Address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters

Last updated: 19/11/2009 // Address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters, 17 November 2009 by Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre.

Mr President,

 

Important political and institutional changes are taking place in Europe – and this is happening against the backdrop of a financial crisis that has affected the various European countries to different degrees. Some countries, such as Norway, seem to have put the worst behind them, while others, particularly among the new EU member states and EU’s neighbours to the east, are grappling with challenges. But all countries still have to live with uncertainty. The interdependence that characterises Europe today means that no country is left untouched by the difficulties of another.

 

The core objective of the Government’s European policy is to safeguard Norwegian interests and values in this landscape. In its policy platform, the Government reaffirms that it will actively seek to safeguard Norwegian interests vis-à-vis the EU. We will pursue an up-to-date European policy in close consultation with EU institutions and member states. We will shoulder our share of the responsibility for promoting stability and solidarity in Europe.

This work is under way, and we are also continuing our efforts from the first four years. This is a clear priority for the Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

The EEA Agreement is the framework for Norway’s relations with the EU. This is the most comprehensive international agreement that Norway has entered into, and it is of importance for Norwegian jobs, value creation and welfare. The EEA Agreement is also the most important Nordic cooperation agreement ever concluded, as we recalled at the session of the Nordic Council in Stockholm last month. For it is through the EEA Agreement that we have achieved a Nordic domestic market with the predictability provided by common rules.

 

For the EEA Agreement ensures just that: predictability. The predictability that comes from knowing that the same rules apply in what is still by far Norway’s most important market. From knowing that there are supervisory authorities that ensure that the rules are complied with and respected, and that are able to take action when they are not. It is this predictability – this assurance of equal treatment – that is at the core of the EEA Agreement, and this objective is set out in the very first paragraphs. At the same time, we must recognise that the Agreement also poses challenges, as it is continually being expanded and developed in line with developments in the EU. This is one of the reasons why the Government has decided to carry out a thorough review of our experience of the EEA Agreement. I will come back to this later in my address. I would, however, also like to add that the EU has also expressed satisfaction with the functioning of the EEA Agreement. This was confirmed by both the EU presidency and high-level representatives of the European Commission at yesterday’s meeting of the EEA Council in Brussels.

 

Mr President,

 

The Government is still using the white paper on the implementation of European policy (Report No. 23 (2005–2006) to the Storting), which was presented in June 2006, as a tool in its European policy. The objectives set out in the white paper have been followed up through a specific action plan. The most important measure in the plan is the preparation of three general work programmes for the EEA area, the justice and home affairs area and foreign policy. These work programmes, which are updated annually, are key documents for the Government’s work in these areas. They set out guidelines for effectively promoting Norwegian interests vis-à-vis the EU at an early stage. The Government is currently updating this white paper in the light of recent years’ experience and we will maintain regular contact with the Storting on this matter.

 

A good knowledge of Europe is an important resource. The Government is working to maintain and further develop a competent and well-coordinated public administration. This is becoming increasingly important in the light of the political and institutional developments in the EU. It can be more difficult for Norway than for like-minded countries that are both our partners and our competitors to maintain such a high level of knowledge about Europe, given that we do not participate in the full breadth of EU cooperation.

 

Let me add, Mr President, that while it is important to ensure that the public administration has a good knowledge of and expertise with regard to Europe, it is equally important that other actors in society and politics also have a high level of knowledge.

 

The Government will continue to facilitate measures than can help to maintain and further develop this knowledge and expertise. This is vital if we are to ensure the greatest possible opportunity to participate in the development of EU policy and legislation that directly affect us. Therefore it is important for us to develop national positions at an early stage.

 

Mr President,

 

The new EU treaty ─ the Lisbon Treaty ─ is expected to enter into force on 1 December. This is important for the EU, and it is important for Norway. The Treaty further develops cooperation at EU level, and is intended to provide a basis for more effective EU cooperation, which has been necessary given the increase in the number of member states in recent years.

 

The governments of the EU countries stress the fact that the Lisbon Treaty enhances the EU’s democratic legitimacy, pointing in particular to two factors.

 

Firstly, the Treaty gives the European Parliament greater authority as a legislative body and in the EU budget process. Secondly, it gives the national parliaments a greater role to play in EU cooperation. They are to ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is complied with when EU legislation is adopted. Besides, the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Lisbon Treaty has strengthened the Bundestag’s authority in EU matters. The same could happen in other EU countries.

 

The main new elements in the Lisbon Treaty are the amendments that have been made to ensure that the EU functions better at institutional level, particularly in the light of the increase in the number of member states and the fact that it may increase further. The substance of the various policy areas remains on the whole unchanged.  

 

The voting rules in the Council have been amended with the introduction of a double majority system. This means that decisions that require a qualified majority must receive at least 55% of the member states’ votes. At the same time, these member states must represent at least 65% of the EU’s total population. This is intended to ensure a balance between large and small countries with different population sizes. The new voting rules will not come into force until 2014. The number of areas where decisions require a qualified majority is also to be increased.

 

We have thoroughly examined the possible consequences the Lisbon Treaty may have for Norway, particularly with a view to our participation in the EEA and the Schengen cooperation. I presented the main conclusions of this study earlier. The report has been submitted to the Storting’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and has been made public.

 

The amendment that will have the most direct effect on our relations with the EU is the elimination of the pillar structure, which has been important for the functioning of the EEA Agreement. For example, it has been easy to see whether or not an EU directive was EEA-relevant by whether or not it was promoted through the internal market pillar. One of the objectives in eliminating the pillar structure is to make EU policy more coherent and cross-sectoral. However, this may in turn make it more difficult to decide whether EU matters are EEA- or Schengen-relevant. If the EU cooperation beyond our agreements is expanded, a relatively smaller proportion of EU cooperation will be covered by them. In other words, we will have to follow these developments closely.

 

Mr President,

 

Iceland submitted its EU application this summer after a majority in the Allting voted in favour of applying for membership. The EU questionnaire has been completed by the Icelandic authorities and has now been submitted to the European Commission. It is now up to the Commission to present its formal opinion of the application and propose a date for the commencement of negotiations before the meeting of the European Council in December. Iceland is meanwhile preparing for the negotiations, which it is hoped will start in early 2010. Iceland will hold a referendum on whether it should join the EU or not. The result is uncertain; current opinion polls indicate a clear majority against membership.

 

Our impression is that the EU is generally favourable to Iceland’s application. However, the EU has a broader enlargement agenda to deal with, e.g. in connection with candidate countries like Croatia and Turkey, and potential new candidates in the Balkans.

 

Norway presumes that the EEA Agreement will continue to apply throughout the Icelandic membership process right up to the final decision by referendum. Iceland and the EU also attach importance to this. The Government also presumes that the EEA Agreement will continue to form the basis for our relations with the EU, even if Iceland should go from EFTA to the EU. As you know, the Agreement is not dependent on a specific number of members. If Iceland should become a member of the EU, Norway, Liechtenstein and the EU would have to consider whether this would necessitate making technical changes to the way the Agreement functions. This is our message to the EU, which has been communicated in letters to the European Commission and the EU presidency.

 

The EEA Agreement has been in effect for 15 years. This spring, the Storting agreed on the need for a thorough review of the Agreement. The Government announced in its policy platform that it would establish a broad-based committee to undertake a thorough, research-based review of our experience of the EEA Agreement and its consequences for all areas of society. The Government hopes that this review will provide a common knowledge base for discussion and debate.

 

We need a fact-based and objective analysis of the situation. Norway’s relations with the EU raise issues relating to values and can fuel conflicts of interests. Such a review will not resolve such differences, but it will help to clarify the facts and exactly what we agree and disagree about. It may also provide input to those who wish to consider alternatives to the EEA Agreement. However, that will not be the focus of this review. To put it this way, we will be reviewing the structure that constitutes the EEA Agreement; we will not be commissioning architects to design a new one.

 

Mr President,

 

The National Forum on Europe for 2009 was held on 3 November. This is an annual roundtable conference that I chair myself, and that is attended by a broad range of Norwegian civil society actors. This year’s theme was precisely our experience of the EEA Agreement over the last 15 years. Representatives of the research community, the social partners and political parties shared their experience of the EEA Agreement. It was a constructive conference, and provided useful input ahead of the EEA Agreement review.

 

Another important arena for dialogue on European issues is the local and regional European Policy Forum. This is a meeting place for the authorities at both central and regional/local level. It is meeting in Oslo today, with the City of Oslo acting as host. The main topics of discussion this time are energy, climate change and the environment. The forum will discuss the experience gained from the “green energy municipalities”, local climate plans and key aspects of the EU’s energy and climate policy. It is important that Norwegian municipalities and counties become engaged in this work, for it is precisely at local level that most of the implementation of EEA legislation takes place.

Mr President,

 

Norway will take its share of responsibility for promoting a stable Europe characterised by solidarity. We have made a substantial contribution to reducing social and economic disparities in the EEA. In the five-year period from 2004 to 2009, we provided more than NOK 10 billion. The EEA Financial Mechanisms, which were established in connection with the expansion of the EEA as a result of EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007, expired on 30 April. Negotiations on a new agreement for the next five-year period, from 2009 to 2014, are now in the final phase. The Government’s view is that our funding for this period should be reasonable in relation to the contributions provided by the EU countries themselves. The Government has also emphasised that new funds should go to the countries that need them most.

 

The negotiations have been difficult, and have taken longer than we envisaged. This is partly due to the financial crisis, but another factor is that the beneficiary countries have been more actively engaged in the negotiations than they were last time.

 

We have now reached agreement with the Commission on the main elements of a new agreement, but we are still waiting for the EU member states to reach agreement on a final text. Norway hopes that a decision will be reached soon so that this cooperation can be renewed and continued, and we reiterated this at the meeting in Brussels yesterday. We will revert to the Storting with information about the substance and scope of the agreement, and will continue to provide extensive information on the results of our cooperation under the mechanisms. All the projects that are currently being developed and implemented in 12 EU countries are leaving an important Norwegian footprint and could potentially lead to broader cooperation with the beneficiary countries at both central and local level.

 

Let me add that, for Norway, entering into a new agreement on the financial mechanisms is contingent on a satisfactory result of the parallel discussions on market access for fish. These discussions are expected to be concluded in the near future.

 

Mr President,

 

I will now turn to some EEA matters of particular interest at present.

 

The third Postal Directive entails a further opening up of the postal services market in that the delivery of mail weighing less than 50 grams is to be subject to competition. The deadline for implementation in the EU is 31 December 2010, but 11 specified member states may postpone the deadline for up to two years. In its new policy platform, the Government states that it has decided to postpone implementation of this directive. We will examine the matter closely and assess the impact that implementation would have. In considering the Postal Directive, we will attach importance to ensuring the same level of postal services at today’s standards throughout the country.

 

The Data Retention Directive is intended to harmonise the EU member states’ legislation on the retention of data obtained through the use of electronic communications. The purpose is to provide the judicial authorities with an additional tool in the investigation of criminal offences. The directive was adopted by the EU as part of the internal market, and the deadline for implementation in the EU member states was 15 September 2007, with the exception of the provisions on internet data, the deadline for which was extended to March 2009. The directive raises questions relating to the protection of privacy that need to be considered carefully. The Government’s aim is to get an overview of the situation on the basis of various studies during the first half of 2010, and will revert to the Storting when this has been done. As you know, the Government is divided in its views on the directive, and the views of the respective parties have been outlined in the Government’s policy platform.

 

The purpose of the draft directive on patients’ rights is to establish a framework for cross-border healthcare in the EU. Its objectives are to provide sufficient clarity about rights to reimbursement for healthcare provided in another EU country, and to ensure that the necessary measures are implemented so that high quality services can be delivered safely and effectively. The draft has been through its first reading in the European Parliament, and the result was a compromise. It is expected that the Council will give it its first reading at the meeting of the Council of Health Ministers at the beginning of December 2009. Norway has already implemented parts of the directive on the basis of European Court of Justice case-law relating to the free movement of services.

 

The Ministry of Health and Care Services is following this matter at both political and senior official level vis-à-vis the European Parliament, the Commission and like-minded member states, and in particular vis-à-vis the Swedish presidency. We will provide more information to the Storting when the EU has taken its final decision, and the conditions for incorporation of the directive into the EEA Agreement have been discussed with the EU.

 

In the food policy area, there have been considerable delays over the last year in the entry into force of legislation that has been incorporated into the EEA Agreement, including extensive legislation on hygiene and control. This is due to delays in Iceland in connection with the debate on and adoption of new domestic food legislation. The Commission has also stopped the incorporation of the new legislation in the food safety area into the EEA Agreement, which is very unfortunate. Iceland has informed us that this matter is being given high priority. The timetable for dealing with it in the Allting is still unclear, but Iceland announced yesterday that a decision would be taken soon.

 

The EU regulation on trade in seal products was finally adopted by the Council on 27 July. Norway does not consider the regulation to be EEA-relevant. The regulation entails a total ban on trade in seal products with a few exemptions. The Commission will adopt implementation provisions for these exemptions before summer 2010, and we will do what we can to influence the Commission and the EU member states in this process. However, given that this regulation has been adopted, we must be prepared for the likelihood that all Norwegian trade in seal products with the EU will be banned.

 

On 5 November, Norway requested dispute settlement consultations with the EU in the WTO, as Canada has done. This is the first step in a dispute settlement process in the WTO. Whether or not there is a basis for requesting that the case be brought before a WTO panel, as we did in the salmon case, will be considered in the light of the outcome of the consultations. We are keeping in close contact with Canada in this process.

 

I would also like to mention the problems we have been having in connection with mackerel fishing in EU waters. The EU has closed its waters to Norwegian vessels fishing for mackerel with effect from 2 October. More than 30 vessels had to discontinue fishing at short notice. Norway’s view is that this closure is a clear breach of the bilateral agreement between Norway and the EU.

 

Norway has protested to the European Commission, both orally and in writing, and has taken part in several rounds of negotiations without reaching agreement – so far. Our disagreement with the Commission concerns the interpretation of Norway’s bilateral agreement with the EU.

 

The issue of mutual access arrangements will be discussed during the bilateral fisheries negotiations. However, these negotiations, which started this week, deal with the quotas for next year, and it will not be possible to resolve the acute problem that has arisen for Norwegian mackerel fishermen.

 

Mr President,

 

An important feature of the Lisbon Treaty is that it sets out for the first time that a European Research Area is to be established for research, technological development and space policy. Various measures have been taken that indicate the development of what is being called the “fifth freedom” – the free movement of researchers, knowledge and technology – in addition to the four freedoms that have already been established in the internal market. The coordination of national research activities, programmes and policies will be strengthened.

 

The inclusion of this area in the Treaty means that it is likely that European cooperation, including that outside the EU Framework Programmes, will gain more influence and will have a stronger impact on national research policy. The Community budgets are expected to increase, with considerable increases expected in some areas. For us, this will mean new opportunities and challenges with regard to participation in the new programmes and activities in the research area on the basis of the EEA Agreement. It is therefore vital that we maintain a close dialogue with the EU on activities connected to the European Research Area and European cooperation in this field in general.

 

I would now like to turn to another matter of importance in the financial sector. For many years, there has been an EU directive under which deposit guarantee schemes must provide a level of coverage of at least EUR 20 000. The minimum level of coverage has now been raised to EUR 50 000 in connection with the financial crisis. Earlier this year, the EU decided the level of coverage should be fully harmonised to EUR 100 000 by the end of 2010. Norway already has a good deposit guarantee scheme, under which bank deposits of up to NOK 2 million per depositor per bank are guaranteed. If the new EU scheme were to be implemented in Norway through the incorporation of a new directive into the EEA Agreement – without an adaptation text that allows the Norwegian guarantee scheme to be continued – this would mean that the level of coverage under the Norwegian scheme would be more than halved. As the Government stated in its new policy platform, we will defend our deposit guarantee scheme, and will work actively vis-à-vis the EU to maintain our present level of coverage.

 

Mr President,

 

Sweden holds the EU presidency this autumn. Sweden took over the presidency at a difficult time, in the midst of a global economic downturn and an unclear institutional situation for the EU. The presidency seems to be dealing well with these challenges. Our Swedish friends were well prepared. It is worth noting the role such a task gives our neighbour during these busy six months. Sweden is chairing all the political meetings, and has decisive influence on the EU’s political agenda.

 

Climate change and energy have been key issues for successive EU presidencies in recent years. This is also true for the Swedish presidency and the forthcoming Spanish presidency. Sweden is a driving force in the EU’s environmental work, and is working to give the EU a strong voice in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This was also a key topic during yesterday’s meeting of the EEA Council, where Sweden reiterated its goal of seeking to ensure a new climate regime that is as extensive and binding as possible

 

The financial crisis is another priority area. Sweden wants to see better regulation of the financial markets and supervision of financial institutions. Both the financial crisis and the problem of climate change are key issues in another area close to Sweden’s heart, the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region, where relations with Russia play an important role. The strategy was adopted at the meeting of the European Council in October.

 

In addition, note should be taken of the Stockholm Programme, the new five-year programme for EU justice and home affairs policy, which will, according to plan, be adopted at the meeting of the European Council in December 2009. The draft programme includes ambitious goals on fighting crime, migration policy, public safety and protection of vulnerable groups.

 

The enlargement process has also been in focus this autumn. Sweden has attached importance to maintaining momentum in the membership process for the Balkan countries and Turkey, although the level of ambition has been lowered given the strong resistance to enlargement in a number of influential member states. Sweden has expressed the hope that the Commission’s assessment of Iceland’s application will be completed during its presidency or at an early stage of the Spanish presidency.

 

A stronger role for the EU in global affairs, for example through the Swedish–Polish initiative on an eastern partnership under the European Neighbourhood Policy, is also a key foreign policy priority.

 

Norway is cooperating closely with the Swedish presidency. Norwegian personnel have been seconded to the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs both in the phase leading up to the presidency and during the presidency itself. We enjoy a close dialogue with Swedish ministers, and several of my colleagues in the Government have attended informal ministerial meetings in Sweden. The Government aims to continue this constructive cooperation with the forthcoming Spanish presidency.

 

Mr President,

 

The EU has strengthened its climate policy over the last year, and has developed a number of targets and measures through its energy and climate policy. Widening the scope of the emissions trading scheme is a key element. The EU has set concrete targets for emissions reductions both from sectors to which the scheme applies and from other sectors. Binding decisions have been taken on increasing the share of renewable energy in its energy mix, and the member states are currently identifying how their energy efficiency can be further improved. At the same time, efforts are being made to ensure that companies in the EU are not subject to disproportionate burdens compared with companies in other countries. An ambitious outcome in Copenhagen would be the best way of reconciling these considerations.

 

At the meeting of the European Council last month, the member states agreed on a common EU position with regard to the Copenhagen conference. The Swedish presidency has been highly commended for its success in getting the member states to agree on this common position, although important issues regarding burden-sharing within the EU have not been resolved.

 

Many of the EU’s decisions in the climate policy area will be of direct relevance to Norway as a member of the EEA. This also applies to several of the directives and regulations under the EU climate and energy package. In certain areas it will be necessary to negotiate adaptations before these directives can be incorporated into the EEA Agreement. We are making use of our opportunities to influence the EU through exploratory talks with the Commission and participation in various groups of experts. It is the Government’s aim that the relevant directives should be implemented in Norway at the same time as in the EU member states. This is important to ensure predictability for the Norwegian business sector. The Government will therefore revert to the Storting in due course, according to the deadlines for the various directives.

 

Norway and the EU are also working closely together on international climate efforts, and on the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Our positions do not coincide in all areas. Norway’s ambitions are higher than those set out in the EU’s common position, but the main political approach is for the most part the same. Few actors have put forward such ambitious targets for emissions reductions in developed countries under a new climate regime. Norway and the EU also stand out as the strongest defenders of the international rules and mechanisms that have been developed through the Kyoto Protocol. We also agree that any new agreement concluded in Copenhagen must have a broader scope than the Kyoto Protocol if global ambitions are to match the challenges we face.

 

An agreement that does not include specific emission reduction commitments for the US and binding measures for developing countries that are major emitters will not be an adequate response to these challenges. Norway has made it clear that we will set more ambitious climate targets, corresponding to a 40% cut in emissions from the 1990 level by 2020, if this can contribute to agreement on an ambitious climate regime that includes specific emissions commitments on the part of the major emitters.

 

Although the signals from the APEC climate summit this weekend indicate that we will not achieve a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen, we will work hard – together with the EU – in the three remaining weeks to achieve an agreement that is as effective and binding as possible.

 

Mr President,

 

It is now more than a year since the global financial crisis erupted. It is still too soon to consign the financial crisis to history. We must not underestimate the huge financial losses the world has seen during the course of this year. However, it is true that the international community has avoided repeating the mistakes made between the World Wars. The global economy is getting back on track. This is due to the concerted response by the international community. Large-scale rescue packages were launched under the auspices of the IMF in cooperation with the World Bank, the regional development banks, the EU and bilateral donors. The EU has been an important actor in these efforts and has succeeded in pursuing a coherent policy despite the fact that in many cases there have been clear conflicts of interest between member states. It is also interesting to note that the IMF has emphasised that countries in Central and Eastern Europe are among the most severely hit, even when considered in a global perspective.

 

The Nordic rescue packages to Iceland and Latvia demonstrate the strength and relevance of Nordic cooperation. As early as spring 2008, when Iceland encountered a liquidity crunch, the other Scandinavian countries came to the rescue when their central banks entered into currency swap agreements with the Central Bank of Iceland. This year, new Nordic loan agreements were entered into with Iceland that provide loans totalling around EUR 1.8 billion. Norway’s share amounts to EUR 480 million. These loans constitute a vital part of the IMF’s EUR 3.5 billion stabilisation programme.

 

Norway has been concerned to help Iceland in this difficult situation. We have also actively promoted early and substantial support for Iceland among the Nordic countries, both with the Nordic framework and in cooperation with the IMF. The Nordic loans were conditional on Iceland fulfilling its international obligations, including its deposit guarantee obligations. This was one of the conditions on which the Storting gave its consent to a government guarantee being furnished for the loan. On 28 October, the Executive Board of the IMF completed its first review of the Icelandic Government’s economic programme. This enabled the second disbursement of the IMF loan and the first disbursement of the Nordic loans.

 

The Icelandic Government has made a great effort over the last six months to stabilise the situation caused by the failed banks and to devise a policy for reviving the country’s economy. It is important that this work is continued and that Iceland’s relations with the rest of the world are normalised.

 

Subject to the Storting’s approval, Norway has also pledged a long-term loan of around EUR 370 million to Latvia, under the IMF programme for Latvia. The total package amounts to EUR 7.5 billion. Here too the Nordic countries are contributing, providing a total of EUR 1.8 billion. The EU itself is contributing EUR 3.1 billion.

 

There is now international consensus that the rescue packages must pave the way for renewed long-term growth. The G20 is playing a prominent role here. The EU plays a key role in the G20; four EU member states, the country holding the presidency and the European Central Bank are permanent members, and in addition, Spain and the Netherlands have taken part in G20 meetings.

 

The G20 is a more representative group than the G7, as the G20 countries account for around 80% of global GDP. However, the G20 is not the “G192”; the G20 does not have the legitimacy of the UN and the UN system. Neither does the G20 represent all the countries of the world in the sense of having been selected on the basis of a vote or other form of resolution. This therefore raises questions about the legitimacy of the G20 in cases where it takes formal or informal decisions that limit the decision-making ability of other forums.

 

The Nordic countries are currently working together to determine how we best can promote our views and provide input to the G20 process, and at the same time safeguard the legitimacy of the formal cooperation bodies, such as the UN system and the Bretton Woods institutions. We are now seeing a broader debate on the international governance system than we have had for many decades. It is in our interests for the Nordic voice to be heard more clearly in this debate, not least in the light of the Nordic countries’ active engagement in international cooperation.

 

The EU’s economic policy is important for Norway, and the crisis has steered work on the development of EU legislation in the direction of better regulation of the financial markets. For example, the Commission has developed a proposal for strengthened financial supervision, which has been submitted to the Council and the European Parliament for final approval. The system will entail micro-prudential supervision by supervisory authorities for the individual sectors, which will have powers to make decisions that are binding on individual enterprises.

 

According to the proposal, Norway will be given observer status and be entitled to take part in discussions on individual enterprises in cases where we have an interest as host or home country of the enterprise in question. In connection with macro-prudential supervision, it is proposed that a European Systemic Risk Council should be established. Here too it is expected that Norway will be able to participate within a specified framework. The legislative acts relating to the new supervisory system are EEA-relevant and should, as a general rule, be incorporated into the EEA Agreement. This will provide an opportunity to agree on specific conditions for Norway’s participation.

 

It is important that the financial crisis does not lead to protectionist measures or increased use of support schemes that distort competition. There have been reports of new support measures in the maritime sector of certain EU member states. All such measures should come under the common rules for the internal market. The Government will maintain a dialogue with the EU on developments in this area.

 

Mr President,

 

In June, EU citizens elected the new European Parliament. There was a low turnout for this year’s election. The results showed that it had fallen to just 43.1% of a total of more than 375 million Europeans entitled to vote. This is a serious sign that popular support for the EU may be on the decline, and the result is a paradox: fewer and fewer are taking part in elections to an institution that is becoming more and more important.

 

For the European Parliament has become a political workshop with real political power. It is important that both the Norwegian Government and the Storting take note of this. It is positive that the Storting has recently intensified its contact with the European Parliament, both through formal channels and through the party groups. This is necessary. On several issues where there is broad political agreement in Norway, we can and should join forces in order to work together strategically to promote Norwegian views.

 

On 16 September, José Manuel Barroso of Portugal was re-elected as President of the European Commission for a new five-year period. His programme includes strengthening economic cooperation between the EU member states, regulation of the financial markets, reform of the budget system and an ambitious climate policy. The process of establishing a new Commission is under way, and is expected to be completed by 1 December. It is timely that female Commissioners together with other women in prominent positions in the EU have urged Mr Barroso to seek a good balance between women and men in the Commission.

 

Mr President,

 

Finally, I would like to say a few words about certain specific issues related to the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and EU cooperation on justice and home affairs policy.

 

One of the aims of the Lisbon Treaty is to better coordinate and increase the impact of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. It is natural for Norway to maintain close contact with relevant EU bodies when we are formulating our own foreign policy. We have similar views on many issues and processes. This is something that we should make good use of – both by participating in EU activities, and in cases where Norwegian initiatives can benefit from the support of the EU and the EU member states, as was the case in the efforts to achieve a ban on cluster munitions.

 

As regards the Middle East, we maintain close contact with the EU through our chairmanship of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee. As for the efforts to address the difficult situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, we note that the EU has started a process designed to strengthen and better coordinate its own efforts in these countries. This is important for Norway, for example in the police sector in Afghanistan, where we are collaborating with the EU Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) on training the Afghan civilian police force.

 

I would also like to mention the EU’s Operation Atlanta to combat piracy off the Somali coast, where the Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen is taking part. Our participation is governed by the agreement concluded between Norway and the EU in 2004 on Norway’s participation in EU crisis management operations. There is a clear UN mandate for this operation, which is a condition for Norway’s participation.

 

So far, the operation is going well. The number of seizures has dropped significantly. All escorted UN shipments have arrived safely at their destination. Fridtjof Nansen has been engaged in several of these operations and has been commended for its performance.

 

Mr President,

 

EU activities in the justice and home affairs area affect us directly through the various agreements Norway has concluded with the EU in this field. The most important of these is the Schengen Association Agreement. However, in order to be better equipped to combat cross-border crime, Norway needs to cooperate more closely with the EU in this field, even beyond the scope of the Schengen Agreement. This could be arranged through bilateral cooperation and exchange of experience, and also through new association agreements. The fact that the EU is developing new forms of cooperation in this area outside the scope of the Schengen Agreement is a challenge, particularly as regards ensuring that Norway has an opportunity to take part and exert an influence.

 

Norway has negotiated an agreement with the EU on participation in the Prüm Treaty on enhanced police cooperation. This will give us access to national databases containing DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, and will be an important tool in our efforts to combat terrorism and cross-border crime. The Prüm Treaty contains an extensive chapter on data protection and the processing of personal data. Thus due account has been taken of the protection of privacy. It is expected that the agreement will be signed at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 30 November.

 

In June this year, the Commission proposed the establishment of a new agency for the management of the common IT systems in the area of justice and home affairs. To begin with, this agency will be responsible for the management the Schengen Information System (SIS II), the Visa Information System (VIS) and the fingerprint database EURODAC, but the agency could, according to the proposal, also be given responsibility for the development and management of future IT systems in this field. The legislative package entails a further development of the Schengen and EURODAC regulations. Work is currently in progress on a legislative act to establish such an agency, and Norway is taking part in these negotiations.

 

Mr President,

 

As I have already pointed out in this address, this summer and autumn have been eventful in Europe – and indeed in Norway, with the general election, which gave the red-green coalition Government a renewed mandate. In the EU, a new European Parliament has been elected, a new Commission will soon be in place, and the Lisbon Treaty will soon enter into force.

In this connection, it should be added that the Council of Europe has elected Thorbjørn Jagland as its new Secretary General. I would like to commend all the parties in the Storting for their concerted efforts to support Mr Jagland’s and the Foreign Ministry’s campaign. The Council of Europe is a vital institution in the mosaic of European cooperation structures, with its focus on human rights and respect for the rule of law. Norway will support Mr Jagland in his reform work, including the efforts to further develop practical and effective cooperation with the EU.

 

 

 

 


Source: MFA   |   Share on your network   |   print