As Norway heads toward an election, its Euroskeptics are on a roll.
The Center Party, the Nordic country’s most European Union-unfriendly mainstream party, is topping opinion polls ahead of the 2021 ballot, winning over voters with a message that Norway needs to put more political distance between itself and Brussels.
Although Norway is not a member of the EU, it has pretty much the closest relationship with it of any non-member. It struck a deal in 1994 to follow a swath of the bloc’s rules, and pay billions of euros in grants for access to the single market.
The Center Party wants a new, looser deal, and its energetic pursuit of a reset has put future relations with Brussels back in the center of the political debate.
“We need to discuss the alternatives,” said Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, a Center Party lawmaker and spokesperson on EU relations. “The deal we have now is a bad one.”
For the EU, a flare-up in Norway would be just the latest instability to hit its relations with its northern frontiers.
The U.K. is engaged in a tortuous retreat, while Scotland plots independence and a potential return. In Scandinavia, Sweden and mainland Denmark remain members of the EU but continue to dodge the monetary union. A decade ago, Iceland requested EU membership then changed its mind.
Norway’s agreement — the European Economic Area Agreement — allowed the country to retain more control over key parts of its economy, particularly its fishing grounds, but forced it to follow big chunks of EU policy over which, as a non-member, it has no say.
It is dissatisfaction with this ever-evolving — new rules from the EU are also passed down to Oslo — outsourcing of political control that the Center Party is tapping into.