Sjekkes mot fremføring
Minister, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to take part in the opening of this Estonian–Norwegian business forum in continuation of the state visit of President Ilves.
Norway may not be part of the EU, but we are very much part of Europe and European cooperation. We share a common history, common values and not least – a common market.
The EEA Agreement – Norway’s gateway into this market – is 20 years old this year. But the concept dates all the way back to 1989, when Jacques Delors – then President of the European Commission – launched the idea of establishing a large European Economic Area with common rules.
Today this market comprises 31 countries and 500 million people. A market where common rules ensure predictability and a level playing field. A market that creates incentives for cooperation.
The economic cooperation between Norway and Estonia is a success story in this regard. I know Estonia is seen as a good partner for Norwegian businesses, and Norway seems to be an attractive market and partner for Estonian companies. Seeing the size of the Estonian trade delegation makes me even more confident of this fact.
There are some 400 Norwegian-owned companies in Estonia operating in all sectors. Some are in production, some in finance, some in services, and many are taking advantage of the inspiring start-up culture that has made your country famous.
One thing these companies seem to agree on is that Estonia is a business-friendly country, and that Estonians and Norwegians understand each other and work well together.
Another cornerstone of our relations is the EEA and Norway Grants scheme. This has intensified our already close cooperation in many areas – business, environment, health, gender equality and work–life balance – to mention a few. Programmes under this scheme have proven to be excellent vehicles for stimulating both public and private partnerships.
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are helping to reduce economic and social disparities and to strengthen relations and cooperation in 16 European Union countries.
The scheme has two main objectives. The first – strengthening bilateral cooperation – is of course good for business in itself. The more threads in the web of our bilateral relationship, the stronger it becomes.
The second – reducing social and economic disparities in Europe – is also good for business. A stronger Europe, with sustainable growth and security for its citizens, means a stronger common market.
In addition, the programme area Green Industry Innovation is directly relevant for the private sector. This provides an exciting opportunity for businesses to develop innovative technology that is both environmentally friendly and economically competitive. The quality of the approved projects is very promising. Combining Estonian ICT expertise and Norwegian expertise in the field of green technology is sure to create win-win situations.
One example of a project in this area is the development of advanced oil-spill detection systems that can analyse spills remotely to determine their chemical make-up, and can also detect spills in icy waters. Environmentally conscious coastal states in Northern Europe, like Norway and Estonia, have obvious interests in this field. It is in our mutual interest that the EEA and Norway Grants can be used for purposes like this.
Several other projects under the Green Industry Innovation programme area are designed to improve energy efficiency. For instance, the Estonian company Soletek is cooperating with Norwegian Enoco on the development of an innovative and flexible system for combining various district heating energy sources. In another project, Nordic Power Management and Asplan Viak are developing an information and management system for efficient electricity consumption and production.
Some of the companies that have received funding are represented here today and will participate in the round table discussion.
I would particularly like to mention Christian Testman, CEO of ICD Industries AS, who is a well-known IT entrepreneur in Estonia. ICT development and the digital agenda has become an important area of cooperation between our two countries, with many bright ideas for the future.
The synergy that can be achieved by bringing together Estonian ICT expertise and Norwegian experience in the field of green technology makes us confident that we can develop successful solutions not only for Estonia and Norway, but also for third markets, thus increasing the competitiveness of the business sector throughout the Nordic region.
‘It is difficult to fall in love with the single market,’ Jacques Delors once said. That may be so. But I think we all can all agree that the single market is needed more than ever. As is a dynamic business and investment climate in Europe.
I am sure the various sessions to day will help to further strengthen the business and investment climate between Norway and Estonia. And that this will benefit not only our companies, but also job creation and growth, and Europe as a whole.