Norway is not a member of the European Union, though as a member of the EEA, they have to obey European single market laws without having any imput into their formulation. In Oslo, they call that “fax diplomacy” — these days receiving instructions from Brussels by email, if they want (as they do) to function within the European single market of 500 million consumers. Incidentally, when they observe British conservatives flirting with the possibility of a Brexit, Norwegian politicians urge: Don’t do it! Anyway, it was interesting to be in Oslo today for Europe Day (9 May), not attending a concert in St John’s, Smith Square (London) for once, but at the City Hall in Oslo, following the Council meeting of the ALDE Party (European Liberal Democrats), which includes members from beyond the EU’s current boundaries. The (female, Conservative) Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, opened the event, demonstrating a singularly Nordic inclusiveness that is sadly still lacking in the UK. I attended a lunchtime fringe which was particularly interesting, showing how it is possible to increase wheat output in the EU, while at the same time boosting bio-diversity (including bird and bee life). This evening, we were the guests for Europe Day celebrations at Oslo City Hall, an extraordinary structure whose interior is redolent of the Socialist realist/fascist aesthetic of the 1930s. But the welcome from the Venstre deputy Mayor — young, trendy, and wearing orange Nike sneakers — could hardly have been more post-modern. As he said, in his welcome remarks, Oslo as a city would happily vote to be a member of the EU, but as for Norway, well, not yet…
Posts Tagged ‘Norway’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th May, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th October, 2014
Stavanger, a city of no more than 125,000 souls, is the oil capital of Norway and thus one of the most affluent places in Europe, the gleaming modern office blocks that belie its millennial heritage sharing its striking geographical location with wooden houses and spacious villas with gardens that predate the oil boom. But like all such communities, Stavanger has a section that is distinctly on the wrong side of the tracks, the flotsam and jetsam of the underworld: petty criminals, drug dealers,prostitutes and losers. These are the people that so fascinate the novelist and Norwegian TV personality, Tore Renberg, as well as the film director Erik Skoldbjaerg (whose film based on the NOKAS robbery in Stavanger in April 2004 was shot on location in the city) and the Stavanger-born actor, Stian Kristiansen, who starred in the film Mongoland before moving on to become a film director himself. But it is the latest novel by Tore Renberg, See You Tomorrow (Arcadia Books, £14.99), that Stavanger is likely to be fixed in the wider public’s imagination. More black comedy than Nordic noir, but essentially sui generis, this 500-page blockbuster flies like a helicopter for a period of three days sweeping down over the homes and other places of action of a dysfunctional group of people with interlocking lives, all of whom who have dark secrets or what psychiatrists would call personality disorders. The cameos range from the horrific to the hilarious, often a shocking combination of both. Renberg has an extraordinary eye for detail, not just for what the eye can see but also for what the characters think, even if they don’t always articulate their thoughts, otherwise often expressed with the only points of reference they can summon up: heavy metal music, horror movies and the odd snatch of literature half-remembered from school. The author brilliantly enters the minds of both his ungainly adult characters and the turbulent teenagers, so that the words, thoughts and actions erupt with the colour and glare and unpredictability of a volcano. Renberg’s is an astounding literary voice and I have not been so excited about a novel for years. The translator, Seán Kinsella, also deserves much credit for a brilliant piece of work. Read it. You won’t regret it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th December, 2013
Kurdish political parties, both in the Middle East and in exile, have tended to be Marxist in orientation, or at least Socialist, so the idea that Liberal Democracy might be appealing to Kurds is intriguing (though of course there are some Kurds originating from Turkey who have joined the UK Liberal Democrats). Dividing his time between Oslo and Erbil (in Iraq’s Kurdistan autonomous region, KRG) Arif Bawecani, a Kurd of Iranian origin, formed and now leads a party, the Parti Serbesti Kurdistan (PSK), which he wants to align with Liberal forces worldwide. This past weekend I went to Oslo to attend the First Kurdish International Liberal Congress hosted by the PSK, which brought together not just Kurds from Iran and the KRG (Iraq) but other national minorities, notably ethnic Arab Ahwazis from the Iranian coastal region, also living in exile. Foreign visitors apart from myself included a Liberal (Venstre) from Norway and a French member of the International Network of Liberal Women, as well as one US Democrat and one Republican, and a couple of human rights activists from Dubai — a modest and somewhat heterodox group which nonetheless led to some interesting speeches and discussions. In my presentation, I defined from a Liberal perspective the key words of the opening article of the Universal Declaration of Human rights: freedom, equality, dignity, rights and brotherhood, in the context of diversity and tolerance. I don’t know how far this will help the PSK, or the Gorran (Change) Movement from KRG, which was also represented, develop their ideology but it will be interesting to see what evolves.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013
While far too many people in Britain are pondering the question “Should the UK leave the EU?”, our continental neighbours are more concerned with debating the issue of how the European Union should now evolve. Evolve it must, as the prolonged crisis in the eurozone has highlighted that the current methods of governance are no longer fit for purpose. Probably they never were. Instead, there will have to be a form of fiscal and banking union, though that is something Britain is likely to remain detached from for the forseeable future. Last night, at a Federal Trust seminar at Europe House in Westminster, arch-federalist and LibDem MEP for the East of England, Andrew Duff, set out his vision for the future, arguing that the EU’s treaties need to be revised as soon as possible, as the Lisbon Treaty is being stretched to breaking point by the current crisis. He predicted that there will be a Convention kicking off the new treaty process in the Spring of 2015 (once the European elections are out of the way and a new Commission is in place). It falls to the federalist movement to draft a new constitutional treaty for a federalist EU, Andrew said — and of course he would normally be part of that, having been intimately involved in preparations for the last draft Constitution, which had to be dropped because of public opposition in several member states.
Andrew also once more floated the idea that in future there will need to be a group of MEPs in the European Parliament who are elected from transnational lists. And more controversially, he developed his concept of associate membership of the EU, describing four possible categories: (1) Norway and Switzerland, (2) Serbia and other aspirant member states which still have a lot of changes to make domestically, (3) Turkey, and (4) the UK and any other member state which feels it does not wish to be part of a federal union. This all led to a lively debate; as ever Andrew was thought-provoking and the discussion was far more intelligent than what one hears in the House of Commons or reads in most of the British Press.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012
Tom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there will be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Britain in Europe, Conservative Party, EU, European Movement, European Movement in London, Norway, Switzerland, The Economist, The Observer, Tom Spencer | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th October, 2012
I confess that when I heard that the European Union had been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize I was somewhat surprised — and I was even more taken aback today when I learnt that it had won it, against competition from over 100 other organizations and individuals. Predictably Nigel Farage, UKIP and the Tory Euro-sceptics immediately went on the offensive, and they got far more coverage in the British media than they deserve. But such is the nature of the UK tabloid Press (and the Daily Telegraph). The more I thought about the award, however, the more I realised how well deserved it is. The EU and its various predecessors have made war between France and Germany unthinkable, which was the prime motivation of the founding fathers. And even more remarkably, the EU has enabled formerly Communist countries of central and eastern Europe to glide back into the mainstream of Europe where they belong, with astonishing speed. Of course the eurozone is going through a difficult patch, but let’s not forget that the global financial crisis began with the sub-prime mortgages in the United States, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and irresponsible practices by bankers, not least in the City of London. That is not the EU’s fault; on the contrary, a more cohesive EU offers the best possible route out of the current problems. It is also notable that the Peace Prize is decided by the Norwegian Nobel committee and that Norway is not a member of the EU. That is basically because Norway has a relatively tiny population and an enormous sovereign wealth fund based on its huge earnings from hydrocarbons extraction. But that did not stop the committee understanding what has been happening in the wider Europe. And I can see Norway one day joining the EU, just as one day Britain will probably be forced to join the euro, after the pound sterling slides into oblivion. But in the meantime, what the Norwegians have said is: ‘the EU has brought peace and stability to our often war-torn continent, and shows every sign of continuing to do so, once the current troubles are over.’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th July, 2011
Like many people — and most Norwegians, I suspect — I observed a minute’s silence at 11am, to mark the death of 93 predominantly young people at the hands of murderous right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik. The dignity with which the tragic episode has been handled by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Royal Family is a lesson to us all. But there are other, more bitter, lessons to be learnt from the massacre. Details are emerging of the immensely long, rambling political self-justification that Breivik left behind. In the document are elements of the inspiration for his hatred and inhuman ideology, some of which will be uncomfortable for people elsewhere in Europe, including Britain. The Daily Mail’s ranter Melanie Phillips (no friend to Muslims) is one source quoted, and Breivik clearly had emotional and maybe physical links with groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), who spew out xenophobia, anti-immigrant bile and Islamophobia. These groups and individuals associated with them are poisonous and as we have just seen, potentially deadly. Just as men and women of principle stood up and spoke out against anti-Semitism in the 1930s, so now we should stand up and speak out against Islamophobia, xenophobia and all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th January, 2011
The people of Norway have twice voted — by a narrow margin — to stay out of the European Union, even though many of the so-called opinion formers in Oslo favour membership. So it was interesting to get the (relatively new) Norwegian Ambassador Kim Traavik’s take on the matter when he spoke at an Association of European Journalists UK Section lunch at Europe House today. The Ambassador was speaking off the record, but that does not stop me making some background comments and personal observations. The bizarre situation Norway is now in is that it has to comply with EU law (being part of the European internal mrket, as well as the Schengen area), yet has no say in how such laws are formulated. Of course, Norwegians hardly look on their EU neighbours with envy. The country posts regular large surpluses thanks mainly to its oil and gas and has built up a massive sovereign wealth fund — investing some of that in Britain. But if Iceland is successul in its bid to join the EU, then Norway is going to find itself alone with tiny Leichtenstein in the rump European Economic Area. I don’t think that prospect bothers the Norwegians much, however. So whatever the EU’s fortunes over the next few years, I don’t think we will be seeing a third Norwegian approach re membership in the forseeable future.