Prime Minister Erna Solberg visited French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris this week and appreciated his warm welcome. Calls have gone out for Norway to improve its relations with France, but Solberg seemed to think they’re quite good already.
“The ties between Norway and France are strong, and this visit has strengthened our relations further,” Solberg stated after her meeting with Macron at the Elysée Palace on Tuesday. She claimed that France “is a high priority for us,” especially in the area of security policy cooperation.
Security policy, climate issues, education, Brexit and military cooperation were on the agenda when the two leaders got down to business in an elegant room, flanked by aides at the table. Solberg noted that Norway, France and Europe face common challenges in many areas: “For Norway it’s also important to cooperate closely with the EU to take care of Norwegian interests.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Macron noted with a smile that Norway, France and the EU can wind up with closer ties than they have with the UK after Brexit. Solberg seized the opportunity to state that it was also important for Norway “that we get in place the same terms” that the EU will have with Great Britain, and that they take effect at the same time. “That will ensure predictability and equal treatment of Norwegian interests, especially in our own market at home,” she said.
There were lighter topics on the leaders’ agenda as well, including the recent Olympics, with Macron congratulating Norway on its record haul of medals. Solberg complimented Macron for exhibiting “enormous energy” since he took office, remarking that he filled a hole on the global stage after winning the election last May. The hole, she told reporters, opened up after “the Americans” have been more withdrawn on global issues, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been distracted by difficulties in forming a new government.
Pernille Rieker, a researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy insitute NUPI, told newspaper Aftenposten that she doesn’t think relations between France and Norway have been as good as those Norway has with the US, Great Britain and Germany. “Norway has the impression that French foreign policy is very different from Norwegian policy, and it has been at times, but the reality today is that France has much more in common with Norway than many think.” Rieker told Aftenposten.
She fears “old stereotypes” persist, including an impression that France has an ambivalent view towards NATO and wants to build up European defense. Under Macron, however, she sees France as defending liberal values, appearing to be more pragmatic and stressing that a strong European defense would not compete with NATO.
Solberg’s goverment wants Norway’s defense industry to participate in European defense. Rieker thinks the EU will find a solution as does Solberg, after her meeting with Macron. “The signals were very positive,” Solberg said. “Macron was a bit surprised that this was even a theme, but they want the European defense industry to benefit, not countries outside Europe.”
Rieker thinks Norway can benefit greatly from improved relations with France, and that the opportunities for that are much better now with Macron as president. Given the challenges posed by US President Donald Trump and Brexit, Norway can’t only rely on good relations with the UK and US.
Solberg invited Macron to visit Norway and he said he’d gladly come, and “not only to play handball or take part in winter sports.” He’ll be visiting the US and Trump in April, three months after Solberg met Trump at the White House in January.