As parliamentarians, we are entrusted with a mandate from our electorate, to pursue legislation in our national interest. Our task is to protect our security, our freedom, and our wellbeing. We are realizing now, however, more than ever before, how we need to look across our national borders to carry out this mandate.
I come from a country, which has enjoyed progress and prosperity since 1814, the year we signed our Constitution. The tragic exception being the two world wars, the second of which threatened to bring our very civilization to its collapse. The global system of governance, as we know it, is the post-war world model, in particular in the form it took after the end of The Cold War. We can now look back at the system for global governance and cooperation erected during this period, with gratitude. Norway, like so many other parts of the world, has benefitted immensely from the peace, tranquility, trade, and international interaction through multilateral institutions and organizations.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally, we saw images from around the world, which made us question this edifice. We saw various countries’ officials scrambling to hoard what was left of medical supplies and equipment on the international market. Accusations against neighboring countries could be heard. Trust was evaporating.
Yet, gradually, a realization has taken hold, that we are inextricably linked together. There are few things that illustrate this better than a virus. A microbe does not know national boundaries. Similarly for protective measures. We must all take our part. The threat of the virus will not disappear in one country before it is eliminated in every country.
The same is true for all other major challenges we face. The world is getting smaller. As our problems grow big and transnational, so must the solutions we seek out to counter them.
This was the motivation for me to join the Parliamentarians for Peace program. We simply cannot allow the intricate fabric of our international system to unravel – however, limited, flawed, ineffective, and frustrating it may be at times. Our challenge ahead is in a sense twofold: we must protect what we had, but also seek to improve it, make it more accountable, strengthen its legitimacy, and its representation. The institutions we had were shaken too easily. Although they have shown a certain degree of resilience, we cannot take them for granted in their current architecture and function.
Just half a year prior to the discovery of the COVID-19 virus, the Norwegian Government issued a White Paper entitled Norway’s Role and Interests in Multilateral Cooperation. This document identified the challenges ahead of us in a precise manner. Namely:
- New geopolitical rivalry;
- Increasing resort to bilateral engagements, in particular on part of big global players;
- The fact that our liberal values do not carry the same universal sway as they once did;
- How global inequality has made many people draw globalization itself into question – a trend we can see within states as well;
- The lack of efficiency in multilateral institutions has made support and trust in them drop;
- And, finally, our existing political systems were not erected to cope with challenges similar to those we face ahead, be it climate change, pandemics or terrorism.
The situation described in the White Paper is relevant to the challenges many countries are facing today. On my side, I am trying to convey this message in the international forums I take part in. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to exchange viewpoints and propose some policies to further our common goal of peace, security, freedom, and happiness. No one possesses the full solution to all challenges, but we need to engage, cooperate, and exchange ideas in order to move ahead.
Ingjerd Schou (born 1955) is a Norwegian Politician representing Østfold in Norway for Høyre (The Conservative Party of Norway). In the Parliament she is a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, the leader of the Norwegian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and member of the Presidency of the Norwegian Parliament. Her background is in health and foreign policy, and she has served as Minister of Social Affairs under Prime Minister Bondevik from 2001 to 2004.