 Jews from Oslo to Auschwitz 75 years ago. In Europe, our recent history has shown us in no uncertain terms what fear, intolerance and hatred can lead to.

Europe has to take global responsibility. We must ensure that we do not become inward looking at the national or European level. We must engage with the rest of the world. Protectionism and isolationism are not the answers to the challenges we face.

Strategy

I was going to talk about Norway in Europe. We are now updating the Government's strategy for our cooperation with the EU. I hope that you have seen the current strategy [ta med og vise].

The obvious reason for updating the strategy is that the current one only runs until the end of this year. But I also believe that now is a good time to restate the fundamentals in our relations with the EU, and to set the course for our future cooperation.

The Government aims to present the strategy in the New Year. It will be based on a fourfold vision for the future of our continent:

First, we will contribute to building an economically strong Europe.

Second, we will contribute to building a secure Europe, able to prevent and handle threats to our territories, political systems and citizens.

Third, we will contribute to building a free Europe, in which human rights, democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law are guaranteed.

Fourth, we will contribute to building a sustainable and responsible Europe, able to tackle common challenges such as climate change, economic and social disparities and migration.

The strategy will set out how we will seek to achieve this vision, in collaboration with the EU and its member states. All ministries will be involved in the process. We also aim to hold consultations with the Norwegian private sector, interest organisations, academia and other stakeholders as we develop our strategy. I very much look forward to this process. I would be happy to present the strategy when it is ready, if this would be of interest.

Brexit

Let me finish off by saying a few words about brexit. I know that Atle Leikvoll was here not long ago, so I will not go into the details.

European history has certainly seen many twists and turns. Fifty years ago, on this day, General de Gaulle vetoed the UK's application to join the European Economic Community. That obviously had an impact on the UK. It also affected Norway's relations with the EEC, as our membership bid was closely linked to the British one.

A lot has happened since then. There have been various referendums, and more twists and turns, including here in Norway. But the dominant trend has been this: European countries have become more closely integrated, albeit as a result of different methods and means.

The UK is now withdrawing from the EU and the Single Market. Norway will be staying in the Single Market. This means that the UK and Norway will no longer be part of the same regulatory framework. However, it does not mean an end to our cooperation. On the contrary, we are seeking the closest and most extensive cooperation possible with the UK after its withdrawal from the EU.

We need solid frameworks for cooperation between likeminded countries in Europe. As I mentioned earlier, European integration can take many forms. The search for unity extends beyond the EU's institutional and geographical borders, as it should. Inside or outside the EU, the UK is, and will remain, an important partner and ally for Norway.

We hope that the EU and the UK succeed in negotiating an orderly divorce. We hope that you will be able to agree on a framework for your future relationship. This is of direct interest to us. Continued uncertainty will be damaging for the continent as a whole, and particularly for countries that are so closely intertwined with the EU – and the UK – as Norway is.

Currently, some 20.000 Norwegians live in the UK. More than 14.000 British citizens live in Norway. They are exercising their rights under the EEA Agreement to live and work in another EEA country.

The UK's withdrawal from the EU and the EEA is creating uncertainty for these people. We must reduce this uncertainty as much as we can, in cooperation with the UK, the other EEA Efta States and the EU.

We cannot end up with a situation where the rights of a Norwegian citizen living in the UK are not protected as much as those of a Dutch citizen, for example. We feel that we have gained acceptance in Brussels and in the EU27 for the view that the EEA Efta States must be part of the solution on matters relating to the Single Market. We are also encouraged by the message from Prime Minister May that the UK will extend its proposal on citizens' rights to the EEA Efta States.

Likewise, we insist that all EEA States must be included in any transitional arrangements that extend the application of Single Market rules in the UK after its withdrawal from the EU. Otherwise, we risk seeing a fragmented Single Market. Now is not the time to question fundamental principles, such as equal treatment and a level playing field.

We are grateful for the continuous and open exchange of information with Michel Barnier and the EU27. We also greatly appreciate the dialogue we have established at several levels with the UK.

Conclusion

In the immediate aftermath of the UK referendum, many people feared that the process ahead would lead to paralysis and divisions in Europe. Luckily, this has not happened. After years of crisis management, I now sense that there is greater willingness to think more strategically about how we solve our common challenges. The recent Social Summit in Gothenburg, at which Norway's Prime Minister also participated, was a good example of this.

Norway will continue to contribute to the work to determine our common future, so that together we can ensure a secure, free, responsible and economically strong Europe.