Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide is dropping one of the so-called “prestige projects” led by her predecessor Børge Brende. She doesn’t want to spend the time and money needed to campaign for leadership of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), opting to concentrate instead on winning a seat on the UN Security Council and following Brexit developments as closely as possible.
The OSCE, billed as the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, plays an important role in issues such as arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press and fair elections. It most recently has been trying to resolve the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, following Russia’s intervention and disputed annexation of Crimea. OSCE has also worked to mend fences and prevent new conflicts from the Balkans to the Baltic.
Former Foreign Minister Brende was keen to campaign for Norwegian leadership of the OSCE, and that was part of the recent Veivalg report on what direction Norwegian foreign policy would be taking in the years ahead.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend, however, that Søreide worries her ministry lacks capacity for such a campaign when it also needs to be monitoring Brexit talks and forming new trade agreements with the UK, while also seeking a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 session.
“We have conducted a thorough evaluation of what becoming leader of the OSCE in 2020 would demand in terms of political attention, human resources, total capacity and economy,” Søreide wrote in an email to Aftenposten. She added that the Brexit issue, which affects Norway’s relations with both the EU and the UK, has become “more demanding and extensive than expected, and we must be able to take good care of Norwegian interests regarding our most important trading partners.”
Søreide said her ministry also will be “using considerable resurces” during the next three years on our Security Council candidacy” for 2021-2022. Norway is vying one of two seats on the council along with Ireland and Canada.
The shift in priorities has not been greeted warmly by opposition politicans in Parliament. Anniken Huitfeldt of the Labour Party, who leads the parliamentary commitee in charge of foreign affairs and defense, told Aftenposten she thinks that dropping plans to assume leadership of the OSCE will “hurt Norway’s reputation.” Norway will also lose tis chance to run an organization where both Russia and the US are members.
“We’re talking here about the same government that just a short time ago made the OSCE a priority, only to suddenly change course,” Huitfeldt told Aftenposten. Søreide rather sees Brexit effects as more important for Norway along with a Security Council seat at the UN, where both the US and Russia are also members.