Norway’s new annual state budget was being rolled out on Tuesday, and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre’s proposals for the next year include the closure of five embassies from Nicaragua to East Timor. Several other large embassies, however, will be strengthened.
Støre told newspaper Aftenposten that it’s all a matter of priorities, and necessary to secure Norway’s interests.
“It’s of course not very nice to have to make the call and announce that Norway will close down an embassy in a country,” Støre told Aftenposten. But he noted that many other European countries are doing the same because most can’t maintain embassies in all countries all over the world.
The embassies targeted for closure during 2011 include those in Colombia, Nicaragua, the Ivory Coast, Slovenia and East Timor, reports Aftenposten. Funding for those foreign ministry stations will be redistributed with much of it going to boost Norway’s embassies in Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China.
Norway’s foreign trade with Brazil, for example, has risen sharply in recent years and it’s also a country where Norway is sending large amounts to fund preservation of its rain forests. The same is true in Indonesia, where both trade and rain forest preservation are high on Norway’s agenda.
India and China have also emerged as even more important countries than they were a decade ago, because of their growing economies and investment muscle. Norway reportedly is considering not only strengthening its embassies in Beijing and New Delhi but also opening general consulates in Mumbai (Bombay) and Hong Kong. Norwegian business interests in Hong Kong have long complained about the closure of its general consulate several years ago and have been pressing hard for its reopening.
Russia is also high on Norway’s agenda, as bilateral relations develop. Støre has devoted a lot of energy to the northern areas, not least around Norway’s border with Russia in the far north where residents soon are supposed to be able to move far more freely.
Støre indicated he was prepared to fend off questions about why a country as wealthy as Norway will reduce its presence abroad through closures of embassies and consulates. It wasn’t very long ago that Norway shuttered its embassy in Costa Rica, for example, and sparked protests over consulate closures in Minnesota (the Norwegian heartland in the US) and Scotland.
“Good relations aren’t necessarily dependent on having an embassy,” Støre told Aftenposten. “We have to set priorities, too.”