A woman walks past a fountain in downtown Skopje, capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, earlier this month. Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soereide welcoms Greek efforts to solve the FYROM name dispute and normalize relations with Albania.
We are living in a time of major geopolitical changes. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias’s recent visit to Norway gave him an excellent opportunity to convey to a Norwegian audience how Greece will meet these challenges. Earlier this month, Kotzias set out the principles and main elements of Greece’s foreign policy at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. His geopolitical vision and declared commitment to make a difference resonated well.
That was also the case at the Government Guest House in Oslo later the same day. During Kotzias’s working lunch with Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soereide, they both came to realize the similarities of their respective policies. Greece and Norway are currently shaping a foreign policy of bridge-building, smart power and constructive dialogue. This is first of all rooted in the ambition to promote stability, reduce vulnerability and make peace sustainable across regions.
Because of Greece’s geostrategic location, its frontline status in the migration crisis and its many initiatives to strengthen regional cooperation within Southeastern Europe, Greece stands out as an important bridge-builder and valuable partner. Kotzias’s declared ambition to foster a cohesive and pragmatically interconnected Southeastern Europe is interesting. For more than a decade, Norway has been strongly engaged in reducing social disparities and promoting economic growth and stability in that important region by the use of our European Economic Area (EEA) Grants.
The Norwegian minister was impressed to learn about the many initiatives taken by Greece, such as the summits of southern European countries as well as various others of trilateral and quadrilateral formats. This helps to promote mutual understanding, trust and stability. She commended initiatives taken by Greece to normalize relations with Albania, as well as its strategic, pragmatic and comprehensive approach to a viable solution of the name issue with Skopje.
But Kotzias did not stop there. He went even further, and highlighted dialogue initiatives with the aim of reaching out across regional formats and extending contacts with countries deeply rooted in other cultures. The Conference on Protection of Religious and Cultural Pluralism in the Middle East is one such initiative. This relates well to Norway’s long-standing tradition within the area of peace-building and conflict resolution. A positive strategy for fragile states and regions is now more important than ever. Building trust between authorities and the population is key to improving both governance and long-term development, which are fundamental to promoting stability and viable peace.
Given the vast network, expertise and experience Norway possesses on the Western Balkan and Middle East regions, both ministers agreed to look into modalities that could develop a targeted cooperation between our two countries within prioritized geopolitical areas.
As a last point, Kotzias emphasized that international law and multilateral institutions constitute our first line of defense. Respect for a rule-based world order is in the interest of absolutely everyone, large and small countries alike. Norway fully supports this view. Cooperation within the United Nations improves our position to meet the challenges in terms of global security, human rights, development and the environment. This deeply anchored belief and commitment of my country is the main reason why Norway has decided to be a candidate for the UN Security Council 2021-2022. Like Greece, Norway is a relatively small country, but history has shown that small countries can have a strong impact on international affairs if their strategies are right.
To conclude, Kotzias’s visit to Norway consolidated the two countries’ common ground and revealed renewed and exciting prospects for expanded political cooperation. We are looking forward to the follow-up.
Joern Gjelstad is Norway’s ambassador to Greece.