What Norway can learn from others, according to its foreign minister

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Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s busy foreign minister, normally spends most of his time traveling the world and dealing with foreign affairs. Lately he’s been spending more time than usual on home turf, tackling domestic issues as he campaigns hard to help his Labour Party stay in power. His travels have led him to believe that Norway has a lot to learn from other countries, especially Great Britain, Denmark, Malawi, Finland and India.

Støre is one of the stars of the Labour Party, and one of the few politicians in Norway who rarely gets battered by criticism either from the opposition or the public. He seems to enjoy a rare degree of respect from both supporters and rivals, almost rising above the petty nature of politics to deal with more substantial issues.

Newspaper Aftenposten was thus as eager to record his views on other countries’ accomplishments as Støre was eager to share his experience from foreign travels. At Aftenposten’s request, he plucked out five countries that he thinks can teach Norway some lessons.

Norway’s foreign minister thinks Great Britain has a tradition of “systematically” being able to identify and tackle international issues that are of high importance, both for Britain and for the world. Støre believes the British also have been clever at furthering their own interests on the world stage, as hasFinland.”I’m impressed by Finland’s ability to operate within the EU (European Union),” Støre said, adding that Finland “sits still” on issues that aren’t important for Finland but goes all out for issues that are.

“For me, personally, Finland has become the important voice for the Nordic countries within the EU that I had hoped Norway would be,” Støre said. He has long believed that Norway should join the EU, but the country has turned down membership twice.

Norway, Store said, has a lot to learn Great Britain and Finland about how to clarify important issues and win international support for the country’s own views.

He thinks Finland can also teach Norway a lot about how to improve public schools. Students in Finland routinely score among the highest in international testing, and the country is famed for providing “good, basic knowledge,” he says. Teachers are highly respected and the public school system is strong in Finland. Støre wants to see better basic education in Norway, and a reduction in the high school dropout rate.

Other countries from which Norway has a lot to learn:

Denmark:Støre notes that the Danes have long been good at developing international brand-name products, from butter to stereo systems. Bang & Olufsen, Lego and Carlsberg are just a few of the internationally known brands associated with high quality coming out of Denmark. Norway lacks such well-known brands. Støre says Norway can be proud of its oil, gas and seafood resources, for example, “but we need in the long run to learn to live off what we manufacture and market.”

Malawi:It’s one of Africa’s poorest countries but Malawi does well at mobilizing a volunteer spirit to help combat such problems as violence against women and vaccination programs. Norway needs to tap into its own civilian population to help tackle social problems.

India:As Norway becomes increasingly multi-cultural, the country can learn a lot from how India, the world’s largest democracy, deals with 17 official languages and religious differences. India, Støre said, has learned to combine democracy with respect for minorities. Trouble flares up, like with the terrorist bombings in Bombay, but Støre thinks India has done a good job of getting Hindus, Christians, Jews and others to live together. Støre hopes to see tolerance increase in line with diversity in Norway.

Norway faces national elections September 14, with Støre a candidate for Parliament as well as incumbent Foreign Minister. It’s likely he’ll win one of the Labour Party’s seats in Parliament, while public opinion polls lately have suggested a change of government. In that case, Støre likely would lose his foreign ministry post, but perhaps have more time to impose his world views on a more local level.