I am pleased to meet in the European Parliament. Especially in a European election year. These elections matter – also to Norway. The composition of the European Parliament determines policy choices at European level. It has direct consequences for the development of rules governing the internal market – where Norway is fully integrated through the EEA agreement.
Indeed, Norway is often called the most integrated outsider. A fitting label.
Our most important trading partners are in Europe. In 2013, well above 60 per cent of our imports came from EU member states, and more than 80 per cent of our exports went to the EU.
About 300 000 EU citizens are employed in Norway, contributing to economic growth and welfare. Highest number of work migrants per capita in the EEA.
Since the 1990s, thousands of Norwegians have participated in exchanges and cooperation on education and research.
We share responsibility for the Schengen border.
We cooperate closely with the EU on a number of foreign policy issues some of which are very high on the agenda.
And needless to say: We share the same fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The EEA agreement is at the very heart of EU-Norway relations.
This year we mark the 20th anniversary of the agreement. For two decades, it has broadened and deepened our cooperation with the EU member states, giving us access to the internal market with equal rights and obligations for all.
The agreement is robust and dynamic.
Robust. It has stood the test of time faced with major changes in its environment –enlargements and several treaty changes on the EU side. In Norway, successive governments have considered the agreement to be the cornerstone of their European policy.
Dynamic. Since its entry into force and to this day, the agreement has ensured that we implement common rules – rules that are continuously updated. This creates opportunities and predictability for businesses, workers, consumers, students and citizens both in the EU member states and in Norway.
But the EEA agreement is not perfect. It requires maintenance. It requires flexibility and creativity on both sides if it is to work as intended in the constantly evolving institutional landscape in Europe.
For the EU is developing new methods of cooperation and new modes of governance that were not foreseen 20 years ago, when the EEA agreement entered into force.
Let me draw your attention to one specific example: The supervisory agencies established in the wake of the financial crisis. These are very powerful bodies with the competence to make decisions of direct application for private actors. And rightly so – they should have clout. The financial crisis made it clear that they are needed.
We believe it is important for the integrity of the internal market that Norway and the other EEA EFTA countries are part of this supervisory regime. It is our impression that the EU is of the same opinion.
Our challenge however is that the Norwegian constitution does not allow us to transfer competence of this kind to a supranational body of which we are not a member. Therefore, we need flexibility and willingness on both sides to find a workable solution within the limits of what is constitutionally possible.
It is important to me to stress that we are not looking for exceptions to the rules. On the contrary, it is in our interest to have strong and unified rules across the EEA. We want robust supervision of the financial sector.
It has almost become a tradition for every new government in Norway to proclaim that they want to pursue an active European policy. My government is no exception. It is our ambition to deliver on that pledge.
Timely and correct implementation of our EEA obligations is essential. The latest scoreboard from the European Surveillance Authority (cut-off date 1 November, a couple of weeks after the change of government in Norway) illustrates well that we have a job to do.
To reduce the backlog, we emphasize strong coordination of our policies at home. The nomination, for the first time in Norwegian history, of a minister for the coordination of EEA affairs and relations with the EU, is a clear signal.
We will do our part. A well-functioning EEA requires efforts on all sides, in the EU and in each of the EEA EFTA states.
Our European policy however is about more than implementing common rules. It is also about contributing to the development of good policies for Europe.
Our main priority now is to promote growth and competitiveness throughout the EEA in the wake of the financial crisis. The fundamental principles of free movement are instrumental in this endeavour. In particular, labour mobility is crucial to boost growth. We must protect the right of EEA citizens to move freely across borders, for business, to study or to seek work.
We share the ambitions of the Europe 2020-strategy. We must invest in the future, in young people. Education, training, innovation, research, and infrastructure – we must advance on several fronts to strengthen competitiveness.
These issues are high on our national political agenda. And they will be at the heart of our European engagement.
They are also prioritized areas for our substantial contribution aimed at reducing social and economic disparities in Europe, the EEA grants. Negotiations on financial contributions for the next five years started in January.
Another issue were we need close cooperation in the years ahead is climate change. Global warming is one of the world’s greatest challenges. We need strong international commitments to reduce emissions.
We are well coordinated with the EU in the run-up to the UN conference on climate change in Paris in 2015. Our common goal is to reach a binding international agreement that makes it possible to limit global warning to 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial times.
Norway is a part of the internal energy market under the EEA agreement. And as major producer of energy, in particular natural gas and renewable energy, we can contribute to the transition towards low carbon economies in Europe.
We thus believe that we have a good deal to contribute to the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies in the EU.
We gave a first input to this process before Christmas, and we will continue to follow up.
Our main concern should be to develop policies which are not only suitable to tackle climate change, but which can also ensure secure supply of energy and strengthen our competitiveness.
Our cooperation in international climate negotiations is a prime example of how the EU and Norway can work together in global matters. The complex challenge posed by migration is another.
For decades, Europe has been a magnet for people from the rest of the world. Whilst wanting to share in Europe’s wealth they have also helped to create it. Moreover, many people have wanted to settle here, in a part of the world where democracy and the rule of law are fundamental values.
As a member of the Schengen cooperation, our external border to the South is not only the Norwegian coastline, but also the Mediterranean coast of Southern Europe. We need to find common solutions, based on cooperation and solidarity, to prevent tragedies like those witnessed off the coast of Lampedusa. Through our participation in the Task Force for the Mediterranean, Norway is a part of these efforts.
To tackle the migration challenges and security concerns in the Mediterranean region, we also need to work together on a long-term development agenda. Norway fully supports EU efforts to promote political stability and economic development in the Southern neighbourhood. We are strengthening our dialogue with the EU in order to increase cooperation, in particular on initiatives and projects in North Africa.
We are also eager to cooperate closely with the EU in the Eastern neighbourhood. The most urgent task is to assist the Ukrainian people in their quest for true democracy, the rule of law and economic development.
Norway will, together with the EU and the IMF, explore how we can help to the new government in Kiev and the new president that is to be elected in May (at the same time as the European Parliament elections) Together with our European partners we can contribute financially, but also through capacity building for good governance.
We depend on each other in Europe. Events and developments in one part of Europe, be that in Brussels or Berlin, Oslo or Kiev, have consequences for the whole. We are in this together, whether we are inside or outside of the European Union. That is the essence of European cooperation to me and to my Minister. That is the essence of my Government’s European policy.