We shine the spotlight on the newly appointed Norwegian ambassador to France.
The EU has a new top diplomat: Italy’s former foreign minister Federica Mogherini takes over this month as head of the European External Action Service (the EU’s nascent foreign-affairs department) at a time when the bloc is facing some of its greatest challenges.
Resurgent Russian territorial ambitions have sunk EU relations with Moscow to lows not seen since the Cold War. Mogherini will have to navigate a broad spectrum of views to forge a unified stance to match Russia’s single-mindedness.Elsewhere, ripples from the unrest in Syria, Iraq and Libya have reached European shores with thousands of refugees risking their lives to reach the EU and governments concerned about their citizens joining radical groups.
Mogherini’s predecessor likened running the EEAS to flying a plane while the wings are being built. While now slightly more airworthy, more work needs to be done to define its purpose.
For Rolf Einar Fife, the newly appointed Norwegian ambassador to France, the move to Paris has been a homecoming of sorts. This is the country where he grew up and went to school and, having no language barrier to contend with, he is getting straight down to work.
Sinking into an armchair in the corner of his unfussy office, Fife tells monocle that diplomatic relations between Paris and Oslo are “excellent”, which is perhaps something of a relief for a man who has previously been posted to Saudi Arabia. “We work closely with our French partners on matters of international political importance; for example, how to address the current crisis in Iraq. But we also co-operate on other issues such as climate change, energy, innovation and technology.
Ultimately our two countries share the same values.” With a portrait of King Harald and Queen Sonja looking down on him, Fife explains that one of his main roles as ambassador is to promote his country’s interests and help match-make French and Norwegian institutions. Whether it is a delegation of Oslo architects or a visiting ballet troupe, Fife says that he and his team of 30 staff are on hand to play a part in helping business or cultural partnerships to flourish.
The chancery building and, when the renovations are finished, his splendid Haussmannian residence provide the perfect settings for this interface. Regular receptions and dinners, which have apparently become less formal over the years, also give the embassy a chance to showcase Norway’s award-winning cuisine.
Happy to be back in the country of his childhood, Fife is a staunch advocate of the debating culture that can be seen on almost every French television and radio channel; the sign, he says, of a very healthy democracy. When time allows, he enjoys exploring Parisian markets and artisanal shops, or strolling along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin. “I love this city. Many neighbourhoods have retained a real sense of tradition and yet they offer such incredible diversity and richness of culture.”
With a decor and layout that feels more corporate than diplomatic, the Norwegian embassy is a stone’s throw from the fashionable boutique-lined Avenue Montaigne in the eighth arrondissement.
There are 30 people in the Norwegian embassy, making this one of the country’s most important diplomatic missions. In addition to providing consular services, the staff are particularly geared towards cultural, economic and political affairs as well as defence, education and research.
There is a Norwegian representation in 19 other French cities and territories, among them Réunion and Corsica. Most of the honorary consuls are French citizens.
Six years on from its separation from Serbia, Kosovo still finds it hard to convince the world of its legitimacy. Yet virtual acceptance has proved easier to acquire. Sign-up pages for anything from Dropbox to football-club websites now show Kosovo in their drop-down lists of countries. This has followed a concerted campaign with the government and volunteer “digital diplomats” lobbying tech firms for inclusion.
Facebook “recognition” last year was the biggest moment so far. But online recognition has yet to translate to the real world. Brazil, Spain and India are among more than 80 UN members yet to accept Kosovo’s independence.