Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre

Biannual address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters

18/11/2010 // Jonas Gahr Støre, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, has recently addressed the Storing regarding important EU/EEA matters. Read Støre’s statement in full here.

 

Mr President,

On 5 May this year, the day after I held my last address to Storting on important EU and EEA matters, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag that the future of Europe was at stake. The critical situation in Greece and the risk that the euro could collapse made it necessary for the EU to take emergency measures.

Today, six months later, the situation is somewhat less dramatic. The downturn in the real economy seems to have levelled off in a number of major European countries. This applies particularly to Germany, but also to Poland, the UK and the Netherlands. Although growth is low and fragile, it has exceeded many people’s expectations.

The main engine for this improvement is Asia, where growth has remained high. It is particularly the European countries that have increased exports to the Asian economies that are now experiencing an upturn. This is particularly true of Germany, where growth has spread to private consumption. If the rest of Europe follows suit, there is hope in the long term both for the labour market and for government finances. However, the situation remains unclear, as confirmed by the focus in recent days on the financial situation in Ireland, Portugal and Greece.

 

Mr President,

A comprehensive financial rescue package for the euro area worth up to EUR 750 billion was launched in May to provide temporary financial assistance to euro countries in difficulty. The EU is making available EUR 500 billion subject to the IMF agreeing to provide EUR 250 billion. The package was made contingent on the approval of the national parliaments and the establishment of a temporary, independent entity in Luxemburg called the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). If one of the countries in the euro area should find itself in difficulty, the Facility is to provide credit to governments in trouble, thereby preserving market stability.

During the euro crisis last spring, it became clear that if disparities in the fiscal policy and competitiveness of the Member States were to increase, it would put undue pressure on cooperation in the euro area. The EFSF helped to boost confidence in the cooperation between the euro countries. At the same time it became clear that, even though the Lisbon Treaty has now entered into force, the EU does not have an adequate crisis response system in the event of a Member State falling into financial difficulties.    

The sovereign debt crisis has also revealed that the framework for coordinating economic policy in the EU and the euro area does not function well enough, particularly for the countries that have a common currency and thus a single monetary policy. The 3% of GDP ceiling on annual budget deficits set out in the Stability and Growth Pact is now being exceeded by most of the EU countries, including all of those in the euro area. Several countries have deficits that exceed 10% of GDP, which in turn is leading to an increase in debt. It is estimated that the public debt in the EU will soon exceed 80% of GDP, whereas the ceiling under current legislation is 60% of GDP.

During a lecture in Oslo in June, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and President of the Eurogroup, Jean Claude Juncker, said that a revolution was needed by October in the degree of coordination and cooperation between the countries in the euro area in order to salvage the credibility of this cooperation.

A task force headed by European Council President Herman van Rompuy completed its work in October. I am uncertain whether Mr Juncker would call the Task Force’s results revolutionary today, but its proposals were generally favourably received. The recommendations in the Task Force’s report include broadening economic surveillance, greater fiscal discipline and more use of sanctions against Member States that fail to comply with EU rules and recommendations.

The Commission has been working in parallel on a comprehensive package of legislative proposals to implement the Task Force’s recommendations. At a meeting of the European Council at the end of October, heads of state and government generally endorsed these recommendations.

They also agreed on the need to establish a permanent crisis mechanism and to increase fiscal discipline by means of a wider range of sanctions and measures. Such a crisis mechanism could entail a need for Treaty changes, and this issue will be further examined by the EU. The legislative measures must be approved by the European Parliament before they can enter into force. The Commission hopes to have the new framework in place by summer 2011.

The international financial crisis has also revealed many weaknesses in EU supervision of the financial sector.  This has led to the introduction of new regulatory mechanisms and an improved supervisory structure. The existing supervisory committees will be replaced by three permanent agencies to supervise the banking, insurance and securities sectors. They are being given a coordinating, and in part supranational role in the supervision of financial institutions at the national level. In addition, the European Systemic Risk Board has been established at the macro level to monitor and assess risks to the stability of the financial system as a whole.

These bodies will be operational towards the beginning of 2011, and Norway will be able to participate in this cooperation through the EEA Agreement. This applies particularly to the supervisory agencies, and to a lesser degree to the Risk Board. The Government has been working systematically to ensure that the EEA-EFTA countries are represented in the best possible way.

As the Government has informed the Storting on previous occasions, most recently in connection with the national budget for 2011, the EU decided in the wake of the financial crisis to fully harmonise the level of coverage under the deposit guarantee scheme at a level of EUR 100 000 per depositor per bank. The Norwegian deposit guarantee covers up to NOK 2 million, i.e. well over twice the amount that is to apply from the beginning of 2011 according to the EU Directive adopted in March 2009. Norway has been working actively all along to ensure that we can maintain the Norwegian deposit guarantee at the current level.

Only last week, the Finance Minister raised this matter with Commissioner Barnier, and there will be further contact if necessary. Both during the meeting and in his remarks to NRK television news, Mr Barnier said that this matter is still being considered.

 

Mr President,

The financial crisis has affected Europe in a particular way in that it has hit government finances in many countries, and thus had a direct impact on national policy and sustainability. It has demonstrated just how unsustainable the combination of high debt levels and large deficits is in the long term. It is extremely worrying that unemployment rates are so high in so many countries, and particularly serious that widespread unemployment among young people is becoming so deeply entrenched.

The EU’s focus is on strengthening supervisory and control schemes, and now with the new mechanisms in place, on how the Union can respond if new debt crises should arise. However, the conditions that have created the imbalances in the first place must be addressed in each country.

Some countries have national debts that are so high that it would be difficult to implement additional fiscal policy measures. Measures that are now being considered and implemented in most of the EU countries include cuts in public spending combined with higher taxes. If we look at the way the various countries are addressing the causes of the crisis at national level, we see that there is much more focus on dealing with the most high-profile effects than on coordinating efforts. We see that individual countries are implementing different measures and that the social and political responses vary from one country to another.

It is understandable that governments are taking steps to address large imbalances in government finances. But if comprehensive measures are taken in some countries to cut spending at the same time as taxes are increased, this gives cause for concern. It could lead to greater social and political tension, and could undermine or kill prospects for new growth. Several economists have pointed out that the crisis measures could weaken growth capacity and thus make the crisis more protracted.

This is putting EU cooperation to the test, particularly the cooperation between the countries of the euro area, where the single monetary policy makes close coordination of national economic policy necessary. The Lisbon Treaty was supposed to strengthen the basis for joint action and a common policy, but the response to the crisis had the opposite effect in that focus turned to the respective countries’ domestic situation, at any rate in terms of economic and fiscal policy.  

There are still deep-seated imbalances between and within countries in our part of the world. Between Germany with its export-driven growth on the one hand, and countries like Ireland and Portugal, which have large national debts to service – and which, after Greece, seem to be most at risk – on the other. And Ireland’s banking sector is very fragile. The deep cuts in public expenditure we are now seeing in many EU countries inevitably raise the question of which countries will see the greatest growth.

By contrast, Norway has a public sector with net assets, sound budget management practices and low unemployment. This is positive. But the state of the European economy has always been important for the Norwegian economy. Weaker demand affects our exports. When our European partners and allies experience economic, social or political crises, this undermines our ability to focus together on the major issues facing us such as the distribution of global power and influence as the growing economies – with China in the lead ­­– make themselves more clearly felt.

 

Mr President,

Innovation, research and education are essential for long-term growth and development in Europe.

The new EU strategy for jobs and growth, Europe 2020, has now been launched. The strategy has measurable targets for the employment rate, R&D investments, action on energy and climate change, education and poverty reduction. The main instruments are termed “flagship initiatives”, and four of seven have now been launched. The last three will begin during the first six months of 2011 at the latest. The strategy also includes a number of EU initiatives that also affect the internal market.

These flagship initiatives may be regarded as a test of the EU’s ability to implement the Europe 2020 strategy. Its predecessor, the Lisbon strategy, was only partly successful in achieving similar objectives. The various Member States fell far short of achieving common targets at national level. This time, too, success will depend on whether the EU manages to ensure sufficient national ownership in both the public and the private sector.

We are following the Europe 2020 process. It will affect economic development in Europe, which again will affect Norway’s economy, and will also have consequences for our obligations and for what will be in our own national interests to pursue further. One of the most important aims of our participation in the internal market through the EEA Agreement is to ensure that the playing field is as level as possible. This is why we must ensure that Norwegian actors are able keep up and assert themselves in these areas as well.

 

Mr President,

This is a difficult time for Europe on several fronts.

The EU is having to deal with the repercussions of the finance crisis at the same time as it is implementing the Lisbon Treaty, which, not least, entails pursuing a more forceful common foreign policy. The establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) is key here.

 Last summer the EU foreign ministers approved the structure of the EEAS. According to plan the headquarters will be in Brussels, while most of the staff will be posted to delegations around the world, including in Oslo. The EU delegations will represent the entire EU abroad, not just the Commission as was previously the case. The aim is that the EEAS should be operational from 1 December 2010 at the earliest, and be reviewed in 2013. The way it looks now, the structure will include an EEA-EFTA unit, which will handle relations with Norway.

The Government is working to ensure that Norway will continue its cooperation with the EU in the new structure. Given that the EU delegations will deal with all aspects of EU foreign policy efforts, they could play a more important role in setting the agenda for EU foreign policy. They will be important contact points for us. We will also further develop the contact points we already have with the EU, the Commission and the General Secretariat of the Council.

 

Mr President,

We attach great importance to following EU efforts to coordinate the foreign policies of the Member States more closely. It is very important to Norway that our closest allies and partners succeed in this endeavour, because they are the countries with which we most frequently take common positions in international forums.

It is too early to assess the result. So far, we can see that the EU Member States are devoting considerable energy to internal coordination and wrangling over the structure of the new institutions. However, so far it has been more difficult to see that this has given the EU a clearer profile internationally. If anything, Europe’s voice in leading international forums seems to be absent or at best weak, for example with regard to climate diplomacy or the situation in the Middle East. Moreover, there is still some tension between the commitment to a cohesive common policy and individual Member States’ desire to promote national viewpoints.

This will take time. The EU has always demonstrated an ability to build the institutions provided for in its treaties. I believe this will also be the case in the foreign policy field. The challenge will be to fill these institutions with policy – and ensure that compromise between the 27 is not based on the lowest common denominator and thus only as strong as the weakest link.

The EU presidency will continue to rotate between the Member States under the Lisbon Treaty. Each presidency will arrange informal foreign ministers’ meetings, and Norway hopes to be invited to some of them. They are useful political workshops for exchanging views. However, as has been pointed out recently, these meetings could be held more frequently. At the same time, there are a number of other arenas where we come together with EU bodies and EU Member States. We give priority to close dialogue with our ministerial colleagues in the EU, both bilaterally and in international forums, and with key figures in the Commission and the European Parliament. This contact is in Norway’s interests, and – let me add – in the interests of the EU.

 

Mr President,

I would like to mention one development that could be instrumental in strengthening contact between Norway and more EU countries. The two agreements with the EU on the EEA Grants for the period 2009 to 2014 were signed on 28 July, and the Storting gave its consent to ratification on 28 October. Meanwhile, I was able, subject to the consent of the Storting, to sign the first bilateral agreement with one of the beneficiary states, Slovakia, in Bratislava on 26 October.

The interest shown in these grants in Slovakia clearly illustrates what an important resource these mechanisms represent, not just for development in the beneficiary states, but also for our bilateral relations.

Through these grants, Norway is making a substantial contribution to reducing economic and social disparities in Europe. The donor countries are to provide EUR 1788.5 million in the period 2009 to 2014. Norway will provide around 97% of this amount.

The economic situation in many of the beneficiary states is difficult. Our contribution can make a difference. The new grant scheme is based on lessons learned from the previous financial mechanisms, and the priority areas have been further developed as priority sectors of common interest.

Norwegian partners now have the opportunity to become much more closely involved in programmes and projects. NGOs and commercial actors will also be able to take part in projects. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other relevant ministries, will seek to promote extensive involvement of a broad range of Norwegian actors within the existing framework.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs started negotiations with the beneficiary states on the use of the funds in September. We are now engaged in talks with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Norway has attached particular importance to strengthening cooperation on justice and home affairs with certain beneficiary states, particularly Romania, Lithuania, Poland and Greece. Now that an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons has been signed with Romania, it is natural to also focus on institutional cooperation on judicial reform and reform of the prison system.

The situation of asylum seekers in Greece is attracting a great deal of attention. I am pleased that we reached agreement with Greece in September on significant cooperation in the asylum field. This is one of the ways the Norway and EEA Grants are helping the EU countries to achieve common European objectives. This is in the interests of the beneficiary states. And it is in Norway’s interests.

 

Mr President,

In keeping with established practice, I would now like to turn to some specific EEA matters. The Government is working on the implementation of several controversial directives. The Postal Directive and the Data Retention Directive are examples of legislation that has been widely debated and closely studied.

The third Postal Directive entails the full liberalisation of the postal market and is to enter into force in the EU on 1 January 2011. Questions have arisen in Norway about the social and economic consequences of implementing the directive. This issue is now being thoroughly considered. The Government will put the matter before the Storting as soon as it has clarified its position.

The Government is still considering the Data Retention Directive and will put the matter before the Storting when this work has been completed.

As regards the Eurovignette Directive on harmonisation of transport infrastructure charging, our prime concern is that we should be able to maintain our more flexible rules on discounts for heavy transport on toll roads. The Government is still in a dialogue with the Commission on the matter.

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which updates the “TV without Frontiers” directive, affects Norwegian policy. The directive sets out the conditions for TV transmission in the EEA. Receiving Member States may not restrict advertising in broadcasts from other Member States that is in accordance with the directive.

Today, Norway has an adaptation that allows us to stop advertising of alcoholic products in broadcasts that are particularly targeted at Norway. The exemption from the current directive only applies to broadcasts through cable networks. Norway wishes to maintain the exemption and to extend it to digital terrestrial networks. The European Commission has made it clear that the exemption will not be continued.

Norway has taken this up at political level on several occasions, both with the European Commission and with specific EU countries. It is the Government’s view that it would be very unfortunate for our overall public health efforts if Norway lost the opportunity to stop alcohol advertising in broadcasts directed at us, and we will work on a broad basis to win acceptance for our standpoint in the EU.

In 2008, the EU adopted the Temporary Agency Work Directive. This is designed to protect temporary agency workers by recognising temporary work agencies as employers and establishing a suitable framework for the use of temporary agency work. The directive introduces the principle of equal treatment for temporary agency workers. It is proposed that this principle should be incorporated into the Norwegian Working Environment Act. This will improve the pay and working conditions for temporary workers.

The directive also governs the Member States’ right to restrict the use of temporary agency work. In the debate on the directive, concern was expressed about an increase in temporary appointments. Our assessment so far is that it will not be necessary to amend Norwegian legislation on the employment of temporary agency workers. It is still Norwegian policy that permanent employment is to be the norm. The provisions on hired labour will continue to be linked with those on temporary employment, so that employment protection is ensured. A consultation document has been circulated for comment with a deadline of 10 December. On the basis of these comments, a decision will be taken on whether the directive is to be incorporated into the EEA Agreement.

These directives will have direct consequences for Norwegian businesses and for the daily lives of the Norwegian public. They demonstrate how important it is that Norway takes active part in this work and seeks to exert an influence. Firstly in our work in various expert groups that advise the Commission and help to formulate new EU legislation; and secondly in what is known as comitology, i.e. work in committees where national representatives follow the process by which the Commission formulates and adopts supplementary legislation. Active participation in this work gives us the opportunity to promote Norwegian views in connection with the development of EU legislation that either already has been or will be incorporated into the EEA Agreement.

Articles 99 and 100 of the EEA Agreement give Norway the opportunity to take part in relevant expert groups and committees. However, the Treaty of Lisbon has amended the framework for the comitology system in the EU.

One new element is that the European Parliament is now on equal footing with the European Council in terms of delegation and control of the Commission’s implementing powers. The final form of the comitology system is not yet fully clear. Norway’s rights as set out in the EEA Agreement will still apply regardless. The Government will seek to ensure that our rights are properly safeguarded.

Influencing the development of EU legislation is no easy task, Mr President.

One of several reasons for this is the fact that the European Parliament has gained greater influence in the decision-making processes. The sealing issue is a good illustration of the Parliament’s power. Despite extensive protests from Norway and Canada, the EU’s ban on trade in seal products came into force on 20 August this year. There a few limited exemptions to the ban. These apply to products from seals hunted by indigenous peoples and by-products from sustainable management of marine resources and the importation of seal products for the personal use of travellers or their families. Hunting as such is not regulated.

Norway and Canada engaged in joint dispute settlement consultations in the WTO in December last year. We are in regular contact with Canada. We have both requested a new round of consultations in the WTO. The Government is considering whether to request that the case be brought before a WTO panel, and if so when the best time to take such a step would be.

 

Mr President,

What can we expect in the way of new EU legislation of significance for Norway?

The Common European Asylum System will have important consequences for Norway. We will be directly affected by the proposed amendments to the Dublin Regulation and the Eurodac system on processing applications for asylum, and it is in our interests that these instruments are continued and improved. Greater harmonisation, more homogeneous implementation and higher standards in the European asylum system will help to reduce the numbers of secondary migrants, and ensure equal access to protection throughout Europe.

The Government is giving priority to concluding an agreement with the European Asylum Support Office in Malta, which will formally be opened later this month, and aims to enter into negotiations with the EU on this matter in the near future.

The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering several cases where the complainants claim that the return of asylum seekers to Greece is in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. A case against Belgium and Greece has been referred to the Grand Chamber, and a judgment in this case is expected before the end of the year or early next year. In connection with the cases, the Court has requested a suspension of the return of asylum seekers to Greece. Norway has also received such a request, and on the basis of this has suspended return to Greece. The forthcoming judgment will have consequences for both Norwegian and European practice if the Court decides that return to Greece in general is in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On 4 November, Vice-President of the European Commission Viviane Reding presented a data protection reform strategy, which covers all policy areas. It contains proposals for modernisation of EU data protection legislation and indicates that new legislation will be proposed in 2011. Any amendments to EU legislation in this area will have consequences for Norway, which is integrated into the common rules through the Data Protection Directive of 1995 and the Data Protection Framework Decision in connection with police cooperation and the Framework Decision on police cooperation and on legal cooperation in criminal cases. The Government will therefore follow this work closely.

A directive on consumer rights is being developed in the EU. It will replace four existing consumer directives that have all been implemented in Norwegian law. These set out rules on the obligation of businesses to provide information to consumers, consumer rights, the right to cancel a contract in certain situations, and unfair contract terms. The original proposal put forward by the Commission in 2008 aims for full harmonisation, and would entail a reduction in consumer protection in Norway on certain points.

The Government has made its views known to the EU: individual countries should be allowed to keep rules that ensure better consumer protection than those set out in the directive. This would mean that Norwegian consumer rights as a whole would not be undermined.

We note that work on the directive is proceeding in a positive direction. We believe that Norway and like-minded countries have contributed to this. We are keeping consumer and business interests in Norway up-to-date on progress in this matter. Norway enjoys support for several of its points of view both among EU Member States and among Members of the European Parliament.

The proposal is currently being discussed by the European Council and the European Parliament. The Belgian EU presidency hopes to see political agreement in the Council by the end of the year. Although the draft text that is now being discussed in the European Parliament has been improved in Norway’s view, there is room for further improvement. The EEA-EFTA countries have drawn up an EFTA comment to the European Parliament on the proposed directive and the further follow up of this work.

A proposal for a directive on patient’s rights in cross-border healthcare was presented by the European Commission in 2008 as part of the New Social Agenda. The directive aims to clarify the rights of patients seeking healthcare in another EEA state, and to facilitate access to high-quality cross-border healthcare.

The directive would establish the right to reimbursement for healthcare provided in another EEA state than the one in which the person concerned is covered by a national social security system. The European Court of Justice and the EFTA Court have interpreted the rules for free movement of services to mean that patients are entitled to such reimbursement under certain conditions. This means that Norway has already established rules that comply with parts of the proposed directive. However, the directive also provides for arrangements to help patients make informed choices with regard to different healthcare services and the various forms of cooperation between Member States.

The debate on the proposed directive in the European Council and the European Parliament this autumn will examine such issues as the conditions under which countries may require prior authorisation of treatment in another country, the possibility of establishing special rights to treatment of conditions requiring specialist expertise, the possible introduction of schemes under which patients do not need to first pay for their treatment themselves and then apply for reimbursement, and rules for cooperation on e-health. 

In Norway’s view, it is important to find a balance between patients’ rights and the countries’ need to be able to plan and control costs. It is important that we maintain a robust public health service that is able to provide adequate services throughout the country. The Ministry of Health and Care Services is following this matter.

 

Mr President,

Energy policy in the EU seeks to meet several goals: secure energy supply, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, and well-functioning energy markets. Like Norway, the EU is concerned that safety in the offshore petroleum sector should be given top priority. The European Commission has recently presented a communication on this topic, and is currently considering whether and in what way the EU can make a contribution in this area.

This is a field where Norway has specialist expertise and very stringent legislation that has been developed over many years on the basis of direct experience. We are prepared to share our experience, and will continue to emphasise the importance of national responsibility for safety issues. 

The implementation of major initiatives such as the third internal energy market package and the climate and energy package of 2009 entails a great deal of work for the EU countries. These packages of measures are being considered for incorporation into the EEA Agreement. The new regulation on security of gas supply, which was adopted by the European Parliament this autumn, is one example of the EU’s work on energy supply. The regulation will help to increase security of gas supplies and strengthen the position of gas as an energy carrier in Europe. This is in Norway’s interests.

The Commission has just presented a proposal for a new energy strategy for the EU. This identifies opportunities for improvements and other decisions that are necessary if the EU is to achieve its 2020 targets. Focus is given to the development of infrastructure, energy efficiency and technology development, areas that are also high up on the Norwegian energy agenda.

At the same time, we are engaging directly with our European partners in the discussion on energy production and consumption in the Europe of tomorrow, and on the steps towards a low-carbon economy. Norwegian hydropower should be seen in the context of renewable energy in the North Sea area, including the UK’s and Germany’s wind power developments.

In its energy concept for 2050, the German Government sets the target of meeting 80% of its energy needs with renewables. It highlights that close cooperation with Norway will be decisive for achieving this target. In the Norwegian–German energy dialogue, companies and authorities are discussing a new generation of energy cooperation between our countries. This is opening up exciting new perspectives and opportunities.

 

Mr President,

Norway and the EU have similar views on the climate policy challenges the international community is facing, and on how we should proceed.

In my last address to the Storting, I said that despite the fact that the global negotiations in Copenhagen did not succeed, the EU will maintain the specific content of its climate policy. This is still the case. The 20–20–20 targets, the revised Emissions Trading Directive and the Renewables Directive are still the EU’s key tools.

The Government is following up the agreement reached in the Stortinget on our response to climate change, which includes the international deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Government is working with both the Commission and important member states. Around NOK 1.3 billion has been allocated to CCS in the EU through the Norway and EEA Grants. The EU Directive on the Geological Storage of CO2, which is also part of the climate and energy package, is an important part of the framework for realising CCS in Europe.

The EU’s target is to reach a 20% share of energy from renewable sources through energy efficiency measures and further development of renewable energy sources by 2020. This is important for Norway. We are following policy development in this area.

The EEA-EFTA countries are in a dialogue with the Commission on incorporation of the Aviation Directive, the revised Emissions Trading Directive and the Renewables Directive into the EEA Agreement. Agreement has been reached on incorporation of the Aviation Directive into the EEA Agreement, while the incorporation of the revised Emissions Trading Directive is still being negotiated. We hope that this will be finalised before long.

The Renewables Directive sets ambitious targets for increasing the EU’s renewable energy production. The EEA-EFTA countries Norway and Iceland have a very different departure point from all the EU countries. Our share of renewable energy is well above the EU average. It is therefore natural that we consider every aspect of a possible incorporation of the directive into the EEA Agreement. Both Norway and Iceland have had exploratory talks with the Commission.

In 2005, which is the starting point for calculating targets for 2020, the share of renewable energy in Norway’s energy mix was 58.5%. That is well above the ceiling of 50% established in the calculation methodology and used by the EU. As the share of renewable energy in Norway is already so high, we also have less opportunity to phase out fossil fuels than the EU countries.

One of the most relevant sectors for transfer to renewable energy is electricity production. Almost all of Norway’s production is already from renewables, whereas it is easier for other European countries to make a significant improvement here. We must therefore find a sensible solution that takes our particular situation into account. The Government will continue to work on this together with Iceland in the context of the EEA.

 

Mr President,

Research cooperation between Norway and the EU is close and broad. This is facilitated by the EEA Agreement. Like Norway, the EU gives priority to research on the major global issues: climate change, energy, scarcity of resources, health and an aging population. 

Norway takes part in the EU Framework Programmes for research, technology and development. We are now half way through the seventh programme (FP7). This is the most extensive programme the EEA has taken part in, and is also the most global research cooperation that Norway is involved in.  The Ministry of Education and Research’s evaluation of Norway’s participation in the programmes in the period 2002–2008 shows that it has entailed considerable benefits for Norwegian research. Norwegian researchers perform particularly well in fields such as climate, energy and food, and Norwegian small and medium-sized enterprises also take part.

We have started preparations for FP8. The planning of the next programme will begin in earnest in 2011. It is important for us to present our priorities for the new programme at an early stage. We must focus our efforts in a way that meets Norwegian, European and global needs. The Ministry of Education and Research has initiated a broad consultation with the Norwegian research communities, the regional health authorities and the business sector, and is in dialogue with the other Nordic countries on this matter.    

Through the EEA Agreement, Norway is also taking part in the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP). This covers pre-schools and schools, including vocational training, higher education and adult education. Our participation in this programme gives Norwegian pupils, students, teachers and others involved in education the opportunity to apply for grants for visits abroad for individuals or groups and for cooperation with one or more partners from another country.

 

Mr President,

The treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean was signed in Murmansk on 15 September. It will be submitted to the Storting and the Russian Duma for ratification before entering into force. I will therefore revert to the Storting in connection with the submission of the proposition. The treaty has a firm basis in international law and creates predictability and stability for the exercise of authority and jurisdiction over resources in the previously disputed area. The treaty has aroused considerable interest within and outside Europe as an illustration of how states in the north follow the guidance provided by international law to resolve outstanding issues.

We can now concentrate our efforts on strengthening local cross-border cooperation with Russia and developing our cooperation on the northern sea areas.

In Oslo earlier this month, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I signed another agreement – on a local border traffic regime between Norway and Russia. This is an arrangement that the Schengen Agreement has paved the way for.

The agreement is the latest in a series of measures to simplify crossing the Norwegian–Russian border. When it comes into force, it will enable people living up to 30 kilometres from the border to apply for a local border traffic permit. This will allow the holder to cross the border and stay in the border area of the other country without a visa for up to 15 days at a time. However, the local border traffic permit will not confer the right to take employment in the border area of the other country.

Both of these agreements with Russia ensure greater predictability and clearer rules in the north and help to further bridge the divide between east and west. What used to be the border between NATO and the Soviet Union is now an area where cross-border development and cooperation are flourishing, even more so now that we have reached agreement on maritime delimitation.

 

Mr President,

Establishing joint rules and finding joint solutions between states can be a painful process. It took us 40 years to reach agreement on maritime delimitation. Such processes entail making extensive compromises and striking a good balance between various considerations.

Developments in the EU in recent years have increased tensions between different countries and between different needs. It is a challenging task for 27 countries to reach agreement on common policy that affects the everyday lives of half a billion Europeans. It is particularly challenging when complex solutions need to be found in a very short space of time, as was the case with the rescue package for Greece.

For us, the bottom line is this: in both political and economic terms, it is in Norway’s  interests that the EU countries are successful. Therefore we will do what we can to this end.

 


Source: Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs   |   Share on your network   |   print