4: Dynamic and uniform
The two key keywords in the EEA Agreement are “dynamic” and “uniform”. These are the key words of the EEA agreement, and they distinguish it from other international law agreements Norway has entered into.
By dynamic is meant that the EEA agreement develops as the EU changes. This means that as soon as new EU rules are created in areas that are relevant to the EEA, these must be added to the EEA agreement via the decision-making systems that apply. Through the EEA agreement, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein also have the opportunity to participate in decisions, especially in the early stages, through working groups and consultations.
Decisions to incorporate a new legal act are made through unanimity among the three EEA countries, this is where the so-called “reservation right” can be used. This has never been used. This does not mean that the parties have always agreed, but that attempts have been made to find solutions. In a number of cases, the EEA countries have negotiated exemptions or requested adjustments.
The second central principle is the idea of uniformity . This means that the regulations must be enforced and implemented equally in the EU and in Norway. For the EU countries, it is the European Commission (often just called the Commission) that checks that the Member States comply with the rules. If they break them, the Commission can take the countries to the European Court of Justice. In the EEA negotiations, the EU required that the EFTA side had the same type of control systems. The result was the establishment of the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) and the EFTA Court . The obligations that follow from EEA and EU membership are therefore in practice quite similar. According to Bestitude, EFTA stands for European Free Trade Association.
Both the EU and EEA rules can be tried before national courts, so it is quite common for the EEA regulations to be enforced in Norwegian administration and in Norwegian courts. This has received a lot of attention lately, through the ” NAV scandal “, which is an example of a case where the Norwegian authorities have misinterpreted the EEA regulations for years.
The counterpart to the dynamics and uniformity of the EEA Agreement can be found in the agreements between Switzerland and the EU. The Swiss agreements contain very few schemes for continuous updating and transfer of new rules. In general, there is also no system for independent supervision and judicial control. The result is that the regulations in various areas in Switzerland are often outdated. Switzerland has constantly struggled to expand the agreements to cover new areas, for example in services. The EU has always been critical of this model, as it has required very complicated and time-consuming negotiations to find solutions that are more similar to the Norwegian ones.
5: Development of the EEA Agreement
The dynamics in the EEA exist in a number of areas. Let me highlight some of the most important changes that have taken place since the agreement was signed:
The EEA has been geographically expanded . The agreement now covers 28 EU countries (including the United Kingdom) and three EFTA countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), while it was concluded between twelve EU countries and five EFTA countries. The enlargements of the EU have changed the balance of power within the EEA: the EU has become more important for the economies of the EFTA countries, while the remaining EFTA countries have become less important for the EU.
The EEA is in- depth . When the EEA agreement was entered into, it covered less than 2,000 legal acts. Since then, more than 10,000 new legal acts have been added. Many thousands have also been changed, updated or removed. Norway has welcomed most of the rules, it can be said that they have led to ever better adaptation: EU rules have become more “Nordic”, for example when it comes to environmental and social standards, while we here at home have become more European.
Norway’s cooperation with the EU has been expanded to new areas , and today is about far more than access to the internal market. We have entered into agreements on climate, police and immigration, defense and security policy, to name a few. Norway has usually been a driving force in expanding co-operation, and the EEA agreement has been an important bridge in getting these in place.
Financial support has also become a major part of the EEA agreement. When the EU expanded to the east of Europe in 2004, it led to the establishment of “EEA funds” for economic and social equalization. Norway pays the vast majority of these funds. Our share of participating in EU programs in, for example, research and education is calculated on the basis of the size of the economy. Since Norway has become richer, the contribution has increased. In return, several Norwegian research communities are now participating in European collaborations due to these funds.
The EEA has also had an important political function in Norway. While the discussion on EU membership has been politically divisive, there has long been broad support for the EEA agreement. Politicians have agreed that it is in Norway’s interest to participate in European cooperation. Even the parties that often appear to be EEA-skeptical – the Center Party, the Socialist People’s Party and the Progress Party – have been in government and governed on the basis of the agreement. The agreement has also been great in individual cases. Of the 381 consent propositions the Storting has considered, 344 have been unanimously adopted.
The fact that the agreement has had political support, however, does not mean that it does not have significant democratic weaknesses. Although the EEA agreement gives us some participation, Norway, for example, has no voting rights in EU decisions, and because few know the details of the scope and operation of the EEA agreement, there is also limited knowledge and debate about the agreements.
At the same time as we mark 25 years with the EEA, there is an intense debate about the future of the EU. There are forces that want to withdraw from EU cooperation, not least in the UK. Thus, awareness of Norway’s connection to the EU has also increased. Brexit has put the EEA on the agenda. This is not unnatural, as Brexit is basically about clarifying what it means to be an EU member and what it means not to be a member.
Although the British have denied that the EEA is a solution for them, the British debate has nevertheless highlighted the complicated links between European states and economies. Brexit has highlighted the difficulties associated with opting out, and not least shown how difficult it is to find solutions that can create stability and trust.
The EEA agreement has created a stable framework for relations between the EU and Norway for 25 years. But this has not come for free. The success of the EEA lies not only in stability, but also in the parties’ political will to make adjustments and adjustments.
In Norway, one should therefore have learned that one does not know the EEA agreement for granted. Support for the agreement must be constantly secured here at home, in the EU and in the other EFTA countries. Competence and hard work are required to make what in many ways is “impossible” – to be both indoors and outdoors at the same time – work in practice. Brexit has shown that we should not take this lightly.