State visit linked Norway and Poland

Andrzej Duda

Poland’s new president, Andrzej Duda, arrived in pouring rain on Monday and left in sunshine on Wednesday after his first three-day state visit to Norway. He’s the second top official from Poland to visit Norway just this year, pointing up Poland’s interest in Norwegian energy and financial resources at a time when relations with the EU have been stormy.

It was just three months ago that Poland’s new prime minister, Beata Szydlo, chose Oslo as the destination for her first foreign trip. Newspaper Aftenposten suggested that she wanted to avoid extending the honour to any of the major EU countries, and opted for a non-EU member instead. Even though the EU has granted millions in funding to revive Poland after years of Soviet domination, Poland’s new conservative government has been challenging EU standards regarding press freedom and other democratic issues, and Szydlo even removed the EU flag from press conferences.

Both Szydlo and Duda come from the same national conservative party PiS, which many claim represents an ominous wave of nationalism that’s making Poland more introverted and authoritarian, much like Hungary. They’ve both sparked concern among EU leaders and Norwegian as well, and enough in Poland itself that a new organization intent on preserving democracy in Poland was formed last fall.

While Szydlo chose to come to Norway, though, Duda’s state visit was the result of years of advance planning. It was perhaps more a coincidence than anything else that it followed Szydlo’s visit so closely, and that they’re from the same party. The state visit itself was based on the years of close ties between Norway and Poland. There are more immigrants from Poland in Norway than from any other country, numbering more than 100,000 with nearly as many in the country as short-term migrant workers. Poland’s new right-wing government seems especially interested in its expatriate population, making Norway an even more important destination.

Poland is also a popular tourist destination for Norwegians and Norway’s single most important market for both seafood and defense exports. Norway imports, however, more than it exports to Poland, from agricultural products to ship parts. Poland is also the largest recipient of financial aid from the European Economic Area (EEA/EØS), which is mostly financed by Norway and also includes two other non-EU members, Iceland and Liechtenstiein.

Poland and Norway are also both members of NATO and have a keen common interest in following developments in Russia. Defense issues were thus at the forefront of Duda’s visit this week.

It began in pouring rain on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo, with the traditional review of royal honour guards, followed by the customary posing for photographs and exchange of gifts inside the palace. From there, King Harald V escorted Duda to the Akershus Fortress and Castle to visit Norway’s national monument and pay respects to those killed in World War II. Queen Sonja took Duda’s wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, to the National Gallery and Oscarshall on Bygdøy while Duda himself met with the president of the Norwegian Parliament and Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Then the royals invited to a banquet at the palace, followed on Tuesday by a business seminar, an address delivered by Duda at the Nobel Institute and a demonstration of Norway’s air force defense back at Akershus before the king traveled with the Polish couple to Bodø for more military demonstrations and on to Narvik, for a ceremony hailing those from Poland who died in Norway during the war.

Energy issues seemed as important as military issues during the visit. Solberg said that gas deliveries to Poland were “a central part of the conversation we had.” Duda and Solberg talked about trade, exports and energy, with Duda saying that Poland wants Norwegian help to become less reliant on gas supplies from Russia. “We hope to expand gas deliveries from Norway to Poland,” Duda said at a press conference after meeting Solberg. A new pipeline from Norway over Denmark would strengthen Poland’s energy security, he said.

There reportedly was also some talk about human rights and democratic principles during the visit. Aftenposten reported that Duda’s election as president came as a surprise and even scared many in Europe because of his nationalistic leanings. Everyone was all smiles in Norway, though, as they dined on asparagus and salmon from Frøya at the palace, with sour cream from the royal’s own urban farm in Oslo. Duda’s Norwegian hosts clearly want to keep Poland as a reliable ally while promoting democracy.

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