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Biannual address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters

The Agreement on the European Economic Area and Norway’s other agreements with the EU form the basis for the Government’s European policy. The EEA Agreement has been in force for 19 years, and this period has been one of stability and economic growth for Norway.

Translated from the Norwegian
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The EEA Agreement has been, and is still, important for the development of the Norwegian economy, business sector and foreign trade. It has also proved to be an effective framework in the face of the substantial changes that have taken place in the EU since the agreement was concluded.

The main principle underlying the EEA Agreement is that it should ensure the homogeneity of legislation throughout the internal market. Generally speaking, Norway benefits from the development of common rules and standards for the European market. Norwegian companies are guaranteed equal treatment with EU companies in an internal market consisting of 30 European countries. The EEA Agreement also entitles Norwegians to work, study or establish a business in any of the 30 countries that are party to the agreement.

The debate in the Storting on 9 April on the white paper on the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU (Meld. St. 5 (2012–2013)) and the recommendation by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence both confirm that there is broad agreement in the Storting that these agreements should continue to form the basis for Norway’s European policy. I welcome this consensus.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Eide, in the Storting
At the Storting: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Eide, during his biannual address. (Photo: From the Storting's web-tv)

Norway has also chosen to develop its cooperation with the EU in areas outside the framework of the EEA Agreement itself. These include participation in the Schengen cooperation, other judicial and police cooperation, questions relating to asylum and immigration policy, and cooperation on foreign policy and security policy issues. The Government is continuing to build on cooperation in these areas. Our cooperation with the EU in the area of justice and home affairs is based on recognition of the fact that transnational problems such as crime can only be addressed through international cooperation.

Our cooperation with the EU on foreign and security policy issues is less formalised and not based on overarching agreements. Nevertheless, we cooperate closely. This is because Norway and the EU frequently share common views and interests in matters of foreign policy. The two parties have a mutual interest in the cooperation, and the EU listens when Norway has something to tell.

I am the first Norwegian minister to have been invited once or twice to take part in meetings of the Political and Security Committee, which is the permanent committee for foreign policy matters in Brussels. I have been given the opportunity to put forward Norway’s assessments and views on various matters, including the High North and important foreign policy topics such as the Middle East and Myanmar. Similarly, both my predecessor and I have had the opportunity to attend meetings of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. Meetings of this kind with key European forums are also part of the Government’s active European policy.

Our close and active dialogue with the EU on Arctic issues has over time resulted in a very positive development in EU views in this area. I would like to remind you that an important meeting of the Arctic Council is due to begin later today, and the question of observer status for the European Commission will be one of the topics discussed.  Our cooperation with the EU in this field has been strengthened and deepened in the past eight years. There are a number of options available to Norway in its foreign policy cooperation with the EU, and the Government makes active use of them.

During the past eight years, this Government has been working proactively to safeguard Norwegian interests vis-à-vis the EU. The EU chemicals legislation, REACH, food safety and the Consumer Rights Directive are good examples of areas where our work has produced results. An active Norwegian approach at an early stage, based on expert technical input, has been instrumental in the development of solutions that are in line with Norway’s interests.

The results we have achieved in cases relating to Norway’s system of reversion for hydropower licensing, the reintroduction of geographically differentiated employers’ national insurance contributions, and the continuation of a restrictive alcohol policy also show that the Government has been successful in making use of the options available to us under the EEA Agreement to safeguard important Norwegian interests and values. 

As we all know, opinions in the Storting on Norwegian EU membership are divided. However, the EEA Agreement has provided a basis for European policy for six Norwegian governments. The EEA Agreement links Norway to a European cooperation system that is constantly developing. We are not only affected by this development; we are also a part of it. An active European policy is therefore essential to safeguard Norwegian interests.

An active European policy involves ensuring that we identify and clarify at an early stage how Norway will be affected by new legislation and new initiatives. We have a lot of opportunities to take part in important EU processes. This allows us to promote Norway’s views and interests and to make a constructive contribution to good overall European solutions.

This form of association, through the EEA Agreement, does not, of course, give us a vote in EU bodies, but we can influence the development of EU and EEA legislation in a number of ways, for example by participating in expert groups and committees.

In order to correctly determine Norwegian positions in different matters, we need to remain alert to developments and have sufficient capacity. This is a challenge not only for senior officials and government politicians, but for all those involved in Norwegian politics. New issues must be discussed at an earlier stage at all levels – in the Storting, in the political parties, and in the public debate. In order to have an influence, we must have clear opinions. And we must become involved at a sufficiently early stage. Promoting awareness, knowledge, information and engagement in EEA matters outside the central government administration is therefore also a key element of our active European policy.

Norway traditionally tries to ensure that Norwegian positions on important topics have broad political backing and have been thoroughly discussed. This means that we must not wait until a directive has already been adopted to start a debate here in Norway. And the debate must not be restricted to how far we should accept or reject the results after the EU legislative process is completed. Pursuing an active European policy demands a lot of many people. Influencing EU policy is more complicated and more difficult for a non-member than for a member state.

This is something that the present Government has taken seriously, particularly vis-à-vis the Storting. We have published two white papers on Norway’s European policy, and introduced a wide range of follow-up measures. The system of biannual addresses to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters and regular meetings of the Storting’s European Consultative Committee have improved the flow of information to the Storting. As a result the Storting is in a better position to engage itself in Norway’s European policy.

In its 2005 policy platform, the Government announced that it intended to reorganise and systematise its work on EU and EEA matters. The objective was to promote Norwegian interests more actively vis-à-vis the EU. The same objective underpinned the 2006 white paper on the implementation of Norway’s European policy (Report No. 23 (2005–2006) to the Storting). The white paper set out a detailed action plan including measures to improve coordination, enhance knowledge and expertise and ensure greater transparency and more dialogue. All the measures in the plan have either been implemented or are being implemented.

In 2010, the Government appointed a broad-based expert committee, the EEA Review Committee, to review Norway’s experience of the EEA Agreement and its other agreements with the EU. The review has been followed up by the publication of a new white paper entitled The EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU (Meld. St. 5 (2012–2013)), which has recently been debated here in the Storting. This latest white paper does not set out any fundamental change in Norway’s European policy. Instead, it provides a thorough account and evaluation of how developments within the EU affect the EEA cooperation and how we can respond in a way that safeguards Norwegian interests.

The white paper also provides a clear framework for European policy for a possible future coalition government involving the same parties as at present. Key elements are awareness-raising, inclusion and knowledge-building. The Government wishes to ensure that relevant stakeholders are involved more systematically and at an earlier stage in work relating to EEA and EU matters. We see this as an important way of ensuring that all those involved have the information they need. It is quite simply crucial for ensuring that Norway has a properly functioning democracy.

Civil society networks have a great deal of information, and can provide assessments that can improve Norwegian input to the EU. New initiatives should therefore be discussed with stakeholders while they are being discussed within the EU – and not after directives and regulations have already been adopted.

The Government’s aim is to improve knowledge of Norway’s cooperation and agreements with the EU in the population as a whole. We will work to safeguard Norwegian interests in all aspects of Norway’s relations with the EU. However, to achieve results, it is also important for Norway to concentrate its political efforts on priority areas. The Government will further develop its annual work programme for EU/EEA issues so that it becomes a more strategic instrument of Norway’s European policy. For example, we plan to identify new EU initiatives each year where relevant stakeholders need to be drawn into the process. 

Knowledge and awareness of the options that are available is essential for the sound management of Norway’s agreements with the EU. The Government will therefore seek to strengthen EU/EEA expertise at all levels of the public administration, both by providing relevant training and by making better use of existing expertise.

I would particularly like to emphasise the importance of having Norwegian experts who are seconded to the European Commission and to various EU agencies. They develop valuable expertise and are important informal contact points with the EU. We should make full use of them.

From next autumn the Government will also strengthen Norway’s presence in the European Parliament by seconding a national expert from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The EU takes a very positive view of its relations with Norway. The Council conclusions of 20 December 2012 on EU relations with EFTA countries and the December 2012 Commission Staff working document on the functioning of the EEA are both encouraging, seen from a Norwegian perspective. The breadth and depth of the cooperation between Norway and the EU is clearly reflected. The Council conclusions note that relations with Norway are marked by a high level of stability and cooperation, both through the EEA agreement and through other agreements with the EU. Norway’s financial contribution through the EEA and Norway Grants and our substantial contribution to the International Monetary Fund after the financial crisis are both acknowledged.

Both the Council and the Commission refer to constructive cooperation with Norway. They are interested in further strengthening judicial, foreign policy and defence policy cooperation with Norway. Furthermore, the EU looks forward to maintaining close cooperation in the energy sector, on climate change and the environment, and on management of fish stocks. The EU is particularly interested in stepping up cooperation on Arctic and High North matters.

The Commission’s working document notes that the EEA cooperation has functioned well and has been sufficiently flexible in adapting to developments in the EU since it entered into force. However, the Commission is also concerned about the ongoing management of the EEA Agreement. And in particular about ensuring its effective management so that legislative homogeneity is achieved in the EEA. The Government agrees that effective management of the agreement is important and that both parties are responsible for this.

The Commission’s working document also states that the Swiss solution, which is based on a large number of separate bilateral agreements, should be re-evaluated. In response, Switzerland has expressed its willingness to start talks with a view to finding an alternative institutional framework.

The Government has taken steps to reduce the backlog of outstanding cases. However, the nature of the EEA Agreement must also be taken into account. New legal acts are always incorporated into the EEA Agreement after the EU has adopted the legislation, because the EFTA states are not involved in decision-making processes in the EU. This means that there will always be a certain number of acts that have been adopted by the EU but that are not yet incorporated into the EEA Agreement. In addition, as we know, technical, legal or political issues may arise, so that it takes some time to clarify how to proceed in a particular case. So far, efforts to reduce the backlog have produced good results.

With effect from 1 January 2011, the EU established a new financial supervisory structure, which is intended to strengthen the supervision of financial markets throughout the EU. This was a very important and appropriate move, and has our full support. If these bodies had existed before 2008, the picture today might have been very different. Through the EEA Agreement, Norway will have the opportunity to take part in the work of these bodies. The three new supervisory authorities can issue decisions that are binding on national authorities and individual market actors. This raises a number of questions of principle related to the Norwegian Constitution and the two-pillar structure of the EEA Agreement. Any solution reached must be within Norway’s constitutional framework. This issue has been thoroughly reviewed, and negotiations with the EU are still in progress.

As the Storting is aware, the Government considers it important to maintain the deposit guarantee scheme for Norwegian account holders at the current level of NOK 2 million per depositor per bank. The EU rules are now fully harmonised, and the maximum level of protection is now EUR 100 000. Adaptation to the EU level would involve a reduction of about 60 % in the Norwegian level of protection. The Government is continuing its efforts to maintain Norway’s position.

I would also like to mention the Fourth Railway Package, which includes proposals to open national domestic passenger markets to competition. It is proposed to make public service contracts in this area subject to mandatory tendering. The Fourth Railway Package is important because it applies to a transport sector which is being given priority by the Government. The Government will seek to ensure that Norway has options within the framework of the proposed legislation to facilitate good railway services and ensure satisfactory transport services in all parts of the country. To achieve these goals, it is once again of crucial importance that we put forward our views and our proposals for changes to the EU bodies at an early stage of the process. The legislative process is far from completed. The Government has therefore not yet made a decision on whether this legislation should be incorporated into the EEA Agreement.

The Government gives priority to ensuring high health, safety and environment standards in the Norwegian labour market. We consider it essential to ensure that everyone working in Norway has decent   pay and working conditions. The Government has therefore already implemented two action plans against social dumping, and is now launching a third. The measures in the new plan include the introduction of a contravention charge for breaches of the Working Environment Act; entitling trade unions to bring class actions in the event of breaches of the rules on hiring temporary workers; and raising the level of penalties for contravention of the Act relating to the general application of wage agreements and the Working Environment Act.

I would like to highlight one example, the case brought by nine shipyards against the Norwegian State as represented by the Tariff Board, claiming that the regulations concerning general application of wage agreements in the shipping and shipbuilding industry were in contravention of the EEA Agreement. This case has now gone all the way to the Supreme Court, which has now passed judgment, upholding the State’s position in all respects. The judgment was unanimous, and concludes that the regulations for the shipping and shipbuilding industry are compatible with EEA legislation. This case is very important for the trade unions. I am very pleased to note that it is fully in line with EEA law to protect workers’ rights and combat social dumping. The judgment shows that Norway has a considerable number of options available to it under the EEA Agreement in this field, and that we are able to maintain the Norwegian model for working life.

Another important issue concerning the labour market is the proposed Enforcement Directive. This is intended to improve the enforcement of the rights of posted workers and bring about closer cooperation between the authorities in different countries in the EEA. Norway is now seeking to ensure that the directive does not restrict our opportunities to take effective, targeted action against social dumping. This is a high-priority issue for the Government. The Minister of Labour most recently discussed the matter with Mr Andor, the EU Commissioner responsible for the field, at the European Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization in Oslo last month. The EFTA states have drawn up a joint position on the issue which is in line with Norway’s position.

Under the EEA Agreement, member states have a duty to pay social security benefits to people who otherwise fulfil the conditions for receiving benefits, irrespective of which EEA country they are resident in. These rules apply both to pensions and to other benefits. Bilateral agreements and ILO conventions to which Norway is a party also involve a duty to export social security benefits, but in this case restricted to pensions. These agreements also ensure that people resident in Norway receive benefits paid by other EEA countries.

The Government is carrying out a review of current rules for membership of the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme and the export of benefits under the legislation on this scheme, the family allowance scheme and the system of cash benefits for parents of small children. The Ministry of Labour is responsible for this, in cooperation with other relevant ministries.

Norway has been a full member of many EU programmes ever since the EEA Agreement entered into force, and this is an important element of our cooperation with the EU. Through the programmes, we contribute to the basis for policy development in Europe. The programmes also ensure knowledge exchange between groups in Norway and in EU countries, and provide valuable opportunities for developing networks. Norway has benefited greatly from participation in the current programme period. Most of the current EU programmes end in 2013, and new programmes are being developed for the period 2014–20. One of these is the new EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020. The current research programme (FP7) has accounted for about 70 % of the total programme budget in the period that is now coming to an end. The priorities for the new programme are a good match for Norwegian research policy. Norway is now evaluating the new EU programmes and which programmes we would like to participate in. The Government will present its final decision on Norwegian participation in the near future.

As you know, Croatia will become a member of the EU on 1 July this year, and has applied to become a party to the EEA Agreement under its Article 128. We started formal negotiations with Croatia on enlargement of the EEA on 15 March this year. The negotiations should be completed by the end of the spring. The current period for the EEA and Norway Grants will expire on 30 April 2014, as will tariff quotas for the import of certain fish and fishery products to the EU. The Government is preparing for talks with the EU on possible solutions for the period after this date.

I would also like to mention the historic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on normalisation of their relations. Here the EU has played a key role as facilitator of the talks between the two countries. The agreement is also an important milestone for the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic corps, and for High Representative Catherine Ashton, who led the dialogue.

A key element of the agreement is the formation of an association of the Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo, which are now to be given more autonomy. The agreement paves the way for opening negotiations on EU accession with Serbia and on a stabilisation and association agreement with Kosovo. In addition, the agreement provides a basis for greater political stability and stronger economic growth in the region as a whole. This is very positive.

Energy and climate policy will continue to be a key element of cooperation between Norway and the EU. This was most recently confirmed during a conference on the role of gas in future EU energy systems organised by Norway and the EU and held in Brussels in March this year. Norway is closely integrated with the EU in the energy sector. Norway and the EU have a common interest in completing the development of an internal energy market within a stable and predictable framework.  

However, there is also a need to adjust the use of policy instruments in the EU and EEA in order to achieve common long-term goals. At present, the price of greenhouse gas emission allowances is very low, largely because of low economic activity, which has resulted in a lower level of emissions than expected. However, such a low price level weakens incentives to develop and make use of new, more climate-friendly technology. Norway is supporting the European Commission’s initiative to find effective measures to raise the price of emission allowances, and has expressed its support in writing in response to the consultation on structural reform of the European carbon market. The Government would prefer the solution of permanently retiring a number of the emission allowances that have already been issued, perhaps combined with a larger annual reduction in the total number of allowances issued. It is important to achieve higher carbon prices to boost confidence in emissions trading as an effective climate policy instrument.

The EU has recently published a Green Paper entitled A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies, a Commission Communication on the future of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Europe and its first Renewable Energy Progress Report. Scenarios developed by the EU and the International Energy Agency indicate that fossil energy sources will continue to play an important role both in Europe and globally for a long time to come. This means that if we are to tackle climate change, CCS must be part of the solution. Norway will continue to work towards the development and use of CCS globally and in Europe, both in political forums and through the EEA and Norway Grants. The EU has still not achieved its goals for CCS demonstration plants.

Norway is also supporting measures that can improve the functioning of the internal energy market. One example is the third internal energy market package, which is now being considered for incorporation into the EEA Agreement. The new power cables that are planned from Norway to Germany and the UK will improve market functioning in the electricity sector.

Extraordinary measures are still needed to deal with the eurozone crisis in several countries. In March, agreement was reached on a financial rescue package for Cyprus to help the country to deal with the crisis in its large banking sector. The eurozone countries have pledged up to EUR 10 billion in loans. The IMF is expected to cover EUR 1 billion of this. Several of the largest banks in Cyprus were no longer solvent after suffering heavy losses, among other things on Greek government bonds, and were no longer able to raise loans in the open market. Weak public finances and the need for a large amount of new capital for the banks made a bailout by the international community essential. The solution that was finally agreed involves heavy losses for shareholders, owners of bonds and depositors. It limits the burden on Cypriot taxpayers. I am pleased that deposits of less than EUR 100 000 were protected, in line with the intentions of the Directive on Deposit Guarantee Schemes. Norway, together with a group of EU member states, is also offering expert assistance to Greece in connection with the reform of its government administration.

The efforts to deal with the financial crisis have also given new momentum to the fight against tax evasion and money laundering via tax havens. Norway has been engaged in resolving these problems for many years. I am therefore pleased to note that there is a trend towards more exchange of bank data within the EU: Luxembourg, for example, has now indicated its willingness to do this.

A high level of corruption and weak governance are a problem in many countries in Europe. This undermines confidence in democracy and makes it more difficult to deal with the crisis. Another important problem for democracy is extremism, especially right-wing extremism. If the rhetoric of hate intensifies and is allowed more prominence in the public debate, Europe will come under threat.

The Government is following developments closely. Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we are intensifying efforts to safeguard fundamental rights and combat hate speech in all relevant programmes in the 15 beneficiary countries. When we grant support to civil society actors, we require them to take steps to combat discrimination and hate speech. We also include requirements for action against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination against the Roma people, and hate speech in the social media. We are cooperating closely with the Council of Europe in this area.

The Council of Europe is playing an increasingly important role in fighting extremism and safeguarding European democracies. I will be attending the next session of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe in two days’ time, on 16 May. I intend to stress how important it is for all members of the Council of Europe to uphold the standards for democracy and human rights that they committed themselves to when they joined the Council.

I would also like to remind you of the support the Government is providing for the Roma people elsewhere in Europe through the EEA and Norway Grants and the Council of Europe. In Bulgaria, for example, 10 % of the EEA and Norway Grants funding is to be allocated to Roma-related measures. The aims are to improve living standards, strengthen integration and counteract discrimination. Programmes and projects are constantly being developed. In the period up to 2016, we are allocating about NOK 300 million to various projects targeting the Roma people in ten of the beneficiary states in central and southern Europe. At least NOK 205 million of this will go to projects in Romania and Bulgaria. We will also initiate a dialogue with the EU and relevant beneficiary countries on the possibility of allocating any unused EEA and Norway Grants funding from the current period to projects for the Roma people.

One of the priority areas for the EEA and Norway Grants is promoting social inclusion and helping disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups. Many of the beneficiary countries are struggling with high unemployment and economic decline. It is natural, therefore, to look at how the grant programmes can be used to reduce social disparities and combat poverty. 

We will take these issues into consideration in our further work on the EEA and Norway Grants. The Government has started preparatory work for the forthcoming negotiations with the EU on possible solutions for the period after the expiry of the current grant programmes and tariff quotas for fish and fishery products at the end of April next year. The EU is carrying out a similar preparatory process. We do not yet know when we can expect the negotiations to start. I will inform the Storting about Norway’s goals for the negotiations when the time comes.

I would also like to mention that the EU and the Council of Europe have finalised the draft accession agreement of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights. Norway has chaired the negotiations between the EU and the member states of the Council of Europe. The EU Court of Justice will now be asked to give its opinion on the text, before it is presented to the member states of the Council. EU accession to the convention will considerably strengthen the protection of human rights in Europe.

A time of crisis is also a time of change. Although the economic crisis in Europe is far from over, we are already beginning to see the contours of a changed EU. This will affect Norway and is something we need to consider.

Even before the euro crisis it was clear that Europe faced major challenges in terms of safeguarding prosperity, stability and welfare in the face of increasingly fierce global competition. Many European countries were experiencing low economic growth and a loss of competitiveness. In addition significant macroeconomic imbalances had built up within the euro area. The crisis transformed several of these challenges into pressing issues in need of immediate attention, and that undermined much of the existing confidence in cooperation in the euro area. High levels of national debt, high and growing unemployment and a decline in production have not made it any easier to solve the euro crisis. 

While it is essential to solve the immediate crisis, we also have to consider its long-term consequences. Gradually, the EU has put in place forward-looking measures, which will continue to have an effect long after the crisis is over. But to ensure the future stability of the cooperation in the euro area, economic policy needs to be far more closely coordinated than it was in the years leading up to the crisis. Cooperation in the EU is currently being deepened. We are seeing the introduction of stricter rules and greater recognition of the need for compliance with the rules. The aim of strengthening the economic union is to restore confidence in the monetary union and to make the eurozone cooperation more sustainable.    

One consequence of this is that we will see a multi-speed EU, with greater differences between countries in the eurozone and those that are not part of the euro cooperation. 

Many of the developments are taking place in the eurozone, simply because a number of the most urgent problems are related precisely to cooperation in this area. But also in a longer-term perspective it is likely that integration in the eurozone will be both faster and different from integration in the rest of the EU. 

The EU is now developing new and more robust structures to improve governance of the euro area. In the Government’s view, this is necessary to underpin economic and financial stability throughout Europe. There is recognition in European capitals of the need to address structural problems in order to ensure growth and employment. But time is of the essence. An entire generation of young people in Southern Europe are at risk of never finding work. The social consequences of youth unemployment in countries such as Spain and Greece are almost impossible to grasp for us here in Norway. 

But it is not only macroeconomic governance that is needed. Innovation and well-functioning labour markets are also of crucial importance. It is precisely during tough times such as these that we must take steps to ensure close dialogue between employees and employers in order to reduce the potential for conflict. We need a fair distribution policy and welfare schemes more than ever to prevent the economic crisis from becoming a social crisis. This was one of the topics discussed at the European Regional Meeting of the ILO, which we hosted in Oslo last month. One of the points highlighted at the meeting was that we must not consider the crisis in purely economic terms, but must also understand the implications of the situation in Europe for people and society.

Many of the most difficult measures must be implemented at national level. At the European level, further development of the internal market is the key to restructuring and growth. This involves the entire EU as well as the EFTA countries in the EEA. The problems Europe is facing cannot be solved in the eurozone alone.  

In the Government’s view, creating employment is the most effective strategy against poverty. Given the financial crisis in Europe and the continuing rise in unemployment, a logical approach is to look at ways of intensifying our efforts to reduce unemployment. One possibility is to use some of the funding for the EEA and Norway Grants for this purpose. We will therefore try to steer a larger proportion of the grant funding towards this area in the next programme period.

There is little indication of any willingness to amend the basic EU treaties in the near future. But it is obvious that the increasing pace of integration in the economic field also means closer political integration in one form or another. What form this will take, and how fast it will be achieved, remains to be seen. This will also have implications for Europe’s global role in a broader sense.

These developments raise important issues for Norway, which we need to begin considering now. I would like at this point to make a few brief observations. Norway will also benefit from improved economic governance in the eurozone. That said, Norway must take on board the fact that developments in the EU cooperation increasingly involve institutions other than those we are linked to through the EEA Agreement. We must follow these developments closely and if necessary find new ways of promoting Norwegian interests. If the EU changes, we must also adapt the way we work. In this context it will be vital for us to further develop our close ties with key European partners. I am thinking particularly of the other Nordic countries, which have an interest in maintaining their social model, whose main features resemble the Norwegian model. I am also thinking of Germany, a country with which we have increasingly close political and economic relations.

We will not manage to maintain the Norwegian social model by shutting out the world. We will maintain it by participating actively in forums where decisions that affect us are being shaped. And we will maintain it by active engagement in Europe based on Norway’s fundamental values. Examples of this are our active role in the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EEA and Norway Grants and our forthcoming chairmanship of the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting, two of the main themes of which will be the fight against unemployment and economic inequality. The Minister of Finance and I will chair the Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris at the end of the month.

In the tough economic period that Europe is now going through, our close relations with our European partners and our active European policy are more important than ever. The EEA Agreement covers many of the most important areas in our relations with the EU. At the same time it does not prevent us from finding find good solutions in areas beyond its scope. I think we as a nation will appreciate this combination in the years ahead too. 


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