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Norway to keep on pursuing long-term policy of engagement with Russia

Norway’s Foreign Ministry (MFA) sees a growing optimism about the future in the north. There are more points of contacts than ever, states the address of Jonas Gahr Støre to the Storting.

The Government of Norway is following the developments in Russia closely and is establishing a broad-based research programme on Russia. As a chairman of Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Norway will focus on business development and natural resources. Promoting Norwegian business sector abroad is yet another concern.

Here we publish an excerpt from the February address of the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, to the Norwegian Parliament, made about the High North and Russia, and Norwegian businesses abroad.

- I would like to conclude my address by turning to the north. In November 2011, the Government presented a white paper on its High North policy entitled The High North. Vision and policy instruments. Last week the Storting held hearings on issues raised in the white paper, and I am looking forward to the debate on this important topic in this chamber in April.

On behalf of the Government, I would like to commend the Storting for its strong engagement in the regional cooperation forums that are concerned with the High North. This gives Norway a stronger voice and is an example of a long-standing Norwegian tradition of cooperation in areas where we have common aims and strategies.

One of the visions presented in the white paper is the development of a new European energy province in the north. This is a vision that can be realised due to the new petroleum discoveries that have been made and the clarification of the delimitation line between Norway and Russia in the treaty to which the Storting gave its consent to ratification one year ago. We see a growing optimism about the future in the north.  

Many of the new opportunities that are emerging can be realised by cooperating closely with Russia. We give priority to solutions that serve the interests of both countries. Our close cooperation at many levels is illustrated by the fact that the number of border crossings at Storskog increased from around 8 000 in 1990 to 107 000 in 2005 and to almost 195 000 in 2011, when a new monthly record was set in December 2011, with 22 700 people crossing the Norwegian–Russian border there. These figures speak for themselves, Mr President.

The Government is following developments in Russia closely. We value and support the all the close contacts that have been established between Norwegian and Russian actors in civil society, various organisations, the cultural sector, academia, public institutions and other forums. There are more points of contact than ever before. We are cooperating in an increasing number of areas. And when differences do arise, we are able to find solutions.

We hope that these contacts will be expanded and that we will be able to further enhance our knowledge of Russia. With this in view, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is establishing a broad-based research programme on Russia under the Research Council of Norway, which will provide us with valuable insight over the next five years. 

Since the parliamentary election in December, we have witnessed a political awakening among the Russian middle class, which I believe is healthy for Russian society. The political leadership will have to take this into account. The presidential election, which will be held in a few weeks’ time, will be an important indicator of the direction the country will take. Elections are the litmus test of a democracy, as I said earlier in this address.

However, the report prepared by OSCE and Council of Europe election observers in December pointed out a number of shortcomings. We expect – as do the Russia people – that the presidential election will be carried out in accordance with Russia’s international obligations.

As a close partner of Russia, we are actively following developments in the country; we support positive trends and speak up if we see any negative trends. Given the current political turbulence in the country, and the shifts in the global balance of power, it is important that we continue to pursue our long-term policy of engagement. This is the only way we can influence our cooperation with Russia in a way that safeguards our interests. We will be predictable, recognisable and unambiguous in our dealings with our Russian counterparts.  

During Norway’s chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, which runs until October 2013, our main focus will be on business development and natural resources. Efforts to deal with the environmental problems in northwestern Russia will be intensified, and an Action Plan on Climate Change in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region will be developed, which will focus on adaptation. The people-to-people contact will be continued and we will give higher priority to cooperation between indigenous peoples. This is also important with regard to democracy and human rights in Russia. Next year a meeting of prime ministers will be held to mark the 20th anniversary of the Barents Cooperation and take stock of its achievements.

The Arctic Council, which is another important body, will follow up the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, which was concluded in 2011, with a new agreement – this time on oil spill preparedness and response. High priority will be given to adaptation to climate change, and to improving coordination of the Council’s activities, for example by establishing a permanent secretariat in Tromsø.

Norway holds the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2012, where one of the main focus areas will be the challenges facing the Nordic welfare states. The work of revitalising the Council of Ministers and making it more effective will continue throughout the year. The increased interest in closer cooperation in the Nordic region provides a good starting point for the Norwegian presidency. In this respect, Thorvald Stoltenberg’s 2009 report is an important source of inspiration. Even closer cooperation between the Nordic foreign services and the sharing of diplomatic and consular premises are at the top of the agenda now. The plan is that, in the course the year, a decision will be taken on a number of locations where we could go further with our plans for establishing joint Nordic embassies.

[...]
 
- I wish to highlight concerns the Government’s efforts to strengthen the Norwegian Foreign Service’s capacity to promote the Norwegian business sector abroad.

Most governments are engaged in similar efforts. Indeed, for the foreign services of many EU countries, this is becoming an increasingly important task as more foreign policy is to be pursued by the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is currently being developed in Brussels.

We are now strengthening our capacity to provide additional support for the business sector in cooperation with Innovation Norway, the Research Council of Norway and other organisations and agencies such as the Norwegian Seafood Export Council and INTSOK (Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners).

To give an illustration from one highly relevant sector, our aim is to be the world’s leading seafood nation. In 2011, Norway exported seafood for NOK 53 billion, almost 60% of which was sold to the EU. Norway has become the largest supplier of seafood to people in Europe.

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