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Erna Solberg interview: 'Benefits of Norway's relationship with EU far outweigh downsides

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Erna Solberg interview: 'Benefits of Norway's relationship with EU far outweigh downsides
Erna Solberg with Faces of Democracy's Sven Lilienström. Photo: Rune Hammerstad
13:13 CEST+02:00
In an interview with the organisation Faces of Democracy, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg answers questions on the country's relationship with the EU, right-wing populist movements and Norway's future role in the world.

 

Q. Norway is not an EU member state. However, it is part of the European Economic Area - which has existed since 1994 - and is also a Schengen member state. How important to your country is a close partnership with the EU?

It's very important from an economic perspective. We conducted a major review of the EEA Agreement - our economic link - through a major commission that was, I believe, established ten years ago. The commission's findings showed that the benefits are much greater than the problems. While there are downsides to the type of relationship we have with the EU, the benefits far outweigh them.

These benefits are primarily close cooperation for businesses and enhanced market opportunities. Norway, and in fact all of the Scandinavian countries, have accepted the most labour migrants from other European countries. But workers from the EU countries have contributed to the economic growth of our country. I think this is the reason why EU labourmigration hasn't created the same kind of friction as in other countries.

There are challenges in the labour market; there are challenges with shady businesses that do not comply with our labour market rules and regulations and therefore compete unfairly', we need to address the problem of social dumping, which is an area where we would like to see closer European cooperation to stop border-crossing crime.

Still, the overall picture is that the EEA agreement ensures opportunities for our businesses, it maintains welfare standards for our society and it boosts job creation. It also ensures a high degree of cooperation between the Norwegian non-governmental sector and the non-governmental sectors of other countries. This is especially true of the Central European countries. This is because our financial contribution through the EEA and Norway grants foster closer cooperation between organizations in the former Eastern European countries.

 

Right-wing populist movements are gaining ground in parts of Europe and are also present in Norway. Do you consider the populists to be more of a risk or rather a potentially corrective force for democracy in your country?-

I believe that you should always have respect for people's votes and opinions. In my government, we have a faction that is to the right of the conservative party, or more liberalist-leaning. In my opinion however, this is not the sort of right-wing political faction that exists in other countries, although it has traditionally been stricter on migration than other parties in Norway. But, being a liberalist faction, it naturally tends towards lower taxation and the party is absolutely within the spectrum of European mainstream politics.

One disturbing thing is hate speech in social media. This is causing changes, not so much in politics, but by creating a toxic debate climate in Norwegian social media. This is challenging because we are seeing increased Islamophobia and increased scepticism towards migration, linked with anti-climate policies and EU scepticism. All of this sometimes gives rise to a very toxic debate in social media.

Yesterday we had a large civil rally aimed at stopping hate speech and to encourage more moderate discussions in social media. I'm not sure that it will help, but it does give stimulus to those who want a more respectful form of debate on Facebook and other social media sites.

According to the current “Global Gender Gap Report”, Norway ranks second in terms of the gender pay gap. What can other countries learn from Norway to help them close their gender pay gaps?

There are different reasons why we have a narrower gender pay gap. We have a system of laws and regulations and if you consider women and men in the same type of jobs, they are mostly equally paid. But we still have a difference between different sectors that require the same level of responsibilities and education or training; there is still a gap here. Still, the true gap facing us is between different sectors. 

But I do think that having unions that focus on equal pay is important. We have an ombudsman system and an anti-discrimination act that allows workers to complain to their ombudsman or anti-discrimination committee that they are not receiving equal pay.

Companies in Norway are also obliged to report on their anti-discrimination activities to ensure that equal rights are observed. All of this places the focus of business thinking on asking why their payrolls exhibit different pay for men and women. 

Ms. Prime Minister, your second term in office ends in 2021. Which issues are still on your political and personal agenda and what is your vision for Norway's future role in the world?

That's quite a question! In Norway we've been through a situation where we have experienced an economic downturn because of the drop in the oil price. Our economy showed that it had the strength and resilience to bounce back after an increased unemployment and we have now become more competitive in the oil and gas sector.

The great challenge facing Norway is that the oil and gas sector will contribute less to our growth because our oil and gas investments and production are currently peaking, so output will be reduced in the future. Oil and gas will, however, remain a major industry in Norway for a long time - but that's not where we are going to keep focusing.

So we will be facing the same issues as most other European countries. How can we create more jobs in a more competitive and globalized world? How can we make sure that we are creating new jobs if we will be losing a small number of jobs every year in the oil and gas sector? The solution is about education. It's about investment in research & development. It's about the framework for businesses and start-ups in our country.

The interview with the Norwegian Prime Minister was first published on the site Faces of Democracy. You can read the full version HERE.

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