Biannual address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters

 

Mr President,

Our relationship with Europe is one of the main axes of both our domestic policy and our foreign policy. European integration and our relations with Europe affect almost all aspects of Norwegian society and everyone living in Norway.

The same is true of the part of Europe that lies to the west of Belarus: these countries are all either (1) members of the EU, (2) candidate or potential candidate countries for EU membership, (3) members of the EEA, such as Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway, or (4) have an extensive set of bilateral agreements with the EU, such as Switzerland. All the various models for European cooperation are covered here.

The EU is the primary driver of economic and political cooperation in Europe. Anyone taking part in a debate on Norway’s relationship with Europe should take this as the starting point for their arguments, regardless of what they, personally, may think about EU membership or the EEA Agreement as such.

To put it another way, Mr President: Europe is not ‘somewhere else’. It is here.

Norway participates in the internal market through the EEA. We participate through the Schengen cooperation and through a series of other agreements in the area of justice and home affairs. And we cooperate actively with the EU in the field of foreign, defence and security policy, for example through the European Defence Agency. 

By participating in many areas of European cooperation, we are taking our share of the responsibility for developments in Europe. Therefore it is essential that we participate as an active and constructive partner in the arenas in which we cooperate with our fellow Europeans, particularly now at a time when Europe is facing major challenges.

It is important that we are clear about what Norway’s interests are, and that we use the room for manoeuvre available to us to further these interests more effectively. This is one of the main messages of the Government’s white paper on Norway’s European policy and the recently submitted white paper on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU.

The Government’s active European policy has successfully safeguarded important Norwegian interests. We have, for example, retained our system of regionally differentiated employers’ contributions, an important element of an effective policy for securing economic activity across the country.

And we have gained acceptance for the right of reversion that ensures public ownership of our inexhaustible hydropower resources.

An active debate on Europe is essential if we are to be able to formulate Norwegian interests clearly and further these interests in our European cooperation. The Government has sought to promote debate on Europe, for example through the publication of Official Norwegian Report 2012:2 on Norway’s agreements with the EU.

We are therefore very pleased to see a burgeoning interest in our relations with Europe, both in organisations and in society at large. I very much welcome this much-needed debate, which will help to enhance knowledge of European issues and our relations with our neighbouring areas. 

Mr President,

Once again the backdrop to this debate on the EU and EEA here in the Storting is a Europe in crisis. As we all know, the euro cooperation is still under pressure, in part as a result of the major economic imbalances between the participating countries and high and growing levels of national debt in some countries. Confidence in the financial markets has been weakened. Banks and financial institutions have collapsed, or are being kept afloat with the help of public funds.

In recent years, high levels of national debt and large budget deficits have been a common phenomenon in OECD countries. This is a significant challenge for the US, Japan and the UK. But it is having a particular impact on the countries in the euro area.

Europe has entered a period of stagnation. The EU countries are trying to support each other; the countries that are faring best are providing major loans to the countries that have been most severely affected by the crisis. But in order to receive these loans, the crisis-hit countries, which, to be sure, have long been living beyond their means, are being required to put their economies in order and ensure effective management of income and expenditure.

This has led to tax increases and extensive cuts in public spending. Public sector employees are losing their jobs or have received pay cuts, public benefits are being cut back, and there has been a decline in public sector procurement from the private sector.  A vicious circle is being created. The result is growing unemployment. In many countries high unemployment has become entrenched. Youth unemployment, in particular, is alarmingly high in many European countries.   

In other words, this is about more than just statistics. It is about people. It is, for example, about highly-educated Spanish middle-class families worrying that their children will never find jobs. It is about young Greeks who have lost their faith in the future, who fear that they will be the generation that was never able to find paid employment, even after the economy finally picked up. It is about individuals and the social tragedy they are experiencing in countries and societies that largely resemble our own. 

Confidence in the authorities and in democracy itself is decreasing. Social unrest is on the rise. This is weakening people’s confidence in the future, which in the long term poses a threat, not only to social development and welfare in Europe, but also to democracy itself.

The confidence of the people is essential to the functioning of open societies.  When people see only a bleak future ahead, the prospects for democracy are undermined.  The current economic crisis could, ultimately, turn into a political and even a security crisis.  

Moreover, we are living in a time of great global change. New economic centres of power are emerging and Europe’s competitiveness is in decline. 

Mr President,

At the same time, it is clear that intense efforts are being made in many quarters to try to resolve the current crisis. The greatest difference between the current situation and the European crisis of the 1930s is that today we have regional and global institutions and organisations in place, such as the EU itself here in Europe, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the global level.

Without institutions such as these, as well as common rules and the political will to act, we would, in my view, be in a far worse situation; protectionism would have been rife and crisis-hit countries would once again have sought to export their problems to neighbouring countries. The EU’s response to the crisis, however, appears to be closer integration and cooperation.

How does this backdrop affect our own debate on Europe and our own policy? What can we ourselves do to deal with these challenges? 

I would like, Mr President, to draw attention to three things.

Firstly, sound governance at home.

In Norway unemployment is low, our government finances are in good shape and we have a dynamic and adaptable private sector. Our oil and gas exports are largely resilient to crises. And we pursue a sound and responsible fiscal policy. This policy is based on a broad consensus in this chamber not to spend all our oil revenues immediately, but to manage them as an asset we share with future generations of Norwegians.

It is particularly important to ensure that our own economy is in order at a time when there is a crisis raging elsewhere. We need to safeguard social security in the broadest sense and maintain our focus on equality and the equitable distribution of opportunities and resources.

These are the strengths of the Norwegian model. We need to protect the Norwegian model for working life. And we need to ensure that we continue to have a business sector that can adapt to change and keep pace with international challenges. 

The Norwegian model has its roots in the international crisis of the interwar years. After the Second World War it was further developed on the basis of a realisation that work and welfare for all are the most important factors for economic growth and development. It was – and still is –a model for success in an open and changing world.  

Secondly, a stable and predictable European policy.

Norway has an open economy and exports account for some 40 % of its GDP. More than three quarters of Norwegian exports go to the EU. The internal market is part of the daily reality for Norwegian companies. The same is true of a large number of Norwegians who live or work in other EEA countries. At a time when parts of Europe are in crisis, it is more important than ever for us that there is predictability within the framework of the EEA Agreement.

The Government therefore considers it important that Norway makes full use of the opportunities and room for manoeuvre provided by the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU to enhance predictability and stability and to promote Norwegian interests as effectively as possible. 

Thirdly, active engagement in Europe is essential if we are to be able to deal with the challenges we are facing.

It is essential for Norway that there is progress in Europe. Norway has a strong tradition of engagement in international processes. We have a tradition of looking for comprehensive solutions, common interests and mutual benefits. And we have a tradition of safeguarding our own national interests. Because there need not be a contradiction between mutual benefits and self-interest. We will continue to take this approach in pursuing our European policy.

Mr President,

Over the last six months there has been an active debate on European policy here in Norway. The Government has presented two white papers on Europe: EEA and Norway Grants: Solidarity and cooperation in Europe (Meld. St. 20 (2011–2012)), which we will debate on Thursday, and Meld. St. 5 (2012–2013) on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU.

The Official Norwegian Report 2012:2 Outside and Inside: Norway’s agreements with the European Union, and a number of other reports have also helped to put the EEA Agreement and Norway’s relations with the rest of Europe on the agenda. This is positive. In addition, various issues such as transnational crime, the situation of the Roma people, the increasing number of people from other European countries seeking employment in Norway, the Postal Directive and the Norwegian model for working life have brought European policy into the domestic political debate. This illustrates once again the way in which domestic policy and foreign policy are inextricably linked. 

Mr President,

In the white paper to the Storting on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU, the Government reaffirms that Norway’s European policy is based on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU and on an active engagement in efforts to promote peace, stability and democracy in Europe.

In the view of the Government, the EEA Agreement has been – and continues to be – crucial for the development of Norway’s economy, business sector and foreign trade. It is an essential element of our ties with our neighbours and trading partners. The Norwegian economy has developed significantly in the years since the Agreement entered into force. 

The scope of the EEA Agreement and the degree of commitment it requires are greater than that of any other international agreement Norway is party to. Norway does not, however, have a place at the negotiating table when the EU makes decisions. The Government is aware that this makes the democratic challenges all the more prominent.

At the same time we must remember that during the course of five parliamentary periods, a majority in the Storting and six different governments have chosen to base Norwegian European policy on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU. From the Government’s perspective it is crucial that our efforts relating to the EEA Agreement and our other agreements with the EU safeguard key principles such as openness, participation, and effective management in the best way possible.

The intention is that Norway should maintain a spirit of solidarity and an active engagement in dealing with pan-European problems. Europe is our continent and we cannot shut ourselves off from the challenges it is facing.

The question is how we can best contribute to solving these problems. How can we continue to develop Norway – and at the same time help to develop Europe?

To cast light on this, I will now go through some of the most important European policy issues on our agenda. Later today we will be debating the interpellation from Member of the Storting Svein Flåtten on ad valorem tariffs and agricultural products.

Mr President,

In Norway extensive cooperation has been developed between the social partners and the authorities. This cooperation has helped us deal with crises and has made Norway a society that is flexible and able to adapt. It has underpinned the development of a strong social safety net and broad access to public services in, for example, the areas of education and health. Accompanied by sound economic management, the Norwegian model has enabled us to maintain high levels of employment and low levels of unemployment. 

Compared with other countries, the participation of women in the workforce is particularly high in Norway. This is partly the result of good parental leave schemes, kindergartens and a model of working life that makes it possible to combine family and work. A high rate of participation in the labour force is essential for achieving strong economic development.

This will be particularly important in the years to come, as an increasingly large proportion of the population will consist of elderly people who are no longer of working age. This is a challenge that we share with most other European countries.   

Mr President,

The Norwegian model is now receiving increasing international attention.  The Polish Government, for example, has proposed extending parental leave and introducing full day-care coverage for children. The Norwegian welfare system has been discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Why is this? Because the Norwegian model works.

The European Commission’s proposal for a new Council Regulation, known as the Monti II Regulation, on the exercise of the right to take collective action within the context of the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services, did not take sufficient account of all issues relating to working life. The Government considers it inappropriate to introduce legislation that restricts the right to strike as it is regulated in Norway and in international conventions by which we are bound. We have conveyed this message clearly to the European Commission.

Together with other European countries that are of the same view and a united European trade union movement, we have used the room for manoeuvre available to us and worked hard to promote our views. The fact that the European Commission has now withdrawn the proposal is positive. Let me make this quite clear: this is an approach we will continue to take. It is in no one’s interests to undermine a model that functions better than most. 

Mr President,

People have always moved to or from Norway. Historically, most immigrants to Norway have come from Europe. This is still the case. Following the eastward enlargement of the EU, some 40 million more workers have become a part of the internal market. Many have chosen to come to Norway. These labour immigrants have contributed greatly to growth in production and employment and thus have also played a role in safeguarding Norwegian welfare.

During the boom of the mid-2000s, many Norwegian companies experienced a significant shortage of manpower. In order to meet this need, we have successfully attracted qualified labour from our own neighbouring areas. This is important for Norway.

Well over 100 000 people have moved to Norway from EU countries that just a quarter of a century ago were on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in particular from Poland and Lithuania. To an increasing extent these people now live and work in Norway either permanently or for prolonged periods, in contrast to seasonal workers. 

We know that countries such as Poland and the Baltic states are facing demographic challenges arising from declining populations, partly as a result of high emigration levels. Norwegian companies have established operations in all these countries. These companies are helping to create jobs and enhance value creation on the other side of the Baltic Sea. And this is not just a matter of foreign investment in a traditional sense. These companies are increasingly carrying out activities both in Norway and in these countries, and are integrating their various activities more and more closely.

In Norway there is still a way to go before we fully appreciate all the opportunities provided to us by the free movement of people and goods in Europe. But there are now sizeable communities in Norway from Poland and the Baltic states, among other countries, that are highly knowledgeable and are speeding up this process and helping us to better exploit the opportunities available. 

At the same time the increase in labour immigration following the EU enlargement of 2004 has also led to greater challenges in terms of ensuring decent work and combating social dumping in Norway. The Government is dealing with these challenges and has for example produced two action plans against social dumping that recommend a number of specific measures. We will continue our efforts in this area unabated.

Mr President,

The influx of much-needed labour from the countries of the former Eastern Bloc is a clear and unique illustration of the fact that Norway, too, is directly affected by the historic project for European integration and welfare that the EU represents. This year the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU. In its announcement of the award the Committee drew attention to “the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights”, and emphasised that the “stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”   

Norway has chosen to remain outside the EU. However, the Storting has on a number of occasions acknowledged the historical significance of the European process of integration – not least in the light of our own dependence on stability and democracy in Europe.

Differing views have been expressed about the award of the 2012 Peace Prize, also here in the Storting. In my view, however, the award was well-deserved. The award of the Peace Prize to the EU now, at a time when Europe is undergoing one of its deepest crises, may also inspire those who are trying to steer the EU into calmer waters, which will benefit both the people living in the EU and in Norway. 

Mr President, 

I have pointed out the importance of a common labour market for the welfare of Norway and Europe as a whole. The EEA cooperation allows us to study, work and freely visit other EEA countries. The Schengen cooperation is first and foremost a tool for implementing the free movement of people in practice. Its purpose is to make it easier to make use of the opportunities open to us under the EEA Agreement.   

The removal of checks on persons at the borders between the Schengen countries has made it easier for people to travel from one country to another. This is positive. But it also raises challenges relating to effective control of external borders and the fight against transnational crime.  

These problems have not been created by the Schengen system. But the lack of internal border controls makes international cooperation even more important than it otherwise would have been. Norway’s participation in the Schengen cooperation gives us a range of opportunities for increasing cooperation across national borders, for example through the Schengen Information System and participation in Frontex, the European border management agency. 

The fact that Norway participates in the Schengen cooperation makes it easier for us to conclude other agreements with the EU on Norwegian involvement in EU efforts to combat crime that are outside the Schengen cooperation. I would like to mention in particular our participation in Europol and Eurojust, the cooperation between police training colleges, the Prüm cooperation and our parallel agreement to the European Arrest Warrant. 

Close cooperation with our European partners is essential in the fight against organised crime. It is in our interests to promote more effective police efforts to combat organised crime in Europe. We are contributing to this through the EEA and Norway Grants. But the Schengen cooperation also allows us to cooperate with other European countries in dealing with these challenges.  

Mr President,

I would also like to mention some EEA matters of particular relevance for Norway.

The development of the internal market is high on the EU agenda. The European Commission has presented two sets of twelve priority actions for new growth, through its Communications on the internal market in 2011 and 2012, the Single Market Act I and Single Market Act II.

Norway has participated actively in the processes to develop both of these Communications on the internal market, and will continue to follow developments closely. We have proposed actions that we believe will enhance value creation in the EEA, by strengthening growth and competitiveness on the one hand, and safeguarding the social dimension on the other.

Sound management of the internal market is one of the key ways of achieving greater welfare, increased growth and higher employment. A better understanding of the internal market will allow companies, citizens and consumers alike to make better use of the opportunities that exist.

A reliable energy supply is a prerequisite for developing a stable economy and a secure working life. To a greater extent than most other countries, Norway can make use of renewable sources to meet its energy needs. Norway was therefore able to reach a special agreement with the EU on how the Renewables Directive should be implemented in the EEA in the period up to 2020. In June this year the European Commission presented a Communication on its renewable energy policy, outlining options for the period beyond 2020, which included promoting a well-functioning carbon market, developing renewable energy and enhancing energy efficiency. Norway will take an active part in the debate on this topic.

The EU’s growing interest in energy policy has led to many new legislative acts in this area. As an energy nation, Norway is following developments closely.

The development of the internal energy market is continuing in the EU and the EEA. The Government is now working actively in relation to the third internal energy market package, with a view to incorporating it into the EEA Agreement, with certain adaptations.

The European Commission has suggested strengthening EU cooperation in the area of energy infrastructure.  I am pleased that Norway has been invited to take part on a temporary basis in the regional expert groups that have already been established. These groups play a key role in selecting “projects of common interest”.

Another initiative that may have implications for Norway is the new Energy Efficiency Directive. The Directive is now far more flexible than originally proposed as regards possible national adaptations. The Government is currently assessing the EEA relevance of the Directive, and will raise the matter in due course with the European Consultative Committee of the Storting.

Mr President,

The main principle underlying the EEA Agreement is to ensure equal treatment and predictability for actors operating in the internal market. This is made very clear in Article 1 of the Agreement. 

It is clearly in Norway’s interests to ensure uniform implementation and application of the common rules. Norway seeks to safeguard the principle of equal treatment when new legislative acts are incorporated into the EEA Agreement. These are issues that we have raised, for example, in discussions concerning the legal framework for a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC).

We are seeing the increased use of agencies and supervisory bodies in the EU system in general, and this issue is discussed in the white paper to the Storting on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU.

At the same time, we must be proactive and do what we can to participate in shaping the legislation that affects us. The Government will seek to ensure that Norwegian interests are formulated and promoted clearly and at an early stage. We are seeking to ensure that Norway has the opportunity to influence the development of EU legislation at all stages, in accordance with the conditions established under the EEA Agreement.

One example of this is the Government’s work on issues relating to the Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive. We are continuing our efforts to gain acceptance for Norway’s views in this area.  

As you are aware, the EU has established a new financial supervisory structure, which entered into force on 1 January 2011. The purpose of the new structure is to strengthen the supervision of financial markets throughout the EU, and promote financial stability. These objectives are also important for Norway, with its open economy, close financial sector links to EU countries, and substantial foreign investments. Through the EEA Agreement, Norway will be able to participate in the new supervisory bodies. 

The three new European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) are the European Banking Authority (EBA), the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA). They can all issue decisions binding on national authorities and individual market actors. This raises a number of questions relating to the two-pillar structure of the EEA Agreement and supranationality. These questions have been examined thoroughly, but we have not reached agreement with the EU on how the relevant legislative acts are to be incorporated into the EEA Agreement.

Mr President,

Participation in EU programmes is an important part of our cooperation with the EU. Preparations are now under way for the EU’s next programme period, 2014–2020. The Government is following this process closely, and is considering Norwegian participation in some 15 programmes, in a range of areas.

In the context of the EEA, the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development is currently the largest of these programmes, and it accounts for around 70 % of Norway’s contributions to EEA programme cooperation. I would therefore like to talk briefly about this field. 

The next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, differs from earlier framework programmes in that the focus throughout is on research and innovation. It places greater emphasis on research into global societal challenges. This means that more funding will be allocated to areas such as environment, climate change and energy, which are priority areas of Norwegian research. This will give us more opportunities to participate.

The proposed budget for Horizon 2020 is € 87.7 billion, which at today’s exchange rate is equivalent to around NOK 655 billion. This is an increase from the € 50.5 billion, or around NOK 377 billion, that was allocated to the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. If the final budget is in line with the proposed budget, Norwegian participation in Horizon 2020 will mean a significant increase in Norway’s financial contribution.                                                                                   

The proposed programme is now being discussed in the European Council and the European Parliament. At present the outcome of the budget negotiations is uncertain. We will of course have to address the issue of Norway’s participation in Horizon 2020 and its incorporation into the EEA Agreement, but we cannot present the matter to the Storting until the EU has reached a decision.

The intention is that the Horizon 2020 framework programme will further develop the European Research Area (ERA). The vision for ERA is the creation of an internal market for research that allows the free circulation of researchers, knowledge, and technology, also referred to as the “fifth freedom”. Under the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon, EU member states committed to realising ERA by improving the coordination of national, regional and European research. Norway, as an associated country, has participated in ERA on a voluntary basis from the outset. Horizon 2020 aims to promote the further development of ERA by providing funding for joint programmes and possibly for infrastructure projects. The Government will consider Norway’s cooperation with ERA at a later stage, in connection with the question of participation in Horizon 2020 and the forthcoming white paper on research.

Mr President,

As I said at the beginning of my address, prospects for democratic development are undermined when people’s faith in the future has been shaken. The financial crisis has led to social unrest and economic uncertainty. It is becoming increasingly clear that confidence in democratically elected institutions here in Europe is being tested.

There are fears about the threat posed by more extreme political groups. And these fears are being fed by developments in some of the countries that have been most severely affected by the crisis, and by our own recent European history.

At the same time, the crisis is bringing to the fore problems that were already there. And this is something we must not forget; corruption and weak governance have long been a problem in many parts of Europe.  We must acknowledge that problems of this kind are not just consequences of the crisis, but also among its causes.

A realisation is dawning in Europe that we must once again be prepared to fight for democratic standards, and that we may have taken too much for granted. We are also seeing this within the EU. In an article in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, my German colleague, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, recently advocated the establishment of a new mechanism for safeguarding democratic values in EU member states.

These are questions that go to the heart of the European project: ensuring stable democracies in Europe. We need a common understanding of what this means.

We already have a common understanding of this kind. The European Convention on Human Rights and a number of Council of Europe instruments are our common European points of reference. The Copenhagen criteria were developed in connection with the accession to the EU of the Baltic and Central European countries, and any country that wishes to join the Union must meet these accession criteria. But the fact that some see a need for an instrument to ensure that the countries comply with these criteria is in itself a worrying sign.

Mr President,

I would now like to turn briefly to some of the developments we are following with particular vigilance.

The situation in Hungary was also discussed in the last address to the Storting on EU and EEA matters. There is no less cause for concern over the situation in the country now. The far-right Jobbik party continues to enjoy strong support. The elected Fidesz Government is using its parliamentary majority to implement policies that in our view violate democratic principles in a number of areas, for example with regard to the independence of the judiciary and the media.

In Romania, the internal political power struggle has escalated to such a level that it has begun to threaten key democratic institutions. Again, this applies particularly to the judicial system. In Greece, we are seeing growing support for extreme parties at both ends of the political spectrum, and an increase in politically motivated violence.

Outside the EU, a parliamentary election marred by farce has once again been held in Belarus. New EU sanctions are in place. The recent election of a new parliament in Ukraine was largely in line with international standards, but the country still faces major democratic challenges. Election observers reported a number of serious concerns about the way the election campaign was carried out. Moreover, the two leading opposition politicians Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko are still in prison and were unable to take part in the election. We have repeatedly urged Ukraine to implement judicial reforms and comply with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, and we will continue to do so.

Mr President,

We are concerned about developments in Russia. The situation for civil society and opposition activists has become more difficult, and the authorities are restricting freedom of expression. These developments are posing a threat to Russia’s young democracy, and raising the question of whether the country will manage to fulfil its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. We are expressing our concerns to Russia in both bilateral and multilateral forums, and we will continue to follow developments closely.

Mr President,

The situation for democracy and human rights in parts of Europe today is giving cause for concern, and we are giving particularly close attention to this situation. In this context, I would like to give special emphasis to three points.

Firstly, there can be little doubt that this situation concerns us directly. Ensuring respect for democracy and human rights in Europe, including minority rights, is one of Norway’s core interests. We therefore actively promote democracy and human rights in the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the UN, through the EEA and Norway Grants, and directly in our political dialogue with individual countries.

Given the deteriorating situation for human rights and democracy that we are now seeing, there is a need to intensify and strengthen all our efforts in this area. The EU has become an important partner in this context. There is a particular need to intensify efforts in relation to some non-EEA countries, such as Belarus and Ukraine. But there is also a need to address worrying developments in certain countries in the EEA. The EU institutions have a critical role to play in this context, in guaranteeing democratic standards and human rights and in promoting their enforcement.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that building well-functioning, democratic states in Europe is an ongoing project. This means that we cannot simply address the most acute problems. We must also focus on the underlying issues, such as corruption, governance and the participation of all groups in society.

Thirdly, all this highlights the need to support a vibrant and independent civil society. Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Norway has become one of the largest financial contributors to civil society in the Central European and Baltic EU countries. A large proportion of these funds are targeted towards democracy and human rights issues, including the situation of minority groups such as the Roma people in Europe. These contributions are extremely important, and they enable us to influence the important development of civil society in these countries. In Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, too, we are allocating considerable funding to civil society organisations that are fighting for democracy and human rights.

Mr President,

Despite the uncertainty and unrest caused by the crisis in Europe, we must not lose sight of the initiatives that are being taken to improve the situation, in both the long and short term. In the past, we have seen that crises have given rise to new solutions in the EU cooperation. The EU is now taking new steps to deal with the economic crisis, and the result may be fundamental and lasting changes – new forms of cooperation and new institutions.

Whatever the outcome, whatever the EU looks like in the future, this much is certain: Norway will be greatly affected.

I can assure you that we are following developments closely. The Government has, for example, proposed a 20 % increase in the allocation to European policy research in the budget for 2013. In the meantime, Norway’s interests are best served by striving to maintain stability and predictability in the European cooperation.  This means continuing to pursue an active European policy.

 

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