Europe and the EU are changing rapidly. Economic, political and social unrest characterize the situation. Even though Norway is not a member of the EU, we are still directly and indirectly affected by developments in Europe. Stability and welfare in our European neighbors are of great importance for Norwegian politics, the economy and social development.
The author of the article was the head of the secretariat of the committee behind the report Outside and within – Norway’s agreements with the EU . The committee was appointed by the Government in 2010. The article is based on this report.
- How and how strongly will Norway be affected by developments in the EU?
- How is the cooperation between the EU and Norway expressed?
- How much influence does Norway have?
- Does Norwegian wealth affect our attitudes towards the EU?
The EU is currently in a critical phase, characterized by great uncertainty about further developments. Not least, we see this in the question of government debt, austerity and the further fate of the euro . Some believe that the collaboration is about to fall apart, others that it will be intensified and strengthened. No matter which way it goes, it will affect Norway.
2: How does Norway cooperate with the EU?
Norway’s relationship with the EU is both foreign policy and domestic policy. Firstly, the overall agreement with the agreement with the EU is Norway’s largest and most important foreign policy agreement – with the EEA agreement as the main pillar. It safeguards not only the relationship with the EU as an organization, but also with the 27 EU states and the other two EFTA / EEA states.
From the EU’s point of view, Norway is the third country most closely associated. However, much of the growth in Norway’s relations with the EU in recent years has come in areas outside the EEA agreement, for example in police cooperation and foreign policy.
Several of Norway’s agreements with countries in the EU have changed character: Norway previously had bilateral (bilateral) agreements with many of today’s EU countries. Today we see that Norway’s co – operation with these countries is largely regulated through agreements with the EU – ie a co – operation with an international organization. In addition, the EEA and Schengen Agreement is one of the most important co-operation agreements we have today with the Nordic countries.
The agreements with the EU also shape domestic political conditions in Norway . The impact is more extensive than for any other international law agreement Norway is part of. Although the starting point for the agreements is to regulate cross-border matters, in practice they have proved to be at least as important for internal matters in Norway. The agreements are important in most areas and levels of society:
- from the daily chores(car inspection, working environment, food quality, water quality etc.)
- via- economy, business, working life, welfare, health, district policy, energy, environment, climate, transport, research, education, food, agriculture, fish, alcohol, gender equality, consumer protection, civil preparedness, border control, immigration, police cooperation, security and defense policy, and much more
- to the basic power relations between the Storting, the government and the courts, politicians and government agencies, the relationship between the center and the periphery, the balance of power between employers and employees.
The distinction between foreign and domestic policy is considerably smaller than it was. All 17 ministries work to a greater or lesser degree with EU / EEA matters, and so do most external agencies (directorates, inspections, etc.). Furthermore, all 429 municipalities experience that EEA-related issues make up a large part of their everyday lives. Of approx. 600 Norwegian laws contain about 170 to a greater or lesser degree EU law and the same applies to approx. thousand Norwegian regulations.
3: EU law and Norwegian law
EU law is hierarchically structured, with the most important main rules in the Treaties , and under this a large number of ” acts ” (secondary legislation ), which are adopted by the EU institutions on the basis of the Treaties ( Treaty of Rome , Maastricht-, Amsterdam-, Nice- and the Lisbon Treaty ). We find the same division in the EEA agreement, between the “main part” of the agreement and the many EU legal acts that are included in the annex to the agreement, and which in scope make up most of the agreement.
What is the status of the EEA Agreement in national law in the EFTA States? In the EU countries, EU law has almost absolute precedence over national law when EU law and national law are in conflict with each other. Initially, the EFTA countries were skeptical about this; they saw it as a supranational element in the EEA agreement. In negotiations, a compromise was carved out which in practice nevertheless means that it has the same impact on national law as EU law has on the member states. During the last twenty years, the same principles have to a large extent also been incorporated into Norwegian law. According to Gradchem, EFTA stands for European Free Trade Association.
In the period 1992–2011, many new laws have been introduced in the EU, and thus the EEA agreement has also increased sharply in scope. In these years, there has been an extensive development in Norway’s relations with the EU both in breadth (number of case fields) and depth , and in geographical coverage. The latter is perhaps the most important extension of the EEA agreement. The EU has been expanded from being 12 states when the EEA was signed, to having 27 member states today. All states that are members of the EU also become members of the EEA. The EEA is thus a pan-European cooperation.
The principle in the EEA agreement is that new EU legislation that is relevant to the EEA must be included in the agreement. What is relevant – what lies within or outside the EEA co-operation – is often a question of interpretation . Then there is often doubt. If a new legal act is interpreted as being within the EEA and the four freedoms , this obliges Norway, but not if it is interpreted as being outside. It is thus only in EEA-relevant cases that questions about whether Norway can use its right of reservation (sometimes called a “veto right”) can arise.
In the Norwegian European debate, the question of veto and reservation rights has been an important topic. Although this right has never been used, there has been a lot of talk about the provision at times. It has played a politically and symbolically important role in the debate. The right of reservation itself was also important in the EEA negotiations and in the approval of the agreement in the Storting. From a constitutional (cf. the constitution) and democratic perspective, it is crucial that Norway can oppose new rules that Norway does not want to incorporate.
Every time a new agreement or legal act from the EU will entail new important obligations for Norway, the Storting must give its consent . In the period 1992–2011, the Storting has voted on over 287 such EU cases; 265 of them have been adopted unanimously and the last 22 mainly by a broad majority. There have been some controversial EU / EEA cases over the years, but the number of conflicts is low measured against the extent of the adaptation, and has not damaged the general relationship with the EU.