Foreign Minister denies EU trouble

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre apparently thinks that reports of deficient contact between Norwegian officials and their counterparts at the European Union (EU) are greatly exaggerated. He seems confident Norway’s voice will continue to be heard.

Norway will continue to be heard at the EU, says Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. PHOTO: EU Commission

Newspaper Aftenposten has published front-page reports in recent days, noting that Norwegian government ministers have failed to show up for key meetings at the EU, and that their presence has been missed. There also are concerns that a reorganization of how the EU conducts its foreign policy will leave Norway out in the cold.

Aftenposten examined the calendars of all of Norway’s ministers, plus that of the Norwegian delegation to the EU in Brussels, for the first half of this year. The Norwegians were invited to a total of 25 meetings at the ministerial level, even though Norway is not a member of the EU. Foreign ministry staff reportedly works hard to make sure the invitations are extended.

But Norwegian ministers only turned up at six of the 25 meetings. A state secretary was sent to four and bureaucrats to 10, reported Aftenposten, while Norway’s seat was empty five times, three of them during the volcanic eruptions last spring that grounded flights.

‘We must show up’
Nontheless, the absence of Norwegians from the meetings has sparked concern and criticism. “If Norway wants to be seen and heard, we must show up,” Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of the Conservatives told Aftenposten. “We must take part in the arenas where we can.”

Dagfinn Høybråten, outgoing leader of the Christian Democrats, claimed the government wasn’t doing its job. “Norway is dependent on taking part actively where we can,” he said, even though his party hasn’t been a big promoter of EU membership. He thinks the government ministers should make EU meetings a priority.

Støre responded in a column in Aftenposten on Thursday that they do, but sometimes “in my government colleagues’ busy days, these meetings must also be weighed up against other important duties.”

Støre claimed “we want to take part in the most meetings possible” but admitted “the frequency should be better.” He also noted that he and other government ministers give priority to “tight dialogue” with “our minister colleagues in the EU,” and that contact was good.

‘In Norway’s best interests’
Nor does Støre fear an EU restructuring as it moves towards a common foreign policy. To the contrary, Støre says it will be in Norway’s best interests if the EU can front a “more unified and clear position” in foreign policy matters.

Aftenposten reported that Norway may suffer from the EU’s reorganization of how foreign policy is handled, and the pro-EU group Europabevegelsen fears Norway will be sidelined in the process. Through economic cooperation, Norway has been part of the EU’s inner market, but now must “stand in line” along with other countries outside the EU.

Støre also has concerns, but stresses that Norway and the EU “stand shoulder to shoulder” on so many issues like human rights, climate issues and legal matters. He said Norway simply must secure its place in the new structure, and be heard.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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