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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » April 28, 2011
Norway in Poland
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Growing Closer
April 28, 2011   
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The Norwegian Ambassador to Poland, Enok Nygaard, talks to Hilary Heuler.

How would you summarize current Norwegian-Polish relations?
I would say there have been dynamic developments in our bilateral relations over the last few years, which have brought our two countries very close together. This is due to several factors. For one thing, we have the Norway grants and the EEA grants: Norway is not a member of the EU, but we participate fully in the internal market of the EU through the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA Agreement). However, the EEA goes beyond trade and economy to include shared solidarity when it comes to developments in Europe. So our grants—the Norway and the EEA grants—have been established to contribute to reducing social and economic disparities within new EU member states, and Poland is by far the largest beneficiary. These grants amount to about 559 million euros to Poland over the current five-year period, and for the next five-year period the allocation will be 580 million euros.

This money is going into important sectors, such as cultural heritage, cultural exchange programs, the health sector and the police, not to mention the environmental sector and energy efficiency, including energy-saving thermo-modernization of a large number of public buildings. Aside from the financial contributions, our involvement also includes the people working on these projects, including in NGOs, corporations and universities; it definitely has a strong bilateral dimension that hopefully will result in long-lasting personal and professional contacts.

We have also increased trade between our two countries, including tourism. There are now direct flights between Poland and Norway, which Poles use to see the Norwegian fjords and Norwegians use to visit Polish cities. There are also many Polish workers in Norway. Further, we enjoy close contacts at the political level. To sum up: I think it’s very impressive how much closer the two countries have come during such a short time.

In which areas could economic cooperation be stronger?
I would say that especially in the energy and environmental sector there is potential for increased cooperation, particularly in terms of modern technological solutions for waste handling, sewage management and water supply. Energy-saving and renewable energy is also of significant importance to both our countries. Ninety-five percent of the electricity in Norway is generated by hydropower, and we are strong in both solar cell research and integrated solar energy as well as wind power. We are also seeing dynamic developments between Poland and Norway in the information communication technologies sector.

Norway exports a lot of seafood to Poland, and our exports have been increasing over the past several years. Some of this seafood is consumed in restaurants and private homes, but a considerable part of it is being processed in Poland and shipped to other European markets – like smoked Norwegian salmon. I think there’s still potential to develop the market in Poland because seafood is such an excellent food, it tastes good and it’s healthy. Just look at the rise of sushi bars here in Warsaw—young people are often more health-conscious than older people, and what could be more healthy than a nice seafood dinner? I’m always pleased to find salmon and other Norwegian seafood in Polish restaurants and supermarkets.

You have been in Poland for two years now. What are your impressions of the country?
I’ve been very struck by the dynamic economic developments taking place in Poland. Traveling around the country, I have observed quite a lot of infrastructure programs underway, and I’m sure these will have a major impact on both the economy and on social developments in the country. These days we’re observing the preparations for the EU presidency later this year, and a number of ministers and high-level officials will be coming from Norway to attend meetings prior to the handover and for informal EU meetings during the presidency. I’m sure that Poland will do an excellent job handling the new tasks ahead of it.

I should also say that I’ve been very impressed by the active cultural life here, and I’ll never cease to be amazed by all the cultural heritage sites around the country. Of course, it’s a big challenge to take care of them all, and Norway has financially contributed to restoring a number of these, including Malbork Castle and Wilanów Palace. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting some of these projects since I’ve been here.

How do Norwegian people feel about the influx of Polish workers to Norway?
There is a large number of Polish workers in Norway, and they are perceived to be doing a very good job. Many of them are working in the construction and building sector and many are working in the shipyards, but they are also in other professions. They are regarded as hard-working and reliable. Many are on short-term contracts, but Poles also constitute the largest group of long-term immigrants. We have Polish students and researchers in Norway as well, and here in Poland there are 1,300 Norwegian students—almost all of them studying medicine.

I think the Polish presence in Norway has contributed to Norwegians’ understanding of Polish culture, but Poles also integrate very easily. We are not so different, after all, so it’s really no big deal for them to come and work there. Likewise it is easy for us Norwegians to work and live in Poland.
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