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Helping to save heritage
9 Dec 2013 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
INGA Magistad prefers not to pick favourites when it comes to projects supported by Norway through the EEA/Norway Grants in Slovakia, since for her, “projects that have helped disadvantaged Roma children in eastern Slovakia to go to school and to develop their abilities are as notable as the more visible projects of restoration of venerated historic monuments”. As the Norwegian ambassador to Slovakia, she plans to further pursue projects through the EEA/Norway Grants. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Magistad about gender equality achievements in her homeland, environmental challenges and Norwegian medical students acquiring their degrees in Slovakia.
The Slovak Sectator (TSS): Last year the European Commission proposed legislation with the aim of attaining a 40 percent objective of women in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies. While some countries support the idea of gender equality, they are rather cautious about quotas. What challenges do quotas bring and how has Norway handled these challenges?
In the business sector developments were slower, and encouragement from the government to voluntarily improve the gender balance of the company boards gave meagre results. Thus, in January 2006 the Norwegian parliament passed a law obliging limited companies (ASA) to have at least 40 percent female representation on their boards. The law regulates approximately 2,000 public limited companies in Norway, but not the 250,000 small and medium-sized companies, many of them family-owned. The companies were taken somewhat by surprise, but were given an appropriate time to adapt to the new rules and thus gradually implemented the law according to the timeframe given. Some companies were reluctant and complained that there were not a sufficient number of competent women to choose as board members, and admittedly some additional effort had to be put into the board selection process. But companies succeeded, and soon the critical voices were silenced. The result, very much feared by some, has been positive. Research has showed that the stock market reacted positively to the introduction of the quota, partly because the board got a better gender balance and partly because it broke the traditional links of company men on the boards, and opened up not only for women, but also for more external and foreign representation in the boards.
The companies experienced that this new composition of the boards brought more new ideas and meetings became more focused on creativity and innovation than before.
TSS: The Norwegian military proposed a vegetarian diet once a week for its members in order to combat climate change. Is this a publicity gimmick or will the measure have a real impact?
TSS: What are the most significant environmental challenges your homeland faces?
TSS: Norway’s unemployment rate is below 4 percent in spite of a rather strict labour code. How has your country managed to keep this balance, since in Slovakia stricter labour codes have been associated with a higher jobless rate?
At the core of the Norwegian welfare model lies the tripartite dialogue between the state, the employers’ organisations and the labour unions, which has secured a stable framework for working relations over many decades. Backed by relatively strict labour laws and strong employment protection, the Norwegian labour unions have seen merit in engaging in dialogues with employers’ associations, and with the active involvement of the state, have been able to secure decent working conditions and wages. Briefly, favourable economic conditions, a well-educated workforce, a highly developed welfare system, progressive gender policies and a favourable labour-business-state relationship have secured a high employment rate and welfare to people living in Norway.
TSS: Norway and Slovakia successfully cooperate in education while Norwegian students study medicine and veterinary science at the university level here in Bratislava, Martin and Košice. Why are Norwegian students interested in Slovakia?
TSS: Norway, along with two non-EU countries, Iceland and Lichtenstein, launched the EEA Grants, while Norway also launched the Norway Grants to contribute to reducing economic and social disparities and to strengthen bilateral relations with 15 EU countries in central and southern Europe. Slovakia has already received millions of euros through these channels. Which are, in your opinion, the most notable projects your country has supported?
TSS: Several Norwegian companies, like Norsk Hydro and Orkla, have chosen Slovakia as an investment destination. Which areas of Slovakia’s economy are of interest to Norwegian investors and where do you see potential?
TSS: You started your diplomatic mission in Slovakia earlier this year. What are the major areas you plan to focus on while serving here? What has surprised you the most after your arrival in Slovakia, something you have not expected?
IM: I believe we have already touched upon most of the important priority areas for my mission here in Slovakia. The embassy’s work and follow up related to the nine new programmes under the EEA/Norway grants 2009-2014 is clearly one of these areas. Working with Norwegian businesses and investors to promote and facilitate Norwegian-Slovak cooperation is another. I will also focus on cooperation to promote Norwegian culture and values both linked to projects in the EEA-field and the business area and as individual projects within art, literature and music. Priority will also be given to work for the strengthening of bilateral political cooperation within the EU/EEA context and international organisations like NATO and the UN.
As to your question on surprises encountered here in Slovakia, I cannot think of any big surprises or unexpected events. My former impression of Slovakia as a pleasant and friendly country in the middle of Europe with an interesting history and beautiful nature has only been confirmed. Cooperation with our partners in the public administration and elsewhere in society has proved to be easy and result oriented, and the mentality of punctually, to meet on time, is very much appreciated by a Scandinavian.
TSS: Has the tourism potential between Slovakia and Norway been fully explored? In your opinion, do Slovaks and Norwegians know enough about each other?
I think Slovaks know about the wonderful scenery and the famous fjords of Norway, and many of them are familiar with Norway as an El Dorado for fishing, not least the salmon fishing in the famous rivers along the coast. There is, however, a strong belief that Norway is very expensive, and thus not that attainable as a tourist destination. A fact that of course cannot totally be denied, since we have a high standard of living and high prices in my country, but not for everything. Staying in smaller hotels and cottages around the country is, for example, not expensive compared to many other countries. I think the main impression of Norway’s costliness comes from the high prices of wine, alcohol and tobacco, especially when bought in restaurants. So I hope that Slovaks will also venture a visit to the land of the fjords, the mountains and the midnight sun, and with some good planning, it can become affordable and not least worthwhile.
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