Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | June 14, 2002, Friday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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His Excellency Rolf Baltzersen, the first Sofia-based Ambassador of Norway, presented his credentials to Bulgarian President Parvanov in November last year. The first Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sofia was opened on April 30. H. E. Rolf Baltzersen has substantial diplomatic experience. Before coming to Bulgaria he worked in Norway's Embassy in London.

H.E. Rolf Baltzersen answered questions of Martina Iovcheva.

Q: Norway opened its Sofia-based embassy less than two months ago. Why did Norway choose to open its embassy in Bulgaria this year?

A: Norway and Bulgaria have throughout the years had good, although modest relations. Today's Europeans are busy building solidarity and cooperation across old divisions. Many Norwegians are traveling to Bulgaria to experience its beauty and friendly atmosphere. The universities in Sofia, Burgas and Blagoevgrad are offering courses in the Norwegian language.

In the political and economic area Bulgaria's application for membership in both NATO and EU is of great significance. Since Norway is a member of NATO and has a close relationship with EU through the European Economic Area agreement, it became quite obvious that the Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest, also accredited to Bulgaria, could no longer take full care of Norwegian interests vis-a-vis Bulgaria.

Norway needed an Ambassador on the spot to deal directly with the Bulgarian government. Now the Norwegian government is in a position to get first hand information from Bulgaria through Norwegian eyes.

Furthermore, the Embassy will be in a good position to inform the Bulgarian public about Norway and Norwegian matters.

And - very important, Norwegian authorities will be in a better position to assist Norwegians that have something to do in Bulgaria.

Q: What are the priorities in your work as Norway's Ambassador to Bulgaria?

A: Being a newcomer, I have to start from scratch in every field. A lot of efforts will have to be made by myself and my staff to build a useful network and to learn in depth about Bulgarian history, culture, politics and economy. I have so far, because of necessity, given priority to establishing our Chancery, finding a residence and employing the right people to work in the Embassy. I have to say that I have been met by a lot of warmth and helpfulness. This has made it easier for me to overcome a lot of practical problems.

I have already noticed the great potential for developing the political dialogue and cooperation in the areas of economy and culture. For the time being I give priority to the very important task of finding out as much as possible about the advantages and challenges of doing business in Bulgaria.

Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenges that you'll face during your mandate?

A: As I said I intend to use a lot of my time to enlighten Norwegian business circles about possibilities in Bulgaria. They need to know all aspects of doing business in Bulgaria. They would like to hear from me that there is a clear commitment both by the government and among Bulgarian businessmen for building a healthy economy. So for me the greatest challenge in the short term is to build a solid and truthful platform of knowledge to stand on when I have to answer their questions.

In the long term I would be delighted to contribute to the establishing and enhancing of cooperation in a broad range of areas in all sectors of society. I would be very pleased if I, when leaving Bulgaria, can note that economic cooperation between our two countries is not marginal any more, but substantial.

Q: How will you work for the enhanced cooperation between the two countries?

A: The expression "Connecting People" is a guideline also for this Embassy. In this sense "people" means all spheres of life: companies, institutions, organisations, individuals.

In the political area Norway and Bulgaria work closely together in numerous fields like OSCE, the Stability Pact, the Balkans and the UN, where both countries are members of the Security Council. Even though we are a small embassy, we will do our best to contribute to a qualitively better political dialogue between our to countries. This means communication with all layers of political life in Bulgaria.

When I arrived in Sofia I knew of course about the small scope of our economic cooperation. To achieve something in this area I will cooperate closely with Norwegian authorities and companies. A major cooperation partner is the Norwegian Trade Council. Early this autumn this council will organize meetings in Norway where I can inform Norwegian companies about Bulgaria. And the Embassy has as one of its main tasks to assist Norwegian companies on a day-to-day basis.

Furthermore, I am in the process of establishing a Business Forum that can assist the Embassy in finding ways and means of increasing the bilateral economic cooperation.

In the cultural field we are monitoring what is already going on so we can see where the resources available can be best spent. I think that in this area there are not many obstacles for enhancing the cooperation.

Q: What is Norway's stand on Bulgaria's NATO bid? Do you expect big enlargement of the Alliance after the summit in Prague?

A: Norway strongly supports the dedicated efforts being made by your country to become more closely integrated into Euro-Atlantic and European cooperation structures.

Bulgaria has worked hard in order to qualify for membership of the Alliance. Your challenge now is to stay on course and keep up the good work.

The invited countries must continue to focus on modernisation within their armed forces and on political reforms.

Norway has a broad approach to the enlargement process and supports NATO's open door policy. The foreign ministers' meeting in Reykjavik confirmed the intention of a robust enlargement in Prague.

Q: How would you comment the decision of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Sofia to name Bulgaria in the final declaration in support of the Alliance enlargement? In your opinion are Bulgaria's chances to be invited at the Summit in Prague big?

A: The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is an important body. The decision seems to reflect the emphasis the parliamentarians place on a broad enlargement of NATO and will have been duly noted by the governments in NATO countries.

I don't want to be a prophet in such an important question for Bulgaria. I have noted that you have impressed a lot of people by what you have already achieved in the military area. In my mind, it is very important for Bulgaria up to and beyond Prague to keep on with the good work. By doing so your country will in due course become an asset to the NATO alliance.

Q: Do you expect visits of high-ranking Norwegian officials to Bulgaria?

A: The exchange of visits between Norway and Bulgaria has been on a low level. This reflects, of course, the relatively modest level of activity in general. There are some invitations pending but so far no high-ranking visits have been planned. I will do what I can to increase the flow of visits.

I would like to mention, though, that there is a very comprehensive and impressive cooperation programme between the Norwegian and Bulgarian ministries of defence which i.e. involves exchange of visits.

Q: Don't you think the introduction of the single currency and the coming EU enlargement isolated Norway to a certain extent, being the only Scandinavian country that is not EU member? Is there a chance Norway to reconsider EU membership in the near future?

A: Together with Norway Iceland, Sweden and Denmark are outside the single currency. Neither Sweden nor Finland are members of NATO. Norway, Denmark and Iceland are members of NATO. All the mentioned countries participate in the Nordic Cooperation. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area which means that Norway is a member of the single market except for fish and agriculture products. As a consequence we don't feel isolated.

The EU members' common foreign and security policy and co-operation on legal and police matters is not covered by the terms of the EEA agreement. In connection with the Schengen cooperation Norway has negotiated an agreement. Norway attempts to safeguard its interests through an ongoing exchange of information and presentation of its viewpoints and interests through various channels of contact with the EU. An active bilateral diplomacy towards the individual EU countries is also important in this context.

Enlargement of the EU also implies enlargement of the European Economic Area which consists of the EU countries and Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein; that is the EFTA countries with the exception of Schwitzerland.

Norway has launched a Plan of Action to support projects in the EU candidate countries. We hope this plan will contribute positively to the integration process in Europe and stimulate closer cooperation between our two countries. We are in the process of receiving applications for projects in a lot of areas. The Bulgarian authorities have so far given priority to projects in areas like administration of justice and institution and democracy building.

There is at present no debate in Norway as to any specific time when EU membership has to be reconsidered. I suspect that next time Norway applies for EU-membership the politicians are convinced that Norwegian people will say yes in the referendum.

Q: What is the image of Bulgaria in Norway? Has it become worse after last year's wave of Bulgarians who wanted to stay in your country as political refugees? Do you fear that this could happen again and if so, what measures do you plan to prevent another wave of immigrants?

A: For most Norwegians Bulgaria is connected with good musicians and singers, numerous Bulgarians perform all over Norway throughout the year. Bulgaria is considered to be an excellent holiday destination, and the Bulgarian wine is highly estimated. People interested in sports will know i.a. about your wrestlers and the achievements of the Bulgarian national football team. The lovers of winter sports will know that you are developing well in biathlon, especially your women, and the real feinschmeckers still remember Popangelov, the great Bulgarian skier.

Since last summer quite many Bulgarian citizens have come to Norway to ask for political asylum. In 2001 almost 1000 Bulgarians were misled to believe that Norway is a free haven for any kind of dissatisfied people. This year a further hundred persons have arrived under false pretensions. These people are sent back after speedy examination of their requests for asylum. As to this question in general we have an excellent cooperation with Bulgarian authorities. Norway fully appreciates their efforts to discourage this kind of organized unorthodox tourism. What has happened has had no influence on the good relations between Norway and Bulgaria and has not damaged the image of Bulgaria in Norway.

Q: What are your first impressions from Bulgaria? Do you find any similarities between the Bulgarian and Norwegian culture?

I have not been in your country long enough to say something definite. But the first impressions are very good. Your nature is unique. The people are friendly.

I think we have the appreciation of nature in common and that fact is reflected in our cultures. Fjords and mountains have contributed to the development of a strong and diversified local culture in Norway. The same seems to be the case with the mountain ranges in Bulgaria. Both nations have had foreign masters for hundreds of years. Nature and history have created people that are strong and proud individuals.

Q: Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?

A: Nature. Culture. Friendliness.
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