Climate change and the Arctic, international law, national interests, Russia and the Barents Cooperation were among the field of priorities in Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støres recent foreign policy address to parliament.
“Our policy of engagement is based on recognition of the fact that Norwegian security and interests must be safeguarded by maintaining a clear focus on our neighbouring areas, coupled with a realisation that having relevance in today’s world is also a matter of demonstrating engagement beyond our neighbouring areas”. With these words, Mr. Støre opened his foreign policy address to Parliament, held on May 20
The High North was given top priority in the speech, which emphasized the vital role of international law and the UN in international relations.
“Norway has an open economy, a long coastline and extensive sea areas. It is dependent on a robust, UN-based international legal order, and with growing interest in the sea areas in the north, this dependence is increasing. Promoting and developing the international rule of law is therefore one of Norway’s core interests”, the minister said.
The rapidly proceeding melting of the Arctic was an issue of major concern in the speech. “We must seek to slow down this process, and combating climate change must therefore be our top priority. It has become even more important to raise awareness of the significance of the Arctic in the context of climate change, both regionally and globally”, Mr. Støre highlighted.
“Here Norway needs to strike a balance between achieving its overall climate policy goals and safeguarding Norwegian interests in the north”, he added.
Military issues are no longer dominating the agenda in the north, Mr. Støre highlighted. Instead a complex and diversified picture is emerging, and the need for coherent policies increases.
“One way of describing developments in the north is to say that we have gone from a situation where we faced a single major military threat to one where we are facing a number of complex risk factors. Devising our High North policy requires an understanding of what is changing and what is not”, he said.
“The challenges we have to deal with, including those relating to security, are becoming more and more closely linked with climate change and the environment, energy, fisheries and maritime transport”, he added.
Russia and security
“However, two factors remain unchanged. Firstly, Norway is neighbour to a large country with interests and ambitions in our neighbouring areas. And secondly, this situation reinforces the need for Norway to be part of a strong Euro-Atlantic security structure”, the Norwegian foreign minister stressed.
He highlighted that Norway’s relations with Russia are good, but that relations still need to be strengthened.
“By and large, Norway’s bilateral relations with Russia have developed favourably. Trade is increasing. More people than ever before are travelling between the two countries. […] But in a number of contexts, Russia is not always equally predictable, and can thus be a challenging cooperation partner.”
Norway has since the Barents Cooperation was officially established in 1993 continued to promote the initiative as a key part of its High North policies. In his speech, Minister Støre reiterated his belief in the Barents Cooperation as a tool for cross-border development in the region. He said that the Barents cooperation is a good basis for closer cross-border contact between authorities, and broader people-to-people cooperation.
“Norway is gaining useful experience from all this, which we intend to build on and share with our European and Atlantic partners and with our friends in the EU”, he added.
“Our vision for the Norwegian-Russian border is that it should be like any other European border, without unnecessary restrictions on the movement of persons, goods or services. Our goal is a visa-free regime for travellers between the two countries […]”
Mr. Støre will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes on 9 June. In his speech, he confirmed that closer cross-border regional cooperation will be a key theme of the talks. He also said that the question of twinning the border municipalities of Sør-Varanger and Pechenga to promote cooperation is being discussed together with the ideal of introducing a “border resident ID card” for the people living in the two countries border areas.