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State visit from Switzerland: His Majesty's speech

Speech given by His Majesty The King during a gala dinner at the Royal Palace during the state visit from Switzerland, 14 October 2010.

Madame President and Mr Roland Hausin, It is a great pleasure to extend to you a warm welcome to Norway. We hope that this visit will be interesting and useful, and that it will further enhance our bilateral relations. At the same time, we hope that you will enjoy some of the Norwegian capital’s attractions. Unfortunately we won’t have the opportunity to offer you such a wide range of experiences as we enjoyed during our visit to Switzerland in 2006.

The Queen and I have very good memories from our state visit to your country. Travelling from Geneva to Zurich via Bern, Appenzell and St. Gallen, we saw for ourselves just what a diverse country it is. Everywhere we went, we received a warm welcome. And everyone was clearly proud to show us their beautiful country. The programme ran very smoothly and we were very impressed by the professional and efficient arrangements.

Norway and Switzerland have very different histories. When you were fighting the Romans, we were living an anonymous, simple life far to the north. While the Vikings were terrorising large parts of Europe, you had other threats to contend with, before you finally rose up against the Hapsburgs. More recently, we have chosen different approaches to security policy and different ties to the EU.

Nevertheless, there are an extraordinary number of similarities between our peoples. Justice and equality are vital principles for us. We attach great importance to our right to self-determination. We are proud of our countries’ natural beauty. We are mountain peoples. When Swiss and Norwegians meet they are often struck by how at ease they feel in each other’s company. We often see that our underlying mindsets are similar. When Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell says that one can only trust oneself, and a strong man is strongest when he is alone, it is easy for us to draw a parallel with Ibsen’s character Dr. Stockmann. Perhaps both our peoples have a tendency to believe in going it alone?

Our different histories have borne similar fruits. We find it hard to tolerate injustice. Our efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in international settings and our human rights efforts have arisen from our historical heritage. As early as the end of the 19th century, Norway was active in the development of an international framework for dealing with conflicts. Alfred Nobel’s decision to let Norway administer the Nobel Peace Prize is a concrete result of this. In Switzerland, Henri Dunant took active part in efforts to mitigate the horrors of war and was instrumental in the establishment of the International Red Cross Committee. It is interesting to note that Dunant was the first person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. Today, we work closely together in various peace processes in different parts of the world. We have an open dialogue on human rights in the UN, in the Council of Europe and in our bilateral talks. Human security is a field where we both have credibility and where our views and expertise are in demand. Unfortunately, we must face the fact that challenges in these areas will remain in the foreseeable future.

Our pride in the natural beauty of our countries has made us keenly aware of the need for responsible resource management and protection of the environment. Protection of the environment and sustainable development are key principles for both our countries. This is particularly the case in the field of energy. Norwegian and Swiss authorities have established a dialogue on the development of alternative energy. Global climate change has created a need for innovative thinking. The melting ice in the Arctic Ocean and Greenland, and the retreat of the world’s great glaciers are creating immediate challenges for both our countries.

The state visit in 2006 coincided with the 100th anniversary of Ibsen’s death. A seminar on gender equality was held in connection with an exhibition on Ibsen, under the title “Quoting Nora”. This made it possible to draw a direct line from a key element of our cultural heritage to one of today’s persistent political challenges.

One year later a three-day-long Grieg festival was held in Neuchâtel in connection with the 100th anniversary of Grieg’s death. The same year The Queen opened the largest Munch exhibition ever outside Norway at Fondation Beyeler in Basel. That these three Norwegian icons received a warm reception in Switzerland is perhaps not surprising. It is, however, interesting to note how broad our cultural cooperation has become.

Culture also includes sport, and sport is another point of contact between Norway and Switzerland that most people are aware of. We are close competitors in winter sports. Norwegians have tended to regard cross-country skiing as a particularly Norwegian strong point. We have, however, been challenged by Swiss skiers over the last years. To even the score we have tried to fight back in alpine skiing, where you have traditionally had a strong position.

I cannot conclude without mentioning our extensive cooperation in EFTA. This is a field that you are more familiar with than most, Madam President. As Minister you have considerable experience of developing and negotiating third-party agreements and working on other EFTA-related matters. EFTA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and still plays an important role for both our countries.

Our cooperation also extends into social affairs. In recent years a number of Norwegians have visited your country to learn about the Swiss system regarding substance abusers. We are very grateful for the professional and cooperative response we are always met with in Switzerland.

Over the years, many Norwegians have also looked to Switzerland for interesting educational opportunities. St. Gallen, Zurich, Lausanne and Fribourg are some of the cities where Norwegian students have acquired first class qualifications. During their stay, these Norwegians have also established close ties to Switzerland and the Swiss. They are an important resource in our efforts to further develop our bilateral contacts. The Queen too has fond memories of the time she spent in your country, in Lausanne, where she was learning languages, gaining insight into your culture and getting to know many interesting people.

Traditions, history and cultural exchange are of great importance to both our countries. I take pleasure in inviting you all to join me in a toast to you, Madame President, to the people of Switzerland, and to the lasting and friendly cooperation between our two countries.

14.10.2010

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