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Frontpage News 2006 Norway Foreign Minister meets with Polish Regional Development Minister

Norway Foreign Minister meets with Polish Regional Development Minister

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and the Polish Minister for Regional Development Grażyna Gęsicka met in Oslo, Norway, on 2 February 2006 to discuss cooperation within the framework of the implementation of the EEA Financial Mechanism and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism, which will contribute around 559 million euros to social and economic cohesion in Poland.

The two ministers met in connection with a high-level conference on Europe hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which European Commissioner Olli Rehn, responsible for enlargement issues, also participated.

"Norway is interested in closer ties with Poland, as it is an important ally and partner in Europe. We can use the new financial mechanisms to expand our cooperation in the fields of regional policy, the environment, health care, border control and research," Gahr Støre said, adding: "This provides a unique opportunity for Norwegian companies and organisations to develop contacts with actors in Poland."

The financial mechanisms, established as part of the enlargement of the European Economic Area (EEA) in May 2004, will make available a total 1.17 billion euros to reducing social and economic disparities in the 10 countries that joined the EU in May 2004, as well as to Greece, Portugal and Spain over a five-year period until 2009. The donors are the three non-EU members of the EEA - Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway - with Norway as the main contributor.

Poland is the largest recipient under the financial mechanisms, eligible for close to half the total support. The assistance is made available to a wide pool of potential applicants through open calls for proposals, of which the first was held in autumn 2005. The 176- million-euro call for proposals attracted close to 1,400 applications, testifying to the large interest generated by the financial mechanisms. The applications are now being assessed in order to select the best projects for grant support.

The financial mechanisms will also enable the establishment of special funds earmarked to certain groups or sectors. In 2006 a fund for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of about 40 million euros will be launched, which is the largest fund for NGOs ever established in Poland. Other planned funds include a Polish-Norwegian research fund and a scholarship fund.

The financial mechanisms also provide an important tool for bilateral cooperation and strengthening of the social and economic ties between the beneficiary states and the donor states. The priority areas - ranging from protection of the environment to the preservation of the European cultural heritage and development of human resources - offer a wide variety of opportunities to develop partnerships between actors from the beneficiary states and donor states that will bring added value and stronger results.