Despite complex international political and economic relations, which have a negative impact on the Norwegian economy, Ambassador Bjørnstad expects a greater inflow of investments into Serbia and a continuation of support to the countries of the region.
How has the Brexit referendum result affected the Nordic Region’s relations with the EU?
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has increased the challenges faced by the governments in the Nordic Region, especially Norway and Iceland. Our trade and investment relationship with the UK is very important. Last month the IMF said that Britain’s vote to leave the EU could hurt Norway’s exports to Britain and hit the profitability of the Nordic country’s banking, insurance and property sectors.However, Norway has continued its cooperation with the EU as its top priority, while Britain now needs to negotiate its own deal with the Union. As non-EU member states, Norway and Iceland have access to the single market from their membership in the European Economic Area (EEA).
What is your stance regarding the migrant crisis and, in that respect, how do you assess the probability of the Western Balkan route reopening?
Since the migrant crisis broke out in the summer of 2015, Serbia has shown great responsibility and efficiency in dealing with the crisis. The next step is adopting a new Law on Asylum, which will regulate the field of asylum policy and provide protection for migrants. The draft Law is underway. Some of the embassy’s grantees have been actively involved in this.
Despite being officially closed in March, refugees and migrants still use the Balkan route, albeit in smaller numbers. Unfortunately, the closure has created a market for criminals engaged in trafficking. If the EU-Turkey deal fails and the Balkan route starts operating at full scale again, I am sure that Serbia will work with the EU to introduce tighter control on the border crossings and take stronger measures against traffickers.
As a friend of Serbia, Norway will continue to support the country in facing these challenges.
The number of Norwegian companies working in Serbia is increasing, and I am sure this trend will continue
How has sliding petrol prices impacted on the Norwegian economy and the country’s involvement as a donor in the region?
With oil prices now a third of what they were only two years ago, the Norwegian economy is facing difficult times. More than 30,000 oil related jobs have been lost since the prices started dropping. Due to the fall of the price of oil and gas, the value of the Norwegian Krone, NOK, lost a quarter of its value against the euro in recent years. Compared with many other oil and gas exporting counties, however, we are faring better, thanks to an innovative and competitive industry with world leaders in ICT, medical technology, finance/insurance, shipping and environmental technologies.
Despite these difficult times, Norway will continue to support countries in the region.
How would you assess economic and overall bilateral relations with Serbia?
Serbia and Norway have been nurturing friendly relations since before the First Balkan War in 1912. When the war broke out in October, a group of Norwegian medical personnel working with the Red Cross deployed voluntarily to Serbia. The latest example of such relations is the Charter of the Honorary Citizen of Belgrade, which I am very honoured to be receiving in September.
When it comes to economic relations, Telenor has been a pilot showing other Norwegian companies the way to the Serbian market – not least by spreading a word about the positive sides of doing business in Serbia. The number of Norwegian companies working in Serbia is increasing and I am sure this trend will continue. The economic reforms undertaken by Serbia have made the country attractive to invest in, and this is all the more so as Serbia moves closer to the Euro- Atlantic community of countries and thus reduces the perceived risk of investing in Serbia.
The Embassy has contributed to this by assisting, together with the Serbian Embassy in Oslo, in the establishment of the Norwegian-Serbian Business Association, aimed at companies or persons searching for information on how to start doing business or develop their business in Norway or Serbia.