Opening Address at Oslo Freedom Forum

Governing Mayor, Ladies and gentlemen,

As usual, the Oslo Freedom Forum has gathered an impressive assembly of people to network and to exchange ideas here in Oslo. And more than that: to give recognition to the courage of individuals across the globe who dare to stand up and speak out for principles that in this corner of the world we too often taken for granted.

As a member of the Norwegian government, I am proud and thankful to the Oslo Freedom Forum for contributing to associating Oslo with freedom. As Minister for European Affairs, I am pleased to see that challenges to freedom in Europe feature prominently on this year’s agenda.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but we do share the values on which European cooperation is built. We believe that the EU has been a major inspiration for expanding the boundaries of freedom in Europe. And we do believe that a European Union facing both external and internal pressures needs to remain true to its fundamentals in order to overcome those pressures.

Let me spend some moments on a crucial test now facing the EU from within.

Next month marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said that; “The first stone from the Berlin Wall was removed in Hungary” – the first country to actually open its borders to the West and therefore setting the reunification of Europe in motion.

Today, Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban wants to build a ‘spiritual Iron Dome’ to protect against foreign influence and break with the dogmas and ideologies accepted in Western Europe. He says he wishes to establish an illiberal state. He holds up Russia as a model state.

This is not just rhetoric. Since coming to power in 2010, the Hungarian Government has tightened its grip on the judiciary. On the media. On art. On the central bank. On its citizens. The Hungarian government is turning its back on shared European values.

Norway supports political and social development in Hungary, and a great number of other EU countries, through the EEA and Norway Grants. But we have, this year, suspended all payments to the Hungarian Government because of Hungary’s violation of the terms of the agreement. We are now witnessing the harassment of the organisation responsible for operating the NGO fund by the Hungarian police. This is unacceptable.

I think this is important not only for Hungary, and not only for the relationship between Norway and Hungary, but also for Europe.

As we are marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should put new energy into expanding the boundaries of freedom in Europe: to countries like Ukraine, like Moldova, like Georgia.

But we cannot at the same time stand by watching the re-establishment of an illiberal state at the heart of Europe – an illiberal member state that receives massive funding from the EU. I am deeply concerned that there is so little condemnation and even less action from the European Union regarding developments in Hungary.

We are all responsible for defending democratic principles. Not least when it is our friends and partners that walk away from them. And we should react when the first steps are taken. Because when the last steps are taken it’s too late.

I am very thankful for the way the Oslo Freedom Forum is a constant reminder to us all about the importance of addressing human rights violations, of addressing threats to democracy in Europe and elsewhere. And I wish you a successful couple of days ahead.

Thank you.

 

 

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