Norway, together with Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Iceland, form one of the most prosperous, safe and dynamic regions of the world. And, just to mention one international ranking: All of our countries are among the top ten on the Global Happiness Index, the current list is topped by Finland, followed by Norway and Denmark.

However, instead of happiness for all, we live in increasingly challenging times. I cannot remember a more unpredictable, unstable and dangerous situation globally since I joined the Norwegian foreign service in 1980. We seem to be moving backwards into history, back to the era of “me alone” and the supremacy of the big over the small. Much of this is caused by a departure by major powers from agreed principles and international law, or just by unwise, populist or chauvinist decisions. And in many regions, as in the past, people are voting with their feet, in order to escape, when the situation in their homelands becomes intolerable or without prospects of improvement.

Unfortunately, authoritarian and inward-looking governments pose not only a risk to their own citizens, but also to neighbours as well. Sooner or later these governments will collapse and become a global liability, or they will attack or otherwise make life difficult for neighbours as part of their regime survival strategy.

The Norwegian response to this is strong support for the maintenance and, if possible, expansion of the well-conceived cooperation platforms which exist in the world, including the United Nations system, supporting principles of international law, reason and compromise. It is only logical that we look for even stronger ties with our neighbours in Europe. A few days ago, the Norwegian government launched a strategy for enhanced cooperation with the European Union, under the headlines and working together for:

  • A secure Europe, with emphasis on defence and security, justice and police cooperation, more commitment to meet new challenges;
  • A free Europe, with emphasis on citizens’ individual freedoms and rights, rule of law, strong civil society and respect for international law;
  • An economically strong Europe, with emphasis on open and rules-based trade; well-regulated labour relations; innovative businesses;
  • A responsible Europe, with emphasis on climate and energy issues, management of natural resources; a comprehensive European migration policy.

Norway is and intends to remain a solid and predictable partner in Europe and beyond.

Besides the Constitution Day theme, and the Europe theme, I’d like to mention the Nordic cooperation and an interesting joint project we have here in Hungary, the Nordic Bridge.

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Many of the Hungarian and Nordic members of this community are here today. I thank them, and also my Swedish, Danish and Finnish colleagues for excellent cooperation.

The purpose of Nordic Bridge is not only to channel information and exchange experience in both directions but also to increase awareness of some Nordic success factors, a better informed basis for discussion of Nordic values and strengths. The Nordic perspective includes a diverse and dynamic civil sector. I think we all are equally shocked by the news that Open Society Foundations will now leave Budapest and organise their long-standing and valuable work here from abroad, without a separate headquarters in Hungary.

And for those who are interested: we have now concluded the more than 600 projects in Hungary under the second cycle of Norway and European Economic Area grants. We have not yet finalised the package of programs with Hungary, actually worth 214,6 million EUR, for the third cycle for the period up to 2021, but we hope to do so with the Prime Minister’s Office as soon as possible. We are talking about a really interesting and comprehensive cooperation package, strengthening bilateral relations, and for Hungary also with our EEA partners Iceland and Liechtenstein.

In concluding, I wish to thank everybody for coming and celebrating here with us, and for our continuing good cooperation.

I would also like to thank and congratulate my family, my embassy staff, the representatives of the about 900 Norwegian students in Hungary, the Norwegian-related business community and other partners, and not least the Norwegian military personnel serving in the multinational Heavy Airlift Wing at Pápa airbase. Commanding officer, Colonel Bjørn Gohn-Hellum of the Norwegian Air Force is present here.

Finally, it is my privilege to convey His Majesty King Harald V’s best wishes for the day, to Norwegians and friends of Norway in Hungary, and in Slovenia which we cover from Budapest.

So, thank you very much. Skål!

Photo: Ambassador Olav Berstad and Mrs Elena Berstad (by György Konkoly Thege)


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