Norway’s special arrangements with the EU, enabling among other things access to the internal market, have spared it being drawn deeply into parts of the European project that are in crisis or are less than popular – such as the single currency and the Common Fisheries Policy. Eurosceptics everywhere might devour the contents of “Outside and inside” to see how they could get a similar deal for their country.
Why, then, should Norway have any concerns over the relationship? Why should it not just keep on cherry-picking? Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre summed it up at the launch of the report last week. Incorporating three-quarters of the EU’s laws and policies does not mean that Norway is three-quarters an EU member state, he said. The country does not have three-quarters of a commissioner in the college, nor eight out of the 12 or so MEPs it would be entitled to if it were a full member. Neither does it have three-quarters of a seat in the Council.
Norway is practically condemned to comply without any compensating voting rights, and with only limited and diminishing influence in Brussels. This predicament is all the more distressing when it concerns laws that Norway may not like but is constrained to accept anyway.
The report usefully provides a full analysis of this remarkable relationship, with its numerous agreements with the European Union. It pieces together an intricate jigsaw puzzle that provides a picture never before so clearly perceived. The process of mapping the more than 70 agreements that bind Norway to the EU has been “a journey of discovery” for the experts who produced the study. They admit to being surprised by how extensively Norway’s relationship to the EU has developed.
Lack of leadership
On the plus side, Norwegian representatives often make skilful and pragmatic use of opportunities to shape decisions via their non-voting access to EU committees and agencies. But what is at stake is not just Norway’s ability to influence the EU’s policy proposals.
A serious limitation is Norway’s inability to lead developments, particularly in areas of vital national interest. In forfeiting a right to assume the presidency of the Council of Ministers, or to appoint a commissioner, or to elect representatives to the European Parliament, Norway has accepted the role of back-seat passenger with no intention of taking a turn at the wheel.
Eventually, with more member states climbing aboard, it may not even be the back seat where Norway sits, but in a trailer hitched behind.
An important virtue of the report is that it permits an assessment, for the first time, of the total impact of Norway’s EU-originated laws and commitments on the one side, against its choice to forfeit real access to the democratic institutions that generate them on the other. And the most troublesome finding of the study is that very few people in Norway understand the extent of the country’s integration with the EU. An informed national debate about Norway’s future in Europe can take place only if this changes.
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Sebastian Remøy is head of public affairs worldwide for Kreab Gavin Anderson, a consultancy. Previously, he co-ordinated EFTA’s co-operation with the EU on the internal market strategy.