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France and Norway

Political Relations

Political relations between France and Norway were strengthened considerably during the 1990s due to the efforts of the Norwegian authorities to maintaining the country’s place in Europe.

Energy and the climate are central to our bilateral relations, as Norway is France’s leading supplier of gas (38.4% of our supplies in 2012) and one of our main suppliers of oil (behind Russia). French countries are very well established in Norway’s hydrocarbons sector: with 103 licences, Total is the second-largest producer of hydrocarbons in Norway behind the public national company Statoil, while GDF Suez is the second-largest purchaser of gas in Norway and has 38 prospection and production licences. An annual energy and climate dialogue has been established at the initiation of the respective Foreign Ministers: the seventh consultations on energy took place in Paris on 8 March 2013, while the third climate consultations were held there on 4 March 2015. Moreover, a partnership was established in 2010 between the two countries on combating deforestation (conferences on 11 March in Paris and 27 May in Oslo), resulting in the adoption of the agreement on the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries) mechanism during the Cancún COP16 in December 2010.

Norway’s positions are close to ours regarding many international issues, such as the Middle East Peace Process, development assistance, and attention for peacekeeping operations and improving the UN’s effectiveness. Norway supports France’s efforts in the area of innovative financing (as a member of the Leading Group on Innovative Financing Mechanisms, it applies the air ticket solidarity levy and allocates a share of its carbon/fuel tax to UNITAID). Like France, it is one of the seven founding members of the Foreign Policy and Global Health (FPGH) initiative.

As regards new climate and energy goals, Norway’s position is very similar to France’s. Both countries stress the importance of reaching an international agreement, with differentiated targets according to levels of national commitment. Bilateral cooperation on this subject intensified in the run-up to COP21 in December 2015, with Laurent Fabius’ visit with his counterpart Børge Brende to Svalbard in July 2014 and the joint organization of the Arctic Encounter Paris 2015 conference on the Arctic and the climate in March. Norway was thus an important ally to prepare COP21 in Paris. The country is very active on environmental and sustainability programmes (SE4All for energy, REDD+ for forests, and a promised contribution of €200 million to the Green Climate Fund) and has made ambitious national commitments: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030; carbon neutrality in 2050. The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund has announced that it will divest from polluting industries.

More intensive bilateral dialogue on the Great North and the geopolitics of the region will be a major part of our bilateral relationship in the coming years.

Visits

We have regular bilateral contact. During COP21, Norway was represented by its Prime Minister, Ms Erna Solberg; its Minister of Climate and Environment, Ms Tine Sundtoft; and its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Børge Brende.

The French Minister of Defence, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, made a working visit to Norway on 19 and 20 August 2015, meeting with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence. Mr Brende visited Paris for the ministerial meeting of the coalition against Daesh, and met with then Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Laurent Fabius on 3 June 2015. He had previously visited Paris on 17 March 2015 for the Franco-Norwegian conference on the Arctic and the climate, also meeting with Mr Fabius on that occasion. Ms Siv Jensen, the Norwegian Minister of Finance, met with her French counterpart Mr Michel Sapin on 25 February 2015. Following the Paris attacks in January 2015, the Norwegian Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs took part in the republican march in Paris on 11 January. Minister Laurent Fabius accompanied his Norwegian counterpart to Svalbard in July 2014 in order to observe the effects of climate change in the Arctic. The Minister of State for European Affairs, Mr Harlem Désir, met with his Norwegian counterpart, Mr Vidar Helgesen, in Paris on 30 April 2014. Mr Børge Brende visited Paris on 26 February 2014 and met with Laurent Fabius. On 3 February 2014, the newly elected Prime Minister, Erna Solberg was received in Paris by the President of the French Republic, François Hollande, and by the Prime Minister, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault.

In the multilateral sphere, HRH the Crown Prince Haakon of Norway visited Paris on 2 and 3 November 2015 during the opening session of the 38ᵗʰ UNESCO General Conference, accompanied by the State Secretary for European affairs, Ms Tone Skogen.

Economic relations

Despite falling oil prices over the course of 2014, trade between France and Norway remains dominated by hydrocarbons (54% of our imports) and France thus has a structurally negative trade balance with Norway. The combined effects of the falling price of oil and the continued reduction in French consumption had a beneficial impact on the trade balance. The reduction in the bilateral trade deficit continued in the first half of 2015: having totalled €2.1 billion in the first half of 2013, it fell to €890 million in 2014 and €728 million in the first half of 2015, thanks to a 10.5% reduction in our imports, while our exports fell 1.9%.

The fall in the deficit is due first and foremost to the reduction in our hydrocarbon and petroleum product imports (54% of our imports), which have dropped by 16%, with a particularly strong trend regarding petroleum products (-52%) which have gone from representing 13% of our imports to accounting for only 6%. This is primarily due to a quantity effect, while the reduced imports of crude oil are related to a price effect. Other sectors, such as sea products (12% of our imports, fall of 7.7%) are also contracting. However, our imports of metal products have increased considerably (+26%) and now represent 16% of our imports. The world leader in aluminium extrusion, SAPA, which was formed by the merger of the aluminium activities of Norsk Hydro and Orkla in 2013, has four factories in France.

The situation regarding French exports is contrasted. French agricultural, fish-farming and agrifood industry exports contracted in 2014, but have now increased 10% and account for 13.7% of our deliveries. In the first quarter of 2015, they gradually recovered their normal long-term level, despite remaining lower than in the excellent year 2013. More surprisingly given the depressed investment in the oil industries, our deliveries of “machines” have risen 18%. This may be due to deliveries of goods under contracts concluded prior to the fall in the price of BRENT crude and the decisions to put off certain oil industry investments. However, the transport sectors (20% of our exports, fall of 20%) and our exports of “other industrial products” (31%, fall of 1.8%) are down. Transport is subject to major variations, as the delivery of helicopters can generate great fluctuations in the figures, while “other industrial products” suffer from overall depressed demand in Norway linked to a less conducive context.

2015 should be a good year in terms of the evolution of the trade balance: the deficit should continue to shrink thanks to the fall in hydrocarbon prices. However, it is likely to be difficult in terms of export flows. The price of the Norwegian krone (NOK), which has remained low since summer 2015, and the slowing of Norwegian growth will not be favourable for our exports over the course of the year. The current strong agricultural and agrifood deliveries alone will not suffice to compensate for tensions on industrial goods (80% of French exports to Norway).

Almost 130 subsidiaries of French companies are established in Norway, while about 90 Norwegian companies are present in France, active in the major sectors of the Norwegian economy (sea products and metallurgy). The aluminium producer Norsk Hydro is the leading Norwegian employer in France, with about 1000 employees. As regards investments, Norway is the 24ᵗʰ-largest destination for French foreign direct investment (FDI). A partnership is currently being established between two competitiveness centres: Toulouse’s Subsea and Oslo’s Aerospace Valley.

France is the fourth-largest destination for investment by the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, with a stock of €36.5 billion, representing 6% of the overall portfolio. The fund holds considerable stakes in major French companies and is the second-largest investor in the Paris financial centre.

The number of Norwegian tourists visiting France has been on the rise since 2013. According to the Norwegian authorities, there were 21% more tourists in 2014.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Our cooperation is carried out in an institutional framework made up of three agreements: two conventional ones, signed in 1953 and 1983, and a third signed in 1986 in the framework of the Troll gas agreements. Our four cooperation entities are leading foreign establishments in Norway: the Institut français (French Institute) of Oslo and its satellite centre in Stavanger, the René Cassin French lycée (school) in Oslo, and the French lycée in Stavanger.

As Norway is traditionally turned towards the United Kingdom and the United States, our educational and linguistic cooperation seeks to support the teaching of French in Norway and to foster knowledge of French language and culture, as part of a cooperation approach involving Norwegian educational professionals. French is the third most-taught second foreign language (excluding English), behind Spanish and just behind German, and 50,000 pupils study it.

The language barrier limits school and academic exchanges. However, there are Norwegian sections in three French high schools, which are an exceptional instrument supporting our cooperation. An agreement was signed during the Prime Minister’s visit in June 2010, relating to the teaching of Norwegian pupils and the functioning of the Norwegian sections established in the Bayeux, Caen and Lyon local educational authorities, whereby several dozen Norwegian pupils are present in French schools every year. Moreover, France is the eighth-largest destination for Norwegian students (523 in 2013-2014)

The programme for the training of Norwegian engineers at the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Toulouse (NORGINSA), which has been in place since 1990, has been renewed through to 2020. NORGINSA satisfies all parties and is a good interface with the needs of the industrial world. Of the 320 beneficiary students, more than 130 had obtained the diploma of the school by the end of 2015.

In the art field, the Institut français (French Institute) of Norway cooperates with many local operators, including the festivals which have a central role in Norwegian culture, such as the Bergen International Festival and Oslo’s International Ibsen Festival. Cinema also plays a key role in the action of the Institut français, which also works in regular cooperation with its counterparts in other Nordic countries. They organize common events in their respective programmes, as well as joint operations, particularly in the cultural field (artists’ tours, Scandinavian platform for contemporary music) and the academic sphere (Campus France Nordic Day, preparation of the Horizon 2020 programme).

For some years, the Norwegian authorities have been seeking to strengthen their scientific and technological partnerships with France. We are thus the only European country to have signed, in July 2008, a cooperation agreement with Norway in the field of scientific and technical research and innovation, and one of the few to have a scientific attaché. The French Embassy in Oslo is working to tighten the relationships between the scientific and industrial sectors of the two countries. The 2013 “Oil & Space Forum” brought together major companies and research institutions in the sectors of oil in Norway and aerospace in France.

The foundations of our cooperation include two pillars made up of the integrated action programme “Aurora” and the French-Norwegian Foundation for Scientific and Technical Research and Industrial Development, which was created in 1983 to support short-term joint research. In Svalbard, France and Germany share two scientific bases for research into glaciers, geology and the climate. At European level, we are collaborating in the EU Framework Research and Development Programme (FRDP). France is Norway’s fifth-largest European partner in terms of proposed projects, but third in terms of selected projects.

Updated: 5 January 2016

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