Norwegian Ambassador to Serbia H. E. Arne Bjørnstad belongs to the group of diplomats who believe that Serbia has become a pillar of stability in the region, and that President Aleksandar Vučić deserves Europe’s support in its efforts to improve cooperation among the countries of the region.Ambassador Bjørnstad has repeatedly spoken publicly about his belief that regional cooperation, alongside Euro-Atlantic integration, represents the key to stabilising the situation in the Western Balkans.
Although he comes from a country whose citizens have voted twice against joining the European Union in referenda, CorD’s interlocutor believes that membership is actually the best solution for Serbia. He adds that Norway pays a price for staying out of the community, even though it has strong economic ties and cooperation under the framework of the Schengen zone. Most Norwegian citizens support this kind of cooperation. However, the campaign that preceded September’s parliamentary elections saw several parties, from the left and the centre, seeking a review of relations with the EU and a complete breakaway based on the Brexit model. Still, the most votes were secured in the elections by Norway’s governing right-wing bloc, headed by Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
On the eve of your country’s recent parliamentary elections, one of the topics was reviewing relations with the European Union, with which Norway has strong ties despite not being a member. In your opinion, how will election results impact on that relationship?
– The election results will not affect Norway’s relationship with the EU, and I don’t think it would have been otherwise if the opposition had won, as there is a broad consensus on Norway’s membership in the European Economic Area and the Schengen cooperation, as well as close cooperation with the EU in a number of other fields without joining the Union.
Norway is a great net financial contributor to the poorer EU member states, while Serbia is a recipient of EU funds and would be an even greater one as a member
It is noticeable that you encourage Serbia’s membership in the EU although Norway is not a member. Why is that?
– We support the Serbian government’s decision to join, but the choice is Serbia’s own. That being said, Serbia is dependent on the EU market and EU products and neither Russia, China nor anyone else is in a position to offer a realistic alternative. Norway is in many ways in a similar position, but with a much stronger economy and with less importance given to agriculture. Norway is a great net financial contributor to the poorer EU member states, while Serbia is a recipient of EU funds and would be an even greater one as a member. The short answer is that Norway is paying a high financial price for staying outside the EU, which Serbia cannot afford to pay.
Telenor is the best-known Norwegian investment in Serbia. Do you see any other areas in which investors from your country could be interested?
– We have seen increasing interest from Norwegian companies, mostly in the engineering and environmental sectors. This trend continues.
Norway is one of the countries to which Serbian citizens emigrate, especially doctors and medical staff. To what extent has Norway remained open to immigrants, considering the migrant crisis that has hit Europe?
– Norway’s immigration policy is “strict, but just”. Refugees are, of course, accepted based on their need for protection. For others, their skills or family relations to legal residents will be decisive, with the exception of EU/EEA citizens that benefit from free movement within the EEA area.