Non-EU nations in Europe are an increasingly rare breed. Norwegians twice rejected membership in referenda which saw the grassroots triumph over the political establishment, rejecting the advice of governments and mass media. It is now ten years since they last said No. What has it meant for the country? Do Norwegians feel they have suffered or gained from being outsiders in the new Europe?
The issue is still a divisive one, and answers to these questions are still coloured by whether you see yourself in the Yes or No camp. Recent opinion polls show that the country is still pretty much divided down the middle on the issue,(Aftenposten /NRK, June 11 2004).
Having rejected full membership, Norway, along with Iceland and Liechtenstein, opted for economic co-operation. As part of the EEA (European Economic Area), it can participate in the Single Market, while not assuming the full responsibilities of membership. The Agreement gives members the right to be consulted by the Commission during the formulation of Community legislation, but not the right to a say in the decision-making. The EEA states are, of all the countries associated with the Union, technically the most closely linked to it. Politically their “arms length” policy distinguishes them from the Candidate countries, which have not integrated the Community legislation into their national law but are committed to do so.
A commonly held view is that the influence of the EU is increasing. There are many reasons for this. The expansion of the EU means that most countries and peoples of Europe are now part of an all-European union, with the result that other forms of co-operation like Nordic co-operation and European security organizations is less important.
EU countries also increasingly act as a co-ordinated unit in international organisations, like UN and NATO. As the EU becomes more co-ordinated its influence is increasing. Norway has noticed that in the same way that the US has. The Union now operates a common currency; coordination of laws and law enforcement is on the increase, as is security and defense co-ordination. These are EU policy areas that have developed over the last decade, but fall beyond the scope of the EEA Agreement. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) within the EU have been strengthened in both the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. Nice (2003) allows for an increase in the areas which fall under qualified majority voting, and enhances the role of the Political and Security Committee in crisis situations. Norway has no part to play in the development of joint European foreign policy; however, Norwegian views are often closely aligned with those of the EU, as illustrated in a request to part-take in the EU police mission in Bosnia.
In recent years Norway has also been affected by a tightening of EU rules and an increasing willingness to use sanction to enforce them. This has an impact on the non-EU States that need to work harder at complying with laws and directives. The Norwegian fishing industry, as an example, has been forced to adapt to fishing quotas in order to continue to export to the EU.
A much-repeated complaint from the Yes camp is that by rejecting full membership, Norwegians have very little influence on a EU that increasingly influences them. Researchers seem to agree that Norway has had no real impact on general political developments within the EU or its constitutional shape. Since 1994 there has been a continuous development of EU institutions, with a number of new Treaties, culminating in the creation of an EU Constitution. Norway continues to be a passive onlooker, and did not even choose to observe the debate around a new Constitution.