Foreign policy address

Translated from Norwegian 

Mr President,

We are living in a time of transition, a time of global changes in terms of power and influence. 

We are seeing a shift in power between states, from the traditional major powers to new, emerging powers, and we are seeing a transfer of power from states to a range of non-state actors.    

The purpose of Norwegian foreign policy is to promote stability and predictability in our neighbouring areas, as well as to safeguard Norwegian interests and values in a world that is changing rapidly.  

We are a country with a small, open economy, and strong international norms, institutions and rules are particularly important for us. We depend on binding international cooperation in order to fully realise our economic, political and cultural potential.

It is therefore in Norway’s self-interest to help to build a better organised world. This is a way of thinking we share with many other states.

In order to safeguard Norwegian interests effectively, we have to do our best to understand the world we are a part of and how it is developing. We have to understand what the changes mean for us. Our efforts must be coordinated and further developed accordingly.

An address to the Storting is not intended as a catalogue of everything that we are engaged in. I have chosen to highlight certain areas that I consider to be especially important. I would also like to stress that three absolutely central topics in Norwegian foreign policy will not be dealt with in any detail in this address: EU and EEA matters, Norway’s UN policy and Norway’s engagement in Afghanistan. These will all be discussed in depth in the Storting during the spring.

Mr President,

Traditional power structures are changing. The influence of the West is, in relative terms, declining. Not first and foremost because of the economic situation in Europe and the US. After all, this is a situation that we assume will pass. Rather, the influence of the West is declining because others are experiencing faster growth: countries in Asia, Latin America and, to an increasing extent, Africa.

It is difficult to predict with any certainty the kind of international order we will see in the years to come. Perhaps we will see something altogether new, something that cannot be described in terms that we are used to.

New dynamics and new alliances are emerging, and they will bring new relationships of interdependence and new divisions.

Having said this, the relevance and importance of traditional centres of power and alliances will endure. In a world that is less dominated by the West, further developing our European and transatlantic ties will be at least as important as ever.

Emerging actors are gaining influence in the global arena, but it is still unclear whether or not they will fill the power vacuum that will arise as the importance of the traditional powers declines.

The new geopolitical situation means that the options available to Norway are changing. It is important for Norway to become more closely involved in the wider processes taking place in Asia, Latin America and Africa, through cooperation with regional forums and bilateral dialogues with individual countries.

Recognition of these facts is vital if we are to shape a foreign policy that is relevant for our times.

We must also acknowledge that incidents taking place far away in geographical terms can have direct consequences for Norwegian interests and values.

Because this too is a feature of our time: events taking place far from Norway can have a powerful and brutal impact on us. The attack on the gas production plant in In Amenas in January was a dramatic reminder of this. Norwegian citizens, the Norwegian business sector and Norwegian interests were directly targeted by international terrorism. So were citizens from many other countries.

The explanations for the growth of international terrorism are many, and they are complex. Terrorism and extremism therefore have to be fought using a wide range of measures – as the Prime Minister made clear on 23 January this year. 

The terrorist attack in Algeria and the way it was dealt with had many foreign policy dimensions.

For example, in the consular field, which has always been the foundation of the Foreign Service, the Ministry’s crisis management system, together with other government bodies, provided assistance for Statoil and the Norwegians who were affected.

The attack also focused attention on our increasingly internationalised business sector and how the Norwegian authorities can best assist companies operating abroad through security assessments, contact with the host country’s authorities, and general business promotion.

Many Norwegian companies – and employees – are engaged in operations in countries where the level of risk is higher than it is in Norway. Risks can never be eliminated. It is precisely for this reason that the Norwegian authorities and companies have to work together to safeguard Norwegian interests and protect Norwegian citizens as effectively as possible. The same applies to a wide range of Norwegian organisations and to the Norwegians who work for them abroad.

At the same time, we must be aware that it is up to Norwegian companies to decide where to operate, and that it is the host country’s authorities who are responsible for ensuring the safety of international business interests and others who are staying in the country.

On a deeper level, the terrorist attack in Algeria has also highlighted the importance of our efforts to combat extremism. These efforts have long been a key element of Norway’s policy in the Middle East and North Africa, in our policy of engagement with new groups in the wake of the Arab Spring, in our support for fragile states with weak government structures, as well as in our work to promote democracy, human rights and international humanitarian law. 

Mr President,   

In a rapidly changing world we must be able to think along new lines, find new answers, seek new partners and build new alliances. At the same time, our policy must be firmly based on values and principles that endure over time. 

Firstly, this applies to relations between states, which must be based on an international legal order, as set out in international law. 

Secondly, there are certain fundamental principles for how states should treat their citizens.

In the Government’s foreign policy priorities, the promotion of human rights and democracy has a central place. In this year’s budget we therefore decided to significantly increase the allocation to measures that promote a more proactive human rights policy.

One of the most important objectives is to promote freedom of expression, and thereby also the emergence of open, democratic societies all over the world.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and it is essential for realising other human rights. In concrete terms, Norway is supporting measures in areas such as drafting democratic media laws, combating censorship, promoting independent media, and improving journalists’ working conditions in many countries. The Government supports the efforts of Norwegian and international organisations and their local partners to strengthen freedom of expression and independent media, not least in many of the countries in the Middle East.

Over the last year, the Government’s human rights efforts have focused particularly on the protection of minorities. The way minority groups are treated in a society is often a clear indication of whether or not its democracy is working. 

In our project to strengthen the protection of minorities, we are focusing especially on religious minorities that are experiencing discrimination and persecution. We are continuing to cooperate closely with dedicated and knowledgeable organisations in Norway and their networks.

At regular intervals, we raise the situation of religious minorities at political level. We make systematic use of the UN, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to raise issues relating to discrimination and persecution. We also take up this issue during the Universal Periodic Review process in the UN Human Rights Council. This spring, in cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, we will host an international conference in Norway on minorities under pressure.

Norway is engaged in dialogue with the organisation Minority Rights Group International on a project aimed at raising awareness of minority rights among activists in the Middle East. And we are supporting constitution-building processes, again in the Middle East, with particular focus on minority rights, through the International Institute for Democracy and Election Assistance (International IDEA) and the Venice Commission. We are also supporting projects under the auspices of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. These are just some of the projects we are involved in. 

Mr President,

It is important to speak up about and protest against human rights violations. We are doing so, and we will continue to do so. But I would like to caution against the idea that protesting in itself is enough, that once a human rights issue has been raised, the job has been done. A long-term approach to work in this field entails active engagement, addressing the processes where the key decisions are made, and taking action at the junctures where they are actually made. Examples of this approach are providing assistance for constitution-building processes and security sector reform, and strengthening the position of the judicial system in countries in transition.

The Storting is currently considering the white paper on Norway and the UN,[1] which places great emphasis on the UN’s normative role, particularly in the field of human rights. 

Mr President,

Norway has valuable experience to build on in the area of peace and reconciliation efforts. One example is the Colombian peace process. In October last year, the Colombian Government and FARC launched peace negotiations in Norway, following six months of exploratory dialogue facilitated by Norway and Cuba. 

It is encouraging that the peace process enjoys broad international support and that the UN is playing a role, in particular through consultations with civil society actors in Colombia. Together with Cuba, Norway will continue to assist the parties with the negotiations in Havana. At the same time, we must remember that the main responsibility for finding a negotiated solution to the conflict lies with the Colombian Government and FARC, and we must remember that processes of this kind take time. 

Norway’s engagement in Colombia is a good example of Norway’s general approach to peace and reconciliation efforts. We take a long-term perspective, and we combine diplomatic efforts with support for the UN and for NGOs and research institutions. This is crucial for building trust and gaining credibility.

The Government will continue to give priority to this work. From a normative perspective it is the right thing to do, because when we succeed we save lives and prevent suffering. Moreover, it is in Norway’s interests that conflicts around the world are resolved. The peace process in Colombia is therefore an important foreign policy task in itself, but it is also important to show other countries, for example in Latin America – many of which, like Brazil, are now gaining increasing influence at the global level – what Norway stands for. Latin America as a whole is experiencing significant economic growth, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and a reduction in poverty. According to the World Bank, the reasons for this include improved education for workers, higher levels of unemployment and a greater number of women in the workforce.       

Mr President,

This year it is 100 years since Norwegian women gained the right to vote. Norway was the third country in the world to introduce universal suffrage for women. Our experience in the field of gender equality is sought-after. The Government is intensifying its efforts to promote gender equality and women’s rights internationally, both through its work in international forums and in relevant bilateral cooperation projects.

For many years, Norway has played a leading role in promoting the international gender equality agenda, which is now under global pressure. This applies particularly to issues relating to sexual and reproductive health. We are intensifying our efforts in this field, as we are seeing conservative groups in different societies joining forces to fight against rights that we thought could be taken for granted in our time. 

In Pakistan, a courageous schoolgirl, Malala Yousufzai, was shot and almost killed. She was just 14 at the time. In India, a young woman died from the injuries she sustained during a gang rape. The whole world was appalled by these attacks. Women and girls are being subjected to gross violence. International efforts to promote their rights therefore need to be intensified.  

At the same time, the fact that people are protesting loudly is encouraging. Once again, we are seeing that the new social media are being used actively as channels for people’s reactions and for demanding political action, and that they are giving people an international voice.

Violence against women and girls is the priority theme of the next session of the Commission on the Status of Women, to be held in New York next month. Norway will continue to play a proactive role here. We will also continue to underline the importance of combating sexual violence and rape in war and conflicts.

Norway is also playing a leading role in international efforts to ensure that all people, irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity, enjoy the same human rights. Sexual minorities are often subjected to violence and discrimination. In April, we will host a major international conference on this topic in Oslo together with the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion.

Norway will continue to play a proactive role in following up UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, including the efforts initiated by NATO in this context. Mari Skåre from Norway was appointed as NATO’s first Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security in August 2012. Norway is seeking to build on resolution 1325 by promoting increased women’s participation in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. 

Mr President,

The Arab Spring is an example of one of the most profound and fundamental upheavals of our time. In many ways, we can call it a revolution. And as with all revolutions, it will take many years before we can fully appreciate its impact.

Once again, we are seeing a shift in power, and we are seeing established systems being challenged. Not only in terms of politics and forms of government, but also culturally, socially and in relations between generations. The days are numbered for autocratic family dynasties in the Middle East. In some countries, the first steps are being taken towards public participation and democracy. In other places, we are seeing that the path to democracy is strewn with obstacles.

In Syria, the situation is going from bad to worse. What started as peaceful protests against a brutal regime has developed into a violent civil war. Despite strong regional engagement, the international community has not managed to agree on a joint effort to put an end to the violence. The situation is deeply tragic, and there is little to suggest that a solution will be found in the near future.

According to UN estimates, nearly 70 000 people have been killed, four million are in need of humanitarian assistance, more than 700 000 people have fled the country and over two million people are internally displaced. As long as the conflict continues, the prospects of improving the situation for the civilian population are few. The regime’s violent assaults against the Syrian people are increasing. 

The parties to the conflict in Syria are violating fundamental humanitarian principles and rules for warfare on a daily basis. Civilians and humanitarian aid workers are the targets of calculated attacks. This makes efforts to help those in need in Syria extremely difficult.

It is essential that Norway and the international community continue to put pressure on the parties to the conflict to grant humanitarian access to all parts of Syria and to ensure protection of civilians. Norway is one of the main contributors to the humanitarian efforts.

Preventing the conflict from spreading to the rest of the region is a high priority task for Norway. We are helping Lebanon and other countries to deal with the refugee situation in a way that can prevent latent conflicts from flaring up and destabilising the country.    

Norway is firmly of the opinion that President Assad has lost all legitimacy and must step down. In the current situation, Norway considers the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to be the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Norway is supporting the opposition forces that make up the National Coalition, both in political terms and through cooperation projects. The requirements we have set for the opposition forces, in terms of respecting humanitarian principles, human rights and minority rights, are just as clear as those we have set for the Syrian regime’s forces.

Although the establishment of the National Coalition was a step in the right direction, there is a long way to go before Syria has a cohesive and united opposition that is able to take over power and lead the country out of the current chaos in a secure and orderly way. There are also a number of actors, both in Syria and outside, that are exploiting the situation to pursue objectives that are not in the interests of the Syrian people in the long term.

Norway supports the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi, in his efforts to find a starting point for a political solution.

But above all, the members of the UN Security Council have a particular responsibility to bring an end to the civil war and humanitarian suffering in Syria. It is important to remind the Security Council of the responsibility it has, on behalf of all UN member states, for maintaining international peace and security. It is high time that the Security Council shoulders that responsibility.

Given the scale of the destruction in Syria and the powerful tensions within the country, which have been exacerbated by the conflict, it is also crucial to make concrete plans now for dealing with the situation when the conflict comes to an end. One particular concern is what will happen with the huge stockpiles of chemical weapons that are thought to exist in the country. 

Mr President,

Last year was a turbulent year for Egypt, and the unrest is continuing. The presidential election in June, the dissolution of parliament and the ensuing constitutional process, combined with economic problems, have led to dissatisfaction and frustration and caused many Egyptians to take to the streets again.

Norway is engaged in close dialogue with the Egyptian authorities. Norway’s aid to Egypt has been increased, and is primarily targeted at democratic development, in the form of support for the free press, civil society and the promotion of women’s rights. We have made it plain that all Egyptians must have the same rights, irrespective of gender or religious affiliation, and that this includes the Coptic population.

We urge all parties in Egypt to show restraint. The close contacts we have built up over a number of years, not least with the Muslim Brotherhood, mean that we have sufficient legitimacy and influence to raise difficult and worrying aspects of the situation with the current leadership in Cairo. 

Mr President,

Last year, the Egyptian Government played a key role in brokering the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The fact that Egypt is both willing and able to play a constructive role in the region is encouraging.

As this chamber is aware, on 29 November last year Palestine was granted the status of observer state in the UN General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority. Taking the UN resolution as its basis, the Government has decided that we should now refer to what we previously called the Palestinian Territory as Palestine. 

As chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to the Palestinians (AHLC), Norway is following developments in the Middle East particularly closely. The next meeting of the AHLC will be in Brussels in March, and it will be an important one. The Palestinian economy is in deep crisis. Donor contributions last year were lower than expected, and the Palestinian debt burden has increased as a result.

We are noticing growing donor fatigue in the international community. Substantial resources and a great deal of work have been put into building up a Palestinian Authority that is capable of governing. As chair of the AHLC, Norway is working to secure the funding that is needed to prevent economic collapse.   

The ceasefire in Gaza remains fragile. Having said this, there appears to be growing recognition, in Israel too, that there is a clear link between economic development and an improved security situation in and around Gaza. The ceasefire, the steps taken by Israel to ease the closure regime and the expansion of the fisheries zone are all positive developments, but more needs to be done to ensure economic stability and growth.

At the same time, Israel is continuing to build illegal settlements on occupied territory. These settlements are a violation of international law, they undermine the prospects of achieving peace and they threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.

After a period of complete deadlock in the peace process, new attempts will now be made to revive the process following the elections and formation of governments in the US and Israel. Norway will actively support these efforts. It is essential that the Palestinian Authority continues to function in order for the peace process to succeed.  

Mr President,

In the light of the major upheavals in the region, Norway’s engagement in North Africa has been strengthened. The situation in several countries in the region is now in a critical phase, with the drawing up of new constitutions that will form the basis for more democratic political systems.  

In order to be able to succeed in this precarious situation, both the authorities and civil society actors in these countries need support from outside, particularly in the area of competence-building. The emergence of moderate political movements, with or without a basis in the Islamic faith, is an important part of the picture. In several countries we are also seeing a growth in radical political Islam, and a growing number of young people are being drawn into militant groups.  

Together with other countries, we will continue to support fragile processes of transition in countries in North Africa, promoting democratisation, fundamental rights and better standards of living in the long term. We are now increasing our contact with the countries in the region, also with a view to dealing with the security challenges.   

The countries in the Sahel have long struggled with poverty, political unrest, porous borders and organised crime, in the form of human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs, weapons and goods. The region has also been badly hit by food crises caused by climate change. The collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya also seems to have contributed to the crisis in Mali. Mercenaries returned home, bringing with them weapons, and fuelling the longstanding conflict between groups in the north of the country and the Government in Bamako.  

In March 2012, northern Mali was taken over by Islamist rebels with links to Al-Qaeda and organised criminal networks. The rebellion triggered a military coup in Bamako, throwing the country into political turmoil. This further weakened the country’s ability to deal with the security challenges in the north. There was a risk of Northern Mali becoming a safe haven for international terrorist networks with links to Al-Qaeda in North Africa and other groups in Africa that threaten regional and Western interests, which would entail grave, transnational security threats that would be difficult for the international community to tolerate.

On 20 December 2012, the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) was given a mandate, through UN Security Council resolution 2085, to initiate a military operation to assist the Malian authorities in regaining control over the whole of their national territory.

On 11 January, France took action in response to an immediate threat from the Islamist rebels in northern Mali. The intervention was at the request of Mali’s President and received the backing of the UN Security Council and many African countries. Algeria allowed its airspace to be used. France plans to wind down its engagement as soon as African forces are in place and able to take over leadership of the operation.

And this is an important point. In my view, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the era of major interventions by the West is over. In a country like Mali, a long-term and high-profile Western military presence could be counterproductive. There is quite simply a danger that such a presence would reinforce the demonised images of the West that Al-Qaeda is trying to build up. For this reason, solutions must be found in the region itself. The UN Security Council, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) all agree on this. I discussed possible solutions to the crisis in Mali during my meetings with the AU in Addis Ababa just before Christmas.

However, it may take time before an African force is combat-ready. Mali’s security forces must be made fully operational.

A French proposal to change AFISMA into a UN peacekeeping operation as soon as the situation permits is now being discussed right now in the UN Security Council. Norway supports this approach. A UN peacekeeping force would still be mainly composed of African troops, but at the same time there would be opportunities for non-African troop contributions. In the event of a UN force of this kind being formed, the Government will consider whether or not Norway should contribute troops, and the Storting will be consulted in accordance with normal practice.

The EU is starting to deploy an EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM). At this stage, the Government will give priority to a possible UN-led operation, and will therefore not contribute to the EU mission. 

Mr President,

In the face of the challenges in Mali and in the rest of the Sahel region, we need a broad-based strategy, with a whole set of tools – both political and economic. Norway supports the efforts of the UN and the regional organisations to assist the authorities in Mali and the rest of the region in fighting poverty, strengthening governance and enhancing security in the region. The Government has just decided to allocate a total of NOK 30 million to the UN fund for Mali. This comes in addition to Norway’s annual aid allocation to Mali of around NOK 80 million. We are considering making further contributions on an ongoing basis, in close dialogue with the authorities in Mali, the UN and other donors.

Further south in the African continent, the human tragedy is continuing in eastern DR Congo and in the Great Lakes area. It has been taking place for years, largely outside the spotlight of the international media and off the international political agenda. This is one of the many forgotten conflicts that we, the international community, must collectively become more aware of. Eight countries in the region have recently agreed on a plan drawn up by the UN for bringing stability to DR Congo. Norway supports these efforts. 

Mr President,

It would, however, be quite wrong to give the impression that Africa is a continent that is only beset by crises and misery. This is in fact further from the truth today than it has been for a very long time.

Taken as a whole, Africa has been the part of the world that has grown most rapidly over the last 10 years. Of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world today, 11 are African. This growth has been driven by greater political stability and economic reforms. Increasingly diversified economic cooperation and trade with more parts of the world, not least Asian countries, have made several African countries more robust to fluctuations in the global economy.

In fact, there are grounds for considerable optimism. A number of countries have achieved significant improvements on important indicators such as public health. A number of African governments are showing stronger resolve and a greater ability to tackle the challenges they are facing. More and more African countries are holding democratic elections.  

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where the AU has its headquarters, is increasingly regarded as the political capital of Africa. This is also helping to improve access to the continent’s decision-makers and to make decision-making more effective. 

In order for Africa’s growth to be sustainable, it is important that other countries invest in African countries and engage in trade with them. Because in the long run, there can be little doubt that trade is even more important than aid.  

I am pleased to note that the Norwegian business sector has discovered the great opportunities to be found in Africa, and that a number of Norwegian companies are considering increasing their engagement in the continent. Greater macroeconomic stability and more business-friendly policies in many African countries, combined with higher levels of education and a large pool of labour, bode well for further growth. It is clearly in Norway’s interests to support the positive forces that are working to reduce the poverty and deep-seated conflicts that still characterise some African countries. 

Mr President,

Our own continent, Europe, is also experiencing a time of change.

The worst predictions for Europe, the euro and the euro area last year did not materialise. Despite weak economic development, market confidence in the euro has increased. This is in large part thanks to unorthodox measures on the part of the European Central Bank. 

The EU has succeeded in making a number of concrete decisions, such as the payment of new emergency loans to Greece and the development of a banking union for the euro area and other interested EU countries. European leaders have shown willingness to defend the euro. The borrowing costs for countries such as Spain and Italy have been significantly reduced. Long-term reform programmes are being implemented in all crisis-affected countries. The European Council has approved a joint tax on financial transactions for 11 states, under the enhanced cooperation mechanism. This may also have significance for Norway.  

But although there have been many developments in the right direction, the crisis has left deep scars. The accumulation of debt over a long period of time in many countries, macroeconomic imbalances in the euro area and general sluggishness in the economy mean that it will take time before we see results. In addition, there are significant challenges as a result of demographic changes in Europe. 

It is essential that we take a long-term perspective, because in the short term the prospects for the real economy are bleak. Several countries are now experiencing zero growth or a decline in production. What began as a financial crisis has become an unemployment crisis. Unemployment is increasing in the euro area, particularly among young people. Many countries, both in and outside the euro area, will continue to experience weak growth, high levels of unemployment and heavy debts. In many places, disparities are also increasing. The Secretary-General of the OECD, José Ángel Gurría, is one of many to point out the dangers here. Greater disparity generates political instability and poor macroeconomic performance.

Developments in Europe are extremely important for Norway. If there is a decline in demand for our products, this affects our economy and employment levels. It is therefore crucial to have an economic policy that enables rapid action in such situations, and this is something the Government attaches importance to. 

In April, Norway will host the European Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Oslo. This is part of the follow-up of the Government’s decent work strategy. Norway will strengthen its efforts to promote workers’ rights, and will intensify its cooperation with the ILO. The meeting will bring together 500 participants to discuss the topic ‘Jobs, growth and social justice’.

Norway has also been appointed to chair the OECD’s Ministerial Council meeting in Paris at the end of May. This will give us an opportunity to influence this agenda too, and we will place emphasis on the topics I mentioned in connection with the ILO meeting: growth, jobs and social justice. 

Mr President,

In times of crisis, democracy often comes under pressure. The darkest chapters of European history remind us of the links between economic crisis and political instability. Nevertheless, democracy, human rights and the rule of law stand strong in Europe today.

At the same time, we see that the challenges on our continent are increasing. Minorities are coming under pressure. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia and various forms of racism are coming more clearly to the fore. We have also had painful experience of this here in Norway with the events of 22 July 2011.

The picture in Europe is complex, but we can see that right-wing extremist tendencies are gaining ground in a number of places – often against a backdrop of hate speech and channelled through social networking sites and online communities and social media. This form of extremism is driven by a nationalistic ideology that encourages exclusion and attacks on minorities. Right-wing extremism originates in the European majority population and has long and deep roots in the continent’s history of political violence We are also seeing other forms of political extremism, such as jihadism, that also have a destructive force.

Norway is part of this European picture. We need more knowledge and broader analyses. We will follow developments closely, and we will take responsibility by putting this issue on the political agenda in Europe. We have therefore established a project to coordinate and strengthen Norway’s contribution to protecting democracy, minority rights and the fight against right-wing extremism in Europe. 

Europe’s best defence against extremism is the binding European cooperation that has been developed in the wake of the Second World War – in the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and NATO. At the heart of this cooperation is our belief in democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights, combined with open, tolerant societies. In these times, the Government considers it particularly important to strengthen the protection of these principles – here in Norway, in Europe and globally – and to fight against those who seek to undermine them. Norway will play a leading role in the fight against rising intolerance, hate speech and right-wing extremism in Europe.

I would like to mention two important ways in which we are doing this.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Norway has established an extensive partnership with the Council of Europe to address challenges relating to fundamental rights, the judiciary, the protection of minorities and the fight against intolerance and hate speech.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we are also one of the main donors to civil society in the Central European EU countries. More than NOK 1.1 billion has been allocated to NGO programmes and to projects to strengthen democratic values and human rights: measures to fight hate speech, racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

In Romania and Bulgaria, 10 % of the EEA and Norway Grants is to be used to help the Roma people, for example by improving their living conditions, promoting integration and combating discrimination.

We are also strengthening Norway’s cooperation with the Council of Europe and with the OSCE in its efforts to promote democracy and human rights. Norwegian parliamentarians are also engaged in these forums.

Certain countries are particularly in focus. Several trends in Ukraine give cause for concern. The imprisonment of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and other former government members has created an impression of selective justice. A party with a strong nationalist agenda is gaining ground. The parliamentary election seems to have been a step backwards in terms of democratic development. A bill has been presented that will further exacerbate the situation of sexual minorities if it is passed. Norway has made it clear that it is concerned about all these developments, most recently during the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s visit to Norway last November.

Developments in Belarus – Europe’s last dictatorship – are discouraging and very worrying. Together with the rest of the international community, Norway continues to put pressure on the regime. We have aligned ourselves with the EU sanctions regime, and we are maintaining our economic support for efforts to promote democracy and human rights in the country.

In terms of economic development, Azerbaijan has made significant progress, but this growth continues to be unevenly distributed, and a good deal remains to be done before the country fulfils its obligations in terms of human rights and democracy. Norway will continue to convey its views on developments in the country, and we are supporting efforts to promote respect for fundamental rights. 

Mr President,

I will now take a large leap – to the north.

In the Government’s policy platform of 2005, the coalition parties set out that the High North would be Norway’s most important strategic priority area. Not one of several priority areas – the most important one. A great deal has happened in both Norwegian and international High North policy since then.

The High North is now on the international political map.

To begin with, our main task was to arouse international interest and draw attention to developments in the Arctic. And we achieved that, but the next task was to correct the impression many had of the Arctic as an arena for rivalry and conflict. Not long ago, this was the impression the international media were giving. The truth is that we have worked systematically to establish a common understanding of the basic rules of play and the institutions that are needed to ensure peaceful, constructive cooperation in the north.

We have succeeded in this, and this is the situation today. A sound framework is in place. All the Arctic states agree that the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework and that the Arctic Council must be strengthened, to mention the two most important points.

We are thus at the start of a new chapter in the High North – one that is largely about grasping the many opportunities that exist for Norway as well as for the other Arctic states.

A great deal has happened during this period.

We have improved emergency preparedness and response in the northern sea areas through national initiatives and international cooperation. The monitoring and information system BarentsWatch and the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement that was negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council are examples here.

We have strengthened our presence in the north, for example by moving the Norwegian Joint Headquarters to Bodø, establishing the Coast Guard headquarters in Sortland, and acquiring five new frigates and six new corvettes, which has improved Norway’s capacity in the northern sea areas.

Norway’s armed forces are among Europe’s most modern and best adapted to the situation today, and we have won considerable recognition of this from our allies. This is important – both for foreign policy in general and for High North policy in particular. We have also succeeded in increasing awareness in NATO about the developments in the Arctic. Indeed our High North policy would probably not have been possible without the predictability and clarity that our security policy has brought to our neighbouring areas.

We have also strengthened and concretised the Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation in important areas, such as military equipment, exercises, air surveillance and cyber security. The Nordic cooperation has gained a new dynamism.

We have also helped to boost knowledge related to the environment and climate change through the establishment of the Fram Centre in Tromsø and increased funding for polar and climate research. We have attached importance to business development onshore, for example in the mineral and tourism industries.

Now that agreement has been reached on maritime delimitation in the Barents Sea, we are starting to survey the petroleum resources.

Turning to fisheries, the cod quota for the Barents Sea this year is the largest ever. Our close cooperation with Russia on the management of fisheries is an important part of this success story.

Suitable locations and good environmental status in the High North also means that we have a strong starting point for further developing the aquaculture industry in the north.

We have an ongoing dialogue with Russia on easing visa and border crossing procedures, and on customs and similar issues. The local border traffic regime came into operation on 29 May last year. Norway is seeking to harmonise visa procedures with Finland, which would make it simpler for the Russians to get multiple-entry visas to Norway.

We have enhanced our business cooperation with Russia. We have increased the expertise of the Embassy in Moscow in the areas of education, research and innovation.

Much of this has fostered a quite new economic dynamism in North Norway. The main problem today is insufficient access to qualified labour, but nevertheless a dynamic business sector is emerging in the north that is showing the ability and the will to hold its own in the international arena.

But our presence in the north also gives us a front row seat for observing global climate change. Last autumn, we learnt new, alarming facts. The extent of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was at its lowest since modern measurements began in 1979. The multiyear ice is melting, the tundra is thawing, the greenhouse effect is increasing.

Climate change must be addressed at the global level. We must also use our cooperation structures in the north to find solutions, both for mitigating climate change and for adapting to its unavoidable impacts.

In connection with our chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, which will last until October this year, the Government will draw up an action plan for addressing climate change in the Barents region. Business development, environmental protection and people-to-people cooperation are also important focus areas for our chairmanship, in addition to the ongoing work on developing a transport plan for the region.

The celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region in Kirkenes in June will be the highlight of our chairmanship. It is our intention that a new Kirkenes Declaration will be signed on this occasion to supplement the declarations of 1993 and 2003 and create a framework for continued cooperation.

I am proud and happy about all that we have achieved in the Barents region over the last 20 years. These achievements have also been noted in the international arena. I would like to commend the counties and many municipalities in the north and members of the Storting for the active role they have played in this work. 

Mr President,

The Arctic Council has gained importance in recent years, as was discussed in an interpellation debate last month. Shortly afterwards, I had the pleasure of signing the Host Country Agreement with the Arctic Council at a ceremony in Tromsø. This confirms Tromsø’s status as capital of the Arctic.

The Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement that has been entered into by the Arctic Council member states will be followed up this year by an agreement on oil spill preparedness and response, which is to be signed at the Arctic Council’s Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna in May.

We also hope to reach agreement on the admission of new permanent observers to the Arctic Council. Norway supports the admission of new observer countries that meet the criteria we adopted at the Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk in 2011. Our views on this matter are well known internationally, as is our invitation to applicant countries, including of course China, to engage in dialogue with Norway on Arctic issues.

The issue of permanent observers reflects the growing interest in the High North from countries outside the region, not least from certain Asian countries. As climate change becomes more apparent, the Arctic Ocean is increasingly becoming a link between North America, Europe and East Asia.

Cooperation in the Arctic is taking place within a firm, well-defined international legal framework. There is full agreement that the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for activity in the Arctic Ocean – in relation to environmental protection, research, petroleum operations, the delimitation of the outer limits of the continental shelf, and shipping.

In the time ahead, the Government’s High North policy will focus in particular on knowledge-building, value creation and technology development with a view to addressing the challenges faced by the region.

We will develop the Barents Sea into a new European oil and gas province – taking important fishery, climate and environmental considerations properly into consideration.

We will build up a robust and environmentally sound mineral industry, which the forthcoming mineral strategy will pave the way for.

We will continue our work on developing the highest standards for oil and gas activities and transport, including shipping, in areas with harsh weather conditions. 

Mr President,

Today we are engaged in broad cooperation with Russia that extends to many of the areas I have just mentioned.

It has always been important for Norway to maintain good neighbourly relations. We will look for new opportunities to further strengthen our cooperation. Developments in Russia affect us in many ways, and the country faces a number of challenges today. Modernisation and reform are needed in order to avoid economic and social stagnation, which could in turn increase discontent among the Russian people. International cooperation, open lines of contact and good framework conditions will be vital if the country is to modernise its economy and society. It will therefore continue to be important to engage with Russia both bilaterally and in the international arena.

We are following the human rights situation in Russia closely, as developments give cause for concern. Human rights are coming under increasing pressure, and we raise these issues in our contact with the Russian authorities.

Since the presidential election, a number of legislative amendments have been made that entail restrictions for civil society and the political opposition. This is obviously unfortunate for the development of democracy. We are also concerned that this could affect cooperation between Norwegian and Russian civil society organisations, for the very reason that people-to-people cooperation is such an important platform for relations between our countries.

It is therefore important for us that cooperation at grass-roots level can continue as before. The suspension of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples in the North (RAIPON) was a worrying sign.

We have raised this matter with the Russian authorities. We have expressed our concern about the negative developments in the country on several occasions both bilaterally and in international forums such as the OSCE and the European Council.

Our close contact and broad cooperation have given us a good departure point for raising difficult issues. Meanwhile, we are continuing to support project cooperation between Norwegian and Russian civil society with a view to strengthening human rights and non-governmental organisations. 

Mr President,

The global energy landscape is changing – in ways that will also have major significance for our foreign policy.

Asia is experiencing a rise in demand for energy and is contributing to a sharp increase in global energy use.

The US is in the midst of a technological revolution in the field of shale oil and shale gas drilling, which will have consequences for Norway, among other countries. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the US will be the world’s largest oil producer in a few years’ time, and that North America will be a net energy exporter by 2030. The prospect of the US being virtually independent of energy imports is bound to have extensive geopolitical consequences, for example for relations between the US and the Arab oil-producing countries.

It will also have huge consequences for OPEC. More than 90 % of oil exports from the Middle East are expected to be shipped to Asian countries in 2030. There is every reason to believe that this will make the emerging economies in Asia more interested in political developments in oil-producing regions.

Norway is a major energy power and is also seen as such by the rest of the world. We are the world’s third largest gas exporter. We provide a third of the EU’s imported gas.

We are Europe’s largest producer of renewable energy, and we intend to increase production to 67.5 % of our total energy use by 2020. Our hydropower production is the sixth largest in the world, ahead of countries such as India and France. Europe is interested in our clean energy and further new opportunities in the field of hydropower.

Transmission capacity to Europe has been increased, and will be further increased in the period up to 2020 within a framework that ensures security of supply in Norway. Even closer European energy cooperation will develop in the years to come, and Norway will be an important player in this context.

In addition, the Oil for Development programme has led to considerable international interest in the Norwegian model for management of oil and gas resources.

All in all, our oil and gas interests – together with the increasing international activities of Norwegian companies – are creating new challenges for the Foreign Service. It will be increasingly important to understand the geopolitical trends that result from a rapidly changing global energy landscape, and what they mean for us. 

Mr President,

In parallel with Norway’s development as a major energy power, other parts of the Norwegian business sector have also become more international. In the 1990s, one third of the employees of the 30 largest Norwegian companies’ employees worked abroad; today two thirds do.

Norwegian maritime companies are operating in the world’s most important growth markets. DNV – just to take one example – has 300 offices in 100 countries.

The aquaculture industry produces one million tonnes of salmon per year, which is exported all over the world.

Telenor is the world’s eighth largest mobile phone operator.

We have built up the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, the Government Pension Fund Global, which has investments in around 7000 companies all over the world.

We have benefited in many ways from globalisation and the specialisation that it has led to. Our economy, welfare and employment levels are, however, highly dependent on global economic developments. Our dependency on the petroleum sector makes us vulnerable. We have to make sure that our business sector is able to create value and remain competitive in an international market.

In order to safeguard our future welfare and value creation, we must continue to make use of and promote the advantages we have in certain areas, including in the international arena. We will support the development of the sectors that have the strongest positions internationally. We will also promote the development of a broader range of companies, products and services.

Major investments and important Norwegian interests in countries and regions where there has previously been little Norwegian activity make it necessary to adopt a new approach to security and emergency preparedness and response. 

Mr President,

All that I have said about the internationalisation of the Norwegian business sector forms part of the backdrop to the Government’s renewed effort to promote Norwegian companies abroad. Greater priority will be given to economic diplomacy. We are looking into how we can adapt the Foreign Service in practice so that it can better serve Norwegian business interests abroad.

We will look at how we organise this work, the tools and instruments we use, the cooperation and dialogue partners we choose in other countries, and how we best can provide assistance in countries that are politically or economically unpredictable and where legal safeguards are weak.

In my view, it is never wrong for Norwegian companies to establish operations in another country, with the exception of course of instances where this would be in violation of international sanctions. I believe the presence of Norwegian companies usually has a positive effect rather than a negative one, at least as long as they exercise corporate social responsibility, promote decent work and fight corruption.

The Government also wishes to achieve greater synergy between development aid and the Norwegian business sector.

And we are looking more closely into how international research cooperation can be used more strategically to promote Norwegian interests abroad.

We will shortly submit a white paper on Norway’s position in the global cultural cooperation. And together with the business sector, we will continue our efforts in the areas of public diplomacy and corporate social responsibility.

The Minister of Trade and Industry and I are also looking into how we can increase our cooperation on business promotion abroad with other ministries and their subordinate agencies. We have started a broad and inclusive process that includes the business sector.

We want our profile abroad to be harmonised and coordinated. In close cooperation with the Minister of Trade and Industry, I would therefore like to see greater focus on the “Team Norway” model. We can find inspiration here from our Nordic neighbour Finland, which has brought together all the various actors that work with public diplomacy and the promotion of Finnish businesses in a “Team Finland” initiative, and we should learn from the way this is being organised. 

Mr President,

Many of the new markets today are found in Asia. Norwegian value creation is directly influenced by developments on this continent. We are seeing an Asia that is experiencing the kind of growth and market development that once made Europe and the US Norway’s most important trading partners.

The fact that Norway has done better than many other European countries in the present economic situation is largely because Asian countries are demanding more of the goods and services that Norway exports, while demand for these goods and services has fallen in the more traditional markets.

Asia today is home to well over half the world’s population and produces and increasing proportion of the world’s gross national product (GNP). But Asia is much more than just a growing arena for Norwegian and other business interests; its rise is due to politics, technology, research, culture and many other factors.

In our part of the world, more and more people are looking to the East. In the US too, people are looking to Asia, in both political and economic terms. In the 21st century, the US will be just as much a Pacific power as an Atlantic power. Relations between the US and China will therefore be among the most important bilateral relations of our time. The growing tensions we are seeing in the South China Sea represent a new challenge. It is important that we, who are so closely allied with the US, understand this.

We condemn last night’s nuclear test in North Korea in the strongest terms. This is a clear breach of the norms set out in the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and it represents a serious threat to international peace and security. The international community must take a unified stand in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. 

Mr President,

Strong economic growth in Asia has fostered greater optimism and political self-confidence in many countries in the region. Increased trade and investment levels are linking Norwegian technology, expertise and capital directly to Asian markets, industries and knowledge institutions.

At the same time, we must be aware of the many challenges we can encounter in these countries: a high growth rate, weak economic structures, cultural and political differences between countries, an inadequate trade policy framework, risk of corruption and increasing differences in living conditions and income in several countries.

Levels of democratisation and good governance vary throughout the region, and environmental problems are increasing. The emerging economies are also seeking to meet their needs for resources and improve their access to raw materials, and this is giving rise to internal tensions and regional conflicts.

Norway attaches great importance to gaining greater understanding of developments and the consequences for Norwegian interests. This work will culminate in an action plan for our engagement in Asia, which will focus on how we should grasp the many new opportunities that are arising.

In order to safeguard Norwegian interests, it is important to take a strategic and long-term approach to Asia.

We will become more closely engaged in the broad processes that are underway in the region. We see that established regional structures are gaining new and more important roles, and that others are appearing.

We will highlight and promote our common interests in our meetings with our Asian partners.

We will continue to put normative issues high up on the agenda of our dialogue with Asian countries both in our bilateral relations and in regional forums. One of the most important debates on values of our time is the one that is taking place within the emerging economies in Asia. As is the case elsewhere in the world, this debate is examining relations between the rulers and the ruled, democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and human dignity.

We will emphasise the importance of international law for governing relations between countries and for ensuring security and freedom of navigation in all sea areas. Like many of our partners in Asia, Norway has strong maritime traditions, and this is an important sector in our trade relations with many Asian countries.

We will meet the growing international interest in the Arctic from key Asian countries with engagement and dialogue, in order to better understand their interests and motives as well as to present Norway’s views.

Our exchange of visits reflects the extent to which we are looking – and travelling – to the East. Last year, the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, I myself, and several other members of the Government made extensive visits to Asia. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess visited Indonesia in November together with a large business delegation covering energy, the maritime sector, trade and infrastructure. The Prime Minister visited South Korea and then Japan with a large business delegation, as well as Myanmar.

The Prime Minister and I attended the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Laos, where Norway officially became a member. This forum will give us unique opportunities for exchanges of views at a high political level as well as for more informal contact with our Asian partners. I visited Laos, Myanmar and Singapore, and in November I took part in the Bali Democracy Forum, which was attended by a number of Asian leaders. This is an important Indonesian initiative to promote democratic processes and human rights in the region. In April, I am aiming to take part in the Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Mongolia – another country that has undertaken extensive political reforms and is raising the flag of democracy both in the region and globally.

Norway has also started a dialogue on a broader partnership with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is the most important institutional framework for multilateral cooperation in Asia. We are in the process of establishing a formalised partnership and will accede to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation during the course of the year.

Our membership of ASEM and the closer ties with ASEAN that are on the horizon will enable us to take part in and influence the regional agenda. We will also gain a new arena for discussing global issues, such as security policy, the environment, climate change and health, areas in which Asian countries are important actors and face particular challenges. 

Mr President,

This is why the Government is strengthening its cooperation with regional institutions and individual countries. Let me give some examples.

India is a very important actor in the new global and regional playing field. The departure point for our relations is the strategy for cooperation between Norway and India, which the Government launched in 2009. We have worked systematically for some time on expanding our cooperation in the fields of politics, economics and business, sustainable development and health. Our presence in the country has also been strengthened. We have negotiated a new taxation agreement and we are currently negotiating a trade agreement under the auspices of EFTA with a view to ensuring that the framework conditions for Norwegian companies are as predictable as possible. The Norwegian business sector is showing increasing interest in India. The Government will also continue its research cooperation with India.

Indonesia has been through an impressive democratisation process, and has enjoyed strong economic growth. It is now the largest economy in South-East Asia. It is also the country in the world with the largest Muslim population, and is an important bridge-builder in the region, a voice for diversity and tolerance and a major force in promoting regional integration and a clearer ASEAN.

Norway has established a strategic partnership with Indonesia. We are cooperating in the areas of economics and business, climate change, conservation of forests, energy, and promotion of human rights and democracy. And we are pleased that Innovation Norway has opened an office in Jakarta to assist Norwegian companies in the country.

South Korea is also becoming an increasingly important partner for Norway. During the visit of President Lee to Oslo in September 2012, we entered into two important cooperation agreements in the maritime sector with South Korea. 

Mr President,

Last year was an eventful one in Chinese politics. A new generation of leaders was put in place at the Communist Party Congress. A new president and a new government will be appointed during the National People’s Congress in March. China’s new leaders have major tasks ahead relating to economic and social reform. We look forward to good and constructive cooperation with China’s new leaders.

From a historical perspective, Norway has enjoyed good relations with China. We were one of the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic. Friendship and close ties have developed between our countries over many years, and there have been many visits. There are significant opportunities for cooperation in a number of areas, including the maritime sector, the environment, energy and the Arctic.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 damaged bilateral relations between Norway and China. China claims that the award was interference in its internal affairs. The Government acknowledges the negative consequences of the situation that has arisen.

This is the backdrop to the Government’s active efforts to bring our bilateral relations back on track. Norway and China have a common interest in strengthening our bilateral ties on the basis of mutual respect.

In this connection, Prime Minister Stoltenberg had a short meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during ASEM in Laos. The Government is also maintaining close contact with Norwegian businesses in China.

We appreciate the understanding and cooperation China has shown in our dialogue with a view to normalising our relations.

China today is a global actor in both economic and political terms. China’s choices in areas such as economics, distribution, the rule of law, migration and the environment will have significance for the whole world. We respect China’s right to choose its own development path.

We look forward to a good dialogue with China on questions of mutual interest in the future. A stable China is in Norway’s interests. 

Mr President,

The reforms in Myanmar over the last six months have been truly impressive. In two weeks’ time, Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein, will visit Norway. Last November, the Prime Minister opened a joint Norwegian–Danish embassy office in Myanmar.

Norway has supported the democracy movement in the country for several decades. Given our longstanding engagement, it was important for us to take action when we saw that a new era was dawning.

I visited Myanmar for the first time in April 2011 as State Secretary. This was the first political visit by any Western government representative since the new regime took over from the dictator Than Shwe. I felt that the new authorities showed considerable, almost surprising willingness to undertake reforms. When I returned later that year, I saw that many reforms had already been carried out.

And since 2011, the Government of Myanmar has entered into ceasefire agreements with 10 of the 11 non-state armed groups. Most of the political prisoners have been released. Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to the country’s parliament and is chair of the parliamentary committee on the rule of law. Censorship of the media has virtually stopped and Myanmar is in fact far ahead of several other countries in the region in this respect, including several we regard as relatively democratic. A new investment act has been passed. Myanmar has also come to play a key role in ASEAN, and will take over chairmanship next year.

At the same time, we must not underestimate the challenges. The situation in Kachin remains unresolved. Although peace talks are underway, it is not long since there were skirmishes in the province. The violence that flared up between ethnic groups in Rakhine has also caused humanitarian suffering. We have made it very clear to the authorities that they have a duty to protect all who live in the country.

Myanmar needs political processes that lead to lasting peace, capacity-building and inclusive economic growth. Since sanctions were lifted, Norway has sought to become more actively engaged both in the country and in the region as a whole.

With regard to peace efforts, we provided support for concrete projects in the ceasefire areas in 2012. We have led the donor group for coordination of support for these areas. However, it is the actors themselves who are in the driving seat of the peace process, and this is of vital importance. 

In conclusion, Mr President,

In our changing world, and in these times of transition, we must protect our interests and fundamental values. We must be aware of the shift in power and influence – economic, political and cultural – towards the East, and we must promote our interests, particularly in the High North, and further develop our deep and longstanding ties in our neighbouring areas, including Europe, and across the Atlantic. We will stand up for international law and the rule of law. We will also be as well prepared as possible to meet global security threats. All this requires a well-adapted Foreign Service and clear strategic aims for Norwegian foreign policy. 



 Meld. St. 33 (2011–2012) (only in Norwegian)

 

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