It sounds like the best of both worlds: Norway sells fresh and frozen salmon worth billions of dollars to the European Union almost tariff-free, while curbing EU food imports to protect local farmers.
The fish and agriculture deals are among those that Norway, which twice rejected European Union membership in referendums in 1972 and 1994, has negotiated with the EU in order to access the bloc’s 500 million consumers.
It is an arrangement many eurosceptics say is an inspiration for Britain if it leaves the EU after a June 23 referendum. Both countries have their own currency. Norway, unlike Britain, has joined the passport-free Schengen area facilitating worker and traveler mobility.
Yet many Norwegians say the compromise, under which Norway has stayed outside EU fish and agriculture policies and subsidizes for example farmers to keep dairy cows in heated barns in the Arctic, is not as good as it looks.
Norway’s 5.2 million people pay hundreds of millions of euros to the EU to take part in its internal market, and have 5,000 laws based on EU directives. Norway has a theoretical right to veto directives but has never once said “No”, fearing it would jeopardize the whole relationship, officials say.
And the Oslo government has no real say in the bloc’s governance. “The Norwegian model is integration without representation,” said Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
Sverdrup oversaw a 900-page official review of two decades of ties to the EU in 2012 that likened the relationship to a “download democracy” of instructions sent by email from Brussels.
As Britain debates the extent of its future in Europe, Norway’s situation is emblematic of the irreversible integration of Europe, despite this continent’s faltering efforts to become a true political bloc.
The reason Norway has to accept EU rules is to ensure its businesses have equal conditions for competition with EU peers. That counts in areas from international postal services to telecoms. It’s important because 80 percent of Norway’s exports go to the EU.
“You go to the office and find that Microsoft has upgraded your computer overnight without you knowing. Do you accept or not?” Sverdrup said, noting that most people unthinkingly press “Yes”, just as, he said, many Norwegians feel forced to accept EU directives.
Published: December 5, 2023