Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Oslo
Currency Norwegian krone
National Day 17 May
NORWAY’S AMBASSADOR His Excellency Wegger C. Strømmen and his wife of 33 years, Cecilie, are quite the team. A Lutheran Pastor, she works at the Norwegian Church in Bermondsey and is a chaplain at the Church of England. “The former is quite a platform for the Norwegian community,” he notes. Their two grown-up daughters live in Norway.
Since their arrival in January, he’s observed that “London is an interesting place to view what’s going on in the rest of the world. Aside from Whitehall, there are so many institutions and centres of excellence, plus the huge past of the British Empire. Much of this information is relevant for understanding what is going on around the globe today.” Next year, the couple look forward to unveiling two years of renovations at the Residence. “The house is where the government was exiled during the war, so it’s really very special.”
Away from the office, there’s nothing the Ambassador finds more relaxing than pottering around at his country house by the sea, catching crabs and lobsters. This hails back to his childhood in a strong maritime community. He remarks “Only 16 per cent of Norway is land, so that pretty much explains us: we are saltwater types!” His is a classical background for a Norwegian diplomat: after studying International Law, he worked on Law of the Sea negotiations at the MFA’s Legal Department. After joining the Foreign Service in 1987, Mr Strømmen vividly recalls the excitement of his first posting in Tel Aviv. “Coming from Norway, I experienced real heat for the first time.”
One of the most memorable days of his career came as Norway’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in New York: “on 9/11, I found myself running down the streets of Manhattan to get my two daughters from school. My wife was in Europe, and there was lot of confusion on that day.” His first Ambassadorship in Geneva (2005-07) was a classical multilateral post, with much of the work focused on human rights, humanitarian work and health issues.
As Ambassador in Washington (2007-13), the mission found themselves focusing on their areas of expertise: “security issues related to the northern areas, and maritime affairs. Like London, Washington is a big place, so we had to be careful as to how we would get our voice heard.” Responsible for 2,500 employees as Secretary General of the MFA, Mr Strømmen acquired “a good understanding of how the foreign service works. I feel well-prepared. I really wanted to come here, and in particular, at this point in time.”
As for his role as Ambassador in the UK, he comments, “Norway has huge interests in the UK, particularly with our neighbour Scotland.” Referring to Norway’s affinity with the Scottish islands, he remarks, “When you’re in Shetland, the nearest train station is just across the water in Bergen!” Mr Strømmen will work to build upon “the already excellent bilateral relations between Norway and the UK. In foreign affairs, it’s important to oil and nourish those good relationships.” He continues that these “relations are based on common values and objectives. The UK is one of Norway’s most important trading partners: 25 per cent of our exports come here; 83 per cent of that is oil and gas. We supply over 50 per cent of gas in the UK.” He continues, “The City of London is our closest financial centre. The Norwegian government was also in exile here during the war, which is still fresh in our memories.”
Of course, Brexit is a challenge. “We have a huge task securing Norwegian and UK interests, which are quite mutual. We are respectful of the UK’s decision, but we need to work together to manage the outcome in a responsible, transparent and serious way.” He continues: “Norway and the UK are long-standing allies. The fundamentals will be there for the long run. Norway is well-prepared to make informed decisions when Brexit occurs.”
As Norway is not a member of the EU, does he think the UK might have something to learn from its experience? Mr Strømmen admits he’s spoken at length to members of Parliament about this. “The EEA is a constructive engagement based on specific arrangements that are fundamentally different to UK priorities. It was created as if we were about to become a member, or about to get married.” He notes that Norway “strongly depends on a stable international order. Europe has some major challenges, so we must work out how to be a constructive partner in our own neighbourhood.”
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