Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

From the outside looking in – Norway and the EU

Institutional change has further diminished the influence and participation in Europe for non-EU members. The EEA agreements provided for a certain amount of access to the initial stages within the Commission. However changes in EU Treaties, most notably Maastricht and Amsterdam, have strengthened Parliament and the Council of Ministers at the expense of the Commission. The treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice have all worked with the goal of facilitating closer co-operation on a wide range of policy issues, as well as expanding the Union. With the expansion completed, more member states also means there is less time for and less interest in EEA countries’ points of view.

It is hard to find any example of where Norway has influenced an individual EU decision. The Norwegian government has sent experts to give input in areas like Maritime security, however their role is mainly to observe. It does not appear that the Norwegian government has any consistent strategy to exert influence. It is also a fact that it can be difficult to trace the origins of EU decisions, as these are often the result of compromises where many voices need to be heard. Another question is who in Norway has any influence. Some interest groups may be in a position of influence through membership of European umbrella organisations, and organisations have had some success in taking cases to the EFTA surveillance authority (ESA). One such example was the initiation of proceedings in April against the Norwegian state for their introduction of a monopoly for gaming machines. The Norwegian Parliament has a very limited role to play, and there is a marked difference here between the parts played by the parliaments of neighboring EU member states.

The No camp does not disagree, but stresses a generic lack of dialogue and the centralised nature of the EU. They believe ordinary people are not consulted within the EU process anyway. They argue that only by holding on to &ldquocomplete sovereignty” can Norway protect its own interests against an elitist, centralised superstate. Dag Seierstad of the &ldquoNo to the EU” organisation puts it like this: &ldquoWhen you move hundreds of the main decisions from the national Parliament and the national Government to Brussels – to a political superstructure, a huge, political machinery which is completely unpenetrable, incomprehensive to the ordinary citizen, the result is a devastating threat to democracy”.

The economic indicators are excellent for Norway, so why consider any change that might affect that? In areas like employment, social reform, and environment, the country consistently sit at the top of UN rankings. However so do their Nordic neighbours Sweden and Denmark, both fully-paid up EU members.

Again the Yes and No camps have their own view of the reasons for this. Norway has such a wealth of natural resources that they simply do not need the EU; some would say they are not interested in sharing with those less fortunate. Norway belongs to the leading group of the richest countries in the world measured by GDP/capita. Much of the wealth is generated by oil and gas: extraction plus related services constitute 46% of the Norwegian GDP. Norway is the world's third largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Through legal means Norway have protected their natural resources from exploitation and export, and used that wealth to maintain a decentralised population pattern and a strong social welfare system. The No side are concerned with the protection of these achievements. The Yes-side point to the interdependencies emerging within the new global economy, and believes no country can isolate itself and pretend it is independent in an increasingly interlinked global economy. Although the Norwegian economy is strong, it is not without problems. The oil wealth itself complicates reforms and has impacted on industrial competitiveness. 70% of Norwegian exports are to the EU. The Yes-side argues that only through active participation can Norwegians protect their interests fully. Jens Stoltenberg, leader of the Labour Party, and possibly Norway's next Prime Minister, argues that the EEA Agreement is not the best solution for Norway. He believes it is costly for the country, without giving the kind of influence which EU membership would provide.

On one thing there seems widespread agreement: Norway has a lot to offer its EU neighbours. Being on the inside, some argue, Norway can take part and push Europe towards a more inclusive, more equal social democratic union. The No side seems fearful that those very fundamentals will be lost to them if they join, and argue that as a successful, independent democracy, Norway is setting an example for others to follow. Inside or out, Norwegian pride in their country has not diminished: all sides seem secure in their assessment that what is really needed is a Europe that is more like Norway.

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