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France and Norway

Political relations and major visits

In the recent white paper on Norwegian foreign and security policy, France was named as one of Norway’s strategic partners, alongside Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

France and Norway share the same values (promoting peace and democracy, the rule of law, upholding human rights, etc.), the same concerns in the international arena (Russia/Ukraine; Israel-Palestinian peace process; fighting the terrorist threat; controlling migratory flows; consolidating fragile States in Sub-Saharan Africa, climate, development assistance, etc.) and pay close attention to the UN’s peacekeeping operations and efficiency.

Norway supports France’s efforts on innovative financing (as a member of the Leading Group on Innovative Financing, it applies the solidarity tax on air travel and allocates part of its CO2/kerosene tax to UNITAID). Like France, it is one of the six founding members of the Foreign Policy and Global Health (FPGH) initiative.

Energy and the climate are central to our bilateral relations. Norway is France’s leading supplier of gas and one of its main suppliers of oil (behind Russia). French companies are 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.

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 withdraw its investment from polluting industries. France has requested that money from this fund be allocated to finance the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Although the French-Norwegian bilateral political and strategic relationship has been developing in recent years, it is still not what it should be, as Norway continues to look primarily towards Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Major recent visits include those of Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg to Paris on 27 February and 6 July 2018, during which she met with French President Emmanuel Macron. Ms Solberg attended the ceremonies to commemorate the Armistice of the First World War on 11 November 2018 as well as the Paris Peace Forum. On 7 June 2017, Mr Le Drian received Mr Brende in Paris, and on 15 November 2018 he received Ms Søreide. Queen Sonja of Norway travelled to Tours on 10 March 2017 for the opening of the Centre of Contemporary Creation Olivier Debré along with President Hollande, and returned to France on 24 September 2018, where she visited Rouen as part of the centenary of the Norwegian sections of three French lycées (secondary schools), to sign revised and updated bilateral cooperation agreements. The last official visit to Norway by a French Head of State was that of François Mitterrand in 1984.

Economic relations

France and Norway have a close economic relationship, particularly in the field of energy, which remains the main pillar of the Norwegian economy: Total is located in Stavanger and has been the leading foreign investor in Norway over the past 50 years; France purchases 40% of its gas from Norway. Furthermore, we are one of the leading purchasers of Norwegian salmon.

There could be economic opportunities in the transport sector, in which Norway has planned major investment. Finally, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (known as the “Government Pension Fund Global”), whose assets have recently exceeded €1 trillion, is today the second-largest institutional investor in the Paris financial centre (€40.6 billion invested both in company shareholdings and property).

Trade between France and Norway remains dominated by hydrocarbons and France thus has a structural trade deficit with Norway (€3.1 billion in 2016).

In 2016, French exports to Norway, which mainly concern transport equipment and industrial products, remained stable compared to 2015. In 2016, France was Norway’s ninth-largest supplier and fourth-largest customer, a situation which remained unchanged from the previous year. French imports from Norway rose by almost 9% in 2016 compared to 2015. However, Norway is only France’s 29ᵗʰ-largest supplier. This reduction is due to the fall in oil prices, although the weaker Norwegian krone does help support other exporters.

In 2016, some 197 French businesses were present in Norway. French companies are highly involved in the oil economy (including Total and Engie) and in oil services (Technip and Nexans). Total E&P Norge AS is the leading French company in Norway and the country’s second-largest oil company, behind the national company Statoil. French companies are also present in wholesale machines and equipment (Schneider and Elektroscandia) and in the sector of wood and construction materials (Optemera). 93 Norwegian companies were present in France in 2016, including Yara (industrial fertilizers), Marine Harvest (sale and processing of seafood), and Sapa (extruded aluminium), which is the largest Norwegian employer in France. In total, Norwegian companies employ more than 4,000 people in France.

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 branch office in Stavanger, the René Cassin French lycée in Oslo (accredited by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE), it has some 600 students, almost two-thirds of whom have Norwegian nationality), and the French lycée in Stavanger. France also has Norwegian sections in three French lycées (in Rouen, Bayeux and Lyon), the centenary of which was celebrated by both countries in 2018.

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. Moreover, France is the eighth most popular destination for Norwegian students (300 in 2017).

We are 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 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.

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. The Norwegians have expressed their wish to modernize the agreements regarding the French-Norwegian Foundation. Bilateral meetings are underway. They have helped set the objectives for a new agreement to preserve our achievements while developing cooperation in the area of innovation. This should be a framework agreement with greater scope (cultural, educational, academic, scientific and research-based cooperation).

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 work of the Institut français, which also works in regular cooperation with its counterparts in other Nordic countries.

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.

For more information, visit the website of the French Embassy in Norway

Updated: 16 November 2018