Interview with H.E. Mrs. Tove Bruvik Westberg, Norway’s ambassador to Romania.
How do you assess the bilateral relations since you came to Romania as ambassador?
There are good bilateral relations, and not thanks to me, but it is mostly due to the cooperation we have under the EEA and Norway grants. Under the current programme period, there are more than 800 projects and about 25% of them are implemented in cooperation between the Norwegian and Romanian partners. I think this is a very important number.
The objective of the grants is to reduce social and economic disparities in Europe, but also to strengthen the bilateral cooperation. Both Norwegian and Romanian partners emphasize how important the cooperation is. It is a privileged situation for me to be able to learn from these partnerships and to learn both about my own country and about Romania.
What projects are ongoing this year within the Norwegian Grants scheme?
There are more than 800, as I mentioned, and they are in all sectors, ranging from justice, home affairs, environment, health, culture, education to social sector. I would highlight a few:
There is one big programme called Green Industry Innovation, which is about “greening of industries” and greener production facilities. There are about 50 projects under this programme and half of them are implemented partnerships between Norway and Romania. Examples are waste collection, recycling and cleaner manufacturing industries.
There will be a closing conference and an exhibition on this programmer on October 14 in Bucharest and we hope it will draw a lot of media attention.
Another project I would like to mention is within health. In a European context, Romania has a high incidence of tuberculosis. One project is providing rapid testing for drug resistant tuberculosis, which is a good contribution to reducing the prevalence rate.
Another project is cancer screening, breast and cervical cancer, a test provided by the Oncological Institute in Cluj, reaching out to women in rural areas.
I could go on mentioning another project on penitentiaries between the National Penitentiaries Administration in Romania and the counterpart body (Kriminalomsorgen) in Norway, working on rehabilitation of Romanian prisons but also on how to better prepare inmates for their return to the society after release from prison.
Another project to mention is within the cultural area. Astra Museum in Sibiu has built a new wing to hold a permanent exhibition representing minorities in Romania. This project is again a partnership with a cultural institution in Norway.
It is a very broad cooperation, involving ministries, directorates, public entities, NGOs, universities from Romania in cooperation with a Norwegian institution.
We are still implementing projects under the current programme period, with the implementation of the projects lasting until next year. Now, parallel to that, we are in the process of negotiating the agreement for new grants between the EEA countries and Romania. There are thus more partnerships to be established.
There are effects in real life following these programmes under the EEA grants?
Yes, we are still in the middle of implementation. However, we are already seeing many good results that both have impact on people’s daily life, but also valuable for the policy dialogue.
There is, for instance, a project in Bacau county implemented by UNICEF and the local county authorities on testing a model for providing a minimum package of social services. Some of the experiences from that model were debated in the Parliament. President Iohannis visited Bacau in June, also giving attention to this topic.
What is the situation of the Norwegian investments in Romania? It looks like they are not so visible. Is it room for more? What are the Norwegian investors’ signals about the Romanian business environment, what are their main fields of interests? What do attract them most here and what does they complain about most often?
Norwegian business is here, but perhaps not the most visible as such, yes. There is, however, a long history of cooperation within the shipping industry. Hulls are built in Tulcea and Braila and then transported (towed) to Norway. Over many years, the oil and gas sector was the main market. With a decline in this sector, also fishing vessels are now being built.
There are investments in the IT sector, in the food industry and some in furniture. Technical installations related to the shipping industry and the oil and gas sector is, though, still there. Some Norwegian companies have outsourced certain activities to Romania. Of course, we want to see more investments, but there is a certain geographical distance to take into account.
Connected to the closing conference I mentioned in October on the Green industry and innovation, Innovation Norway will also organize a matchmaking conference. I hope that it will attract more Norwegian investments to Romania.
I wish to say though, that when Norwegians have visited Romania they return home with positive impressions. You have nice people and a beautiful country. Norwegian business people highlight, like most investors, the need for framework predictability, transparency, no corruption and of course good infrastructure.
On the bright side, I would also like to mention that the Norwegian language is taught in Cluj and Iasi. The Scandinavian Institute in Cluj has currently more than 200 students learning Norwegian language at all levels, from PhD to bachelors. They are good ambassadors for Norwegian and Nordic literature and culture and we are very proud that they invest time and money in learning our language.
Norway celebrated its National Day on May 17. It generally stands as an example to be followed in Europe, boasting many positive aspects of the society, from the economy, technology, education and up to an almost perfect standard of living. What would be the piece of advice you’d give to Romanians (both authorities and citizens) to follow in Norway’s footsteps?
I would hesitate to give advice but I would be very happy to highlight a few dimensions of the Norwegian society.
I would like to start with taxation because it is an important instrument both in terms of funding the public services and in the re-distribution of wealth in the society. Taxation policy has been an active tool in our society in order to provide good social services (health and education) for everyone and to provide infrastructure and other public investments.
We also have a very transparent public system. I can actually access at any time anyone’s tax return and net incomes. I do not do that, but the fact is that I CAN do it. Anyone in Norway can also check mine, of course.
There has been a very clear ambition throughout the governments for decades to level out living conditions, to reach ‘as good as it could be’ equality in the society, for anyone to have the same chances wherever they live. I would like to mentions two instruments that came quite early: the Norwegian State Education Loan Fund, established already in 1946, and the Norwegian State Housing Bank, also from 1946. I mention those two because they were so important in giving everyone, independent of their family income, access to higher education and to funds to build a house. Both these programmes were instrumental in the reconstruction of the country after WWII – and they are still in operation.
Another element to be noted is the focus on the education system, on learning from an early age about your rights as a human being and a citizen, about the separation of powers, and our system of governance.
An educated population, well aware of its rights and duties, is the key to social and human development.
What the Romanian education system is lacking? Is it that, more focus on practical things?
It is important for Romania to reduce the dropout rate and to have more students that complete their education cycle, the secondary education.
People should have the best possible starting point in life and that will help them embark on higher education and get decent jobs.
What would be Romania’s pros and cons in your view and what do you like most about our country, something you’d use to invite Norwegians to follow the lead of Romania?
I think that more Norwegians should visit Romania and discover the people, the culture and the nature. The number of Norwegian tourists here is gradually picking up.
Romania has so much to offer and the Norwegians coming here for the first time are eager to return.
On a different note, I would also like to highlight the international acknowledgement of the National Anti-corruption Directorate’s work in fighting corruption. They do an important job. Corruption is stealing from the people.
Norway is strongly represented in terms of cultural events in Romania. I know last year, the Norwegian cinema at TIFF was quite outstanding. What about this year? What are the bilateral cultural highlights in 2016? (previous, upcoming events).
This spring the Nordic countries jointly participated in The Design Week. Norway has many musicians coming throughout the year, many to perform at jazz concerts and we have participation in film festivals. In the second part of the year, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra is coming in September for the opening of Radio Orchestra Festival. We are very proud of that because we are very fond of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. In addition, we will have the internationally acclaimed author Jostein Gaarder coming, and professor Helge Rønning in media and literature. On this last occasion, together with Romanian institutions, we will facilitate debates on the role of literature as such, and Ibsen’s role in literature in particular as well as debates on the role of independent media. Throughout the year, we have some Norwegian writers coming to the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj and they give lectures to the public.
These are some of the autumn’s cultural highlights and I am really looking forward to them.
This is also part of the public diplomacy, trying to share what you can offer to the outside world in terms of culture, literature, music. Cooperation through the academic world is also an important dimension. Whenever we are invited to give a lecture at a university and meet the students, we are happy to accept, because students are the future generation of leaders and decision makers.
We had a class of young children visiting the embassy the other day, aged six to ten, coming to learn about Norway. Such visits are inspiring in itself.
Our newspaper has launched a project by interviewing the women ambassadors accredited in Romania to hear their opinions about woman’s condition nowadays, the values close to her such as family, children, career, etc. Is there a strong bond among the foreign ambassador ladies accredited in Bucharest? Do you have joint actions?
I would rather emphasize that it is a good diplomatic community at large in Romania, independent of gender. It is a nice atmosphere, easy to contact your colleagues and there is a good cooperation.
I have good contacts not only with ambassadors, but I would say with diplomats in general.
On the joint actions side, I would rather turn back to the Nordic group’s activities. We are very different when it comes to membership in international organizations, but we still have a lot in common. The woman ambassadors also meet from time to time, that is correct. Three out of four Nordic ambassadors in Bucharest are women.
There is also another group of ambassadors meeting from time to time, addressing the Roma inclusion issue. The participation in this group is independent of gender, of course. In this context, I would like to mention that in Norway a Government commission recently looked into our history related to the Romani community and so called travellers. They found that we also have many things to be criticized for in our own country. For us it was important to put it on paper and to acknowledge our own history, which is an important step to change policies.
Do you think women are better represented in diplomacy compared to let’s say 20, 30 years ago? What about in politics and other fields?
If we talk numbers – yes! Approximately 25 % of Norwegian ambassadors today are women. It is undoubtedly an improvement, but we still have a way to go. Participation and representation also depends on training, background, personal style. Half of the world’s population is women. It is essential to create good conditions for women to participate in the labour force, to combine professional life with having children, to build their own professional careers and fully exploit their potentials. Building kindergartens, having flexible working hours, good birth allowances have been important measures and have really paid off.
Norway has also encouraged the presence of more women in the boards of the companies where the state still has a majority. There has to be a certain percentage allotted to women. It was a huge debate about that in Norway. Although some companies still have not reached this goal.
Today we do boast a certain female presence in the political frontline. The prime minister is a woman. We also have women at the helm of the Finance and Defence ministries. The leaders of the principal business association and the biggest confederation of trade unions are both women.
I think what is good in the end is that you come to a point where it does not matter if it is a woman or a man in a certain position. You see only a person.
What challenges do you think the contemporary woman is facing right now?
One is the one facing the responsibilities of combining professional life with being a mother, for instance. There is still a sensitive debate. The society also has to be flexible to make it possible for a woman to be a mother and a career woman at the same time.
Another very important topic is the one of domestic violence. Domestic violence occurs everywhere, in every country, independent of social status. In May, we organized a debate in Bucharest on this issue. I was impressed by the broadness of the participation and the openness – from the Parliament, ministries, civil society, and police. It is an important subject, to continue to fight against domestic violence. It’s about perceptions, power.
There may be many explanations for what is triggering domestic violence. However, the more transparent the society is, the easier it is to disclose this problem.
It is an issue of human rights after all, independent of age or sex, to be free from violence and abuse.
The Council of Europe has some statistics on domestic violence. Occurrence is quite high in the whole of Europe.
It is important that changes can come when debate on a certain issue is in the open. The more one is addressing the subject and debate it in the open, the more everyone’s mentality and attitudes could change.
One topic emerging after I invited you to join our invitation for an interview is Brexit. Norway is not a EU member state. How do you all this debate, the UK’s being out the EU and its impact in the future?
No one can really foresee now. All I can say from our experience is that Norway together with the other EFTA countries has an economic area agreement with the EU giving us free access to the internal European market – meaning free movement of goods, people and capital (EEA). It also comes with the agreement that rules and regulations decided upon in Brussels (within the EU) shall apply in Norway. Regarding the UK referendum, we are just observing now. We are being approached from many to explain the agreements we have with the EU, but we are hesitant to give any specific advice. We had a referendum in 1972 and another one in 1994, and the Norwegian people said NO both times to being a member of the European Union. It is fair to say that the EEA agreement has served us well.
Another topic promoted in Romanian and international media was the Bodnariu case. Meanwhile the case has been solved. From your information, the case was settled through justice or there were also bilateral talks at stake?
Again, I am not in a position to comment on a specific case. What I can say is that Norway has a good and functional system related to child welfare cases. However, individual cases could stir emotions in Norway, too. What seems to be difficult to communicate, is the trust we have in the handling of child welfare cases. Processes may take some time but we trust that the focus is the best interest of the child. In order to protect the interests of the family and the child, no details from child welfare cases are disclosed to the public.
We have many debates in Norway about the child welfare system. Most often the focus of the debates would be “should we have intervened in a specific case?”, “should we have intervened earlier?”, “should we have done more?”
On July 1, Norway ratified the Hague Convention on Cooperation in Child Protection Cases. Romania is already a member of the Convention. According to that convention, member states shall establish a central authority facilitating the exchange of sensitive information, agree on jurisdiction and common process in child welfare cases related to families with ties to different countries. We are very happy that the convention has entered into force. The ratification process in Norway started several years ago.
In May, a delegation from the Norwegian Ministry of Child and Equality as well as Child Protection Directorate had a meeting with their counterparts in Romania.
Such meetings are important because they are about exchange of information – “what does work in my country”, “how does it work in your country?” When you bring professionals together, they understand each other, because they are looking towards the same goals to the benefit of the child.
The Norwegian society is based upon the principle of rule of law and separation of powers. Based upon this principle, a child welfare case is handled within due process of law, considering the facts of the case and giving priority to the best interest of the child. No external authority – political or administrative – may influence the proceedings in such cases. Pressure exerted from other countries, political or otherwise, is considered undue and of now avail.
Yet, the case had huge media coverage not only in Romania, but also in Norway and abroad. Is it just a story for them?
As I mentioned, in child welfare cases the relevant authorities at municipal or county level cannot disclose any information due to the discretion required. That is to protect the child or the family in question. However, the family itself can choose to share whatever information they want, which may introduce a certain imbalance in the public presentation of the case. The media in Norway respect the principle of confidentiality. Media reports in other countries related to a case are in many instances not based on facts. We understand that child welfare cases may create emotions, but it is also important to have good procedures. It is about finding good solutions for the child or children in question.
How did Barnevernet come up? It has been a particular history in Norway on child abuses?
Child abuse or neglect is a serious problem that is of concern to us all. It is not more prevalent in Norway than in other countries. However, Norway, I dare say, has been in the forefront internationally to protect the right of the child and to deal with child abuse or neglect in all its forms.
Barnevernet is the Norwegian word for Child Welfare Service. Similar services exist in most developed countries – also in Romania. Origin and tasks differ somewhat in different countries. In Norway, the Child Welfare Service is formally established under the rules of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This public service, with a mandate that covers the child and the family, has been a gradual development in our society that relates to protection of human rights in general. Throughout the years, there has been a development historically and socially to emphasize the fact that each individual, independent of gender or age has the same right to protection.