Well, maybe they do….but only very softly.
When it comes to discussions about Grexits and Brexits and who will be next and so on, the main reasons that are put forward by the pro-EU lobby, why a country should stay in the EU/Eurozone, is usually always to minimise the negatives.
I find it difficult to recall a reason that has been given to stay in because the circumstance resulting in being part of the EU, was so overwhelmingly better than not to be part of it. A positive reason! Maybe readers of this post could give me a few positive reasons that I have missed.
However, let’s take a look at Norway.
I was always under the general impression that there are the countries that belong to the EU and the countries that don’t and that is the way things are in Europe. Well, it turns out that things are not quite that simple. Norway, together with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, belong to an organisation called The European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Roughly speaking, EFTA was the fore-runner organisation in Europe that subsequently transformed itself into the European Economic Community (EEC), that then became the European Community (EC) and finally the European Union (EU) in 2009. Most of the original EFTA countries all became members of the EC, but some, initially, did not. Therefore, two organisations then co-existed, side by side. In order to harmonize the dealings between the EC and EFTA, the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) was established in 1994. Just to complicate things further, Switzerland, a member of EFTA, chose not to be a party to the EEA.
An interesting observation about the EEA is that any country wishing join the EU has to become an EEA member as well. Full EU membership then seems to follow on from that.
Norway, through the mechanism of the EEA, is a party to about 20% of EU laws and policies and participates in many EU institutions. Norway even contributes money to the EU, through the EEA. (Here is a link to a pdf file that summarizes all of this very well)
How this really all works, in practice, is a bit of a mystery to me. It appears that you can actually participate in some of the club activities without actually being a club member. This is probably not a feature that the pro-EU lobby would want to make too widely known. So it is understandable why the Norwegian situation is not used to support any of their arguments.
In addition, Norway is a party to the Schengen Agreement and still has its own currency instead of the Euro, so these are more positive factors in its favour. I am just a little surprised that the Euro-skeptics have not been highlighting the Norwegian experience to strengthen their case. But then, on the other hand, maybe not!
Economically, it is stated that Norway is on a par with other EU member states, through the mechanism of the EEA. But, obviously, there must be some differences or else the very existence of the EEA would make no sense.
After two referendums on the “join the EU” question, the majority of the Norwegian people voted No in both of them. Fortunately for Norway, No in Norwegian means No and so Norway stayed out of the EU. The arguments for saying No were that membership was a threat to the sovereignty of Norway, the fishing industries and agriculture would suffer, that membership would result in increased centralisation, and there would be less favourable conditions for equality and the welfare state. Fishing is extremely important to the Norwegian economy and it is the second largest industry, after oil. The Norwegian economy is strong and unemployment is low. Norwegians therefore saw no economic argument in favour of EU membership. Maybe the oil industry has been Norway’s trump card that has protected them from the ills that have beset the EU/Euro nations. Time will tell, since the contribution that oil makes to the Norwegian economy is steadily declining.
So here is a country in Europe that is not a member of the EU or the Eurozone. And they seem to be doing very well, thank you very much.
Norway is out and not in, although they are half-in and half-out. The UK is in and they are considering going out. Greece is in, but some that are in want to throw them out. Turkey is out and they want to get in……..If I was a comedian, I could make up a really good comedy sketch on this subject.
What’s going on here?……….Is it better to be “In” or “Out”?
Now I am really confused!
PS. The Guardian published a short article, recently, about the “Norway Option” in connection to Brexit.
by Peter Hitchens (2003, but the narrative is as relevant today as it was then)
You’d think that leaving the European Union would be like jumping off the edge of the world, the way British politicians talk about the subject.
They mutter darkly – though I won’t specify any of the Prime Ministers involved – that some critics of the Brussels paradise secretly want Britain to quit.
These Prime Ministers hint that such people are unhinged maniacs who would plunge this country into frozen isolation, poverty and disaster. The suggestion is that there is no life outside the EU; that beyond its borders lies an airless planet upon which no economy can survive.
This week I left the European Union but stayed in Europe, as it is still – just – possible to do. Norway turned down the Common Market in a referendum in 1972 and turned it down again when it had become the EU in 1994 – each time by about 53 per cent to 47 per cent.
Norway is prosperous, happy and free. Its countryside is neat and well husbanded, its towns and cities orderly and comfortable. Its people shame much of Europe by their command of foreign languages, and it runs its own affairs, trading cheerfully with the EU.
Its fisheries and farms have not been wrecked or bankrupted, as ours have, by ‘Common’ policies that suit France, Germany or Spain. Its supreme court is in Oslo, not Luxembourg, where ours is.
Its monarchy is not menaced by a European president and its flag doesn’t have to fly alongside the EU’s yellow stars.
In the 30 years from 1971 to 2001, its gross domestic product rose by 177 per cent. Denmark, which has been in the EU for much of that period, increased its GDP by 75 per cent and the UK, which has been in the EU almost the whole period, saw an increase of 98 per cent.
This suggests, at least, that non-membership has not held Norway back.
Norway runs its own armed forces inside Nato, and had its own policy on the Iraq war. It makes its own laws, keeps its own currency and sets its own interest rates. It is a real nation which controls its own destiny.
Yet, for some reason never officially explained, if you say ‘yes’ to the EU, your decision is sealed forever. But you can say ‘no’ to Brussels any number of times and you will still be forced to hold more referendums until you say ‘yes’ – often with the help of some of the most unfair voting rules outside North Korea.
And Norway, after nearly nine years of peace, now faces its third time of asking. So once more, the closely balanced forces of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ face a deeply unfair fight – unfair because the entire Norwegian elite, plus all the country’s major newspapers and (it is alleged) its equivalent of the BBC, are determined to go, bleating merrily, into the Euroflock.
What is even more striking is that opinion polls are showing a majority of more than 60 per cent in favour of doing so. This may be because the next vote is at least two years away, but there is no doubt Norwegians have begun to fear being alone.
After last year’s Copenhagen summit, when the poor nations of Eastern Europe were clubbed and bullied into accepting wretched and humiliating terms for entry, Norway saw an EU stretching from the Atlantic to the Russian border, immensely powerful and rich, while they alone – a tiny country of fewer than five million people – remained outside.
The only other refuseniks were Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland. How soon before they too were gobbled up?
Did Norway really want to be an outsider, like Belarus or Turkey, when everyone else was in the cosy embrace? There is no obvious threat, but perhaps there is an implied one – don’t call us if ever you’re in trouble.
This is more worrying than it once was, since it is now plain that the EU is the greatest power on European soil since the collapse of the Soviet Union or, well, let’s not mention the war.
This argument has nothing to do with reason and much more to do with emotion. It is the same with most arguments for joining, or for staying in the EU.
It was interesting, when I met pro-EU types in Norway, that none of them claimed that their country would have been better off if they had joined up in 1972 or 1994. Per Egil Hegge, editor at large of newspaper Aftenposten and a former correspondent in London, Moscow and Washington, was clear that his reasons for going in were not economic.
He said: “In 1972, I did not trust the economists – I never do. I thought we would be OK outside. My main reason for voting “yes” was cultural.”
He points out that membership of the European Economic Area, which gives Norway free access to the EU’s markets without having to join, has its problems. One is that the EU can impose regulations on Norwegian agriculture and industry.
The other is that the EU has just demanded a huge increase in the membership fee.
But put that to Helle Hagenau, general secretary of the ‘No to the EU’ campaign, and she ripostes that this is hardly an argument for joining: ‘The EEA gives us access to markets in the EU.
If we join, we get no more access but much more control and interference from Brussels.’ And what if the fee goes up? “All the research shows that if we joined we would be a net contributor, so we would still have to pay – and I suspect it would be more than this fee.”
Helle, a Dane by birth, has directly experienced the EU. She has worked in Brussels and understands the octopus of bureaucracy. She thinks many Norwegians still accept the EU’s version of itself as a route to efficiency, harmony and peace.
She warns: “People here don’t know what it is like. They have never had the opportunity to find out that the EU takes away power from the people and decides everything about their lives.”
She adds: “This is a proper democracy we have here in Norway. I think it is very precious and I would hate to lose it.”
By the way, there are hardly any real Tories in Norway, if any. Helle, like most anti-EU campaigners, is very much of the Left. They see the EU as a threat to the environment and to Norway’s lavish welfare state which they fear would be squeezed out of existence by EU budget rules.
It is odd that Britain’s Left has yet to spot this point and that it is so uniformly pro-Brussels.
Helle’s opposite number at the European Movement, Vera Selnes, cannot come up with positive reasons for joining – apart from the ‘influence’ which nations are always told they will get.
She took a Blairish line on the new Euro Constitution, insisting: “I don’t see it [membership] like giving up our independence.”
When I asked if she knew what happened to Britain’s fishing industry as a result of EU membership, she said she did not – an amazing admission since the future of Norway’s fisheries is a huge political issue.
Norwegian fishermen certainly do. When I asked Leif Egil Grytten, a trawlerman from Alesund, he said: “You don’t really have a fishing industry now. If we had joined the EU, as you did, we too would have problems with the Spanish and the French. For us fishermen, EU membership means we will lose our jobs.”
Aslaug Haga, an anti-EU MP, complains: “It is almost impossible to get into a discussion with the “yes” side about what membership would actually mean for foreign, defence, fishing and farm policies.
“The only thing they are concerned about is how we are seen as a nonmember. They just want to eat cherries with the big boys.”
She brushes aside the ‘joining means influence’ argument, pointing out that Norway can expect to have just 11 out of 720 members in the European Parliament should it join. She is worried that lawful Norway – like Britain – would implement every Euro regulation while the southern nations ignore them.
She wonders if ‘pros’ actually like the EU because they could then escape accountability for their actions, passing the buck endlessly to Brussels.
I asked her what Britain would lose if we left the EU. After a pause, she said: “Supposing you could get an agreement, I don’t really see what you would lose except a hell of a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of meetings.”
I hope Norway’s ‘antis’ win again – and by an even bigger margin. And Norway has a record of decisive, reckless courage in the face of heavy odds.
Small countries can change the fates of big ones, as this incident from Norway’s history shows: In the early hours of April 9, 1940, a German fleet crept up the Oslo Fjord, intending to seize the capital.
But a lowly Norwegian colonel commanding the Oscarsborg battery saw the ships and, without waiting for orders opened fire. He sank a German cruiser and sent the Gestapo team whose job it was to arrest Norway’s leaders, to the bottom of the Fjord.
His action allowed King Haakon and his government to escape and ensured Norway’s huge merchant fleet was recruited to the Allied side, quite possibly changing the course of the Second World War.
Brussels, with its slanted referendums and steady, silent gathering of power, badly needs to have its arrogance and overconfidence punctured. Perhaps one tiny Nordic country won’t be able to do it alone.
So would it really be so bad, Mr Blair, if Britain were seriously to consider following Norway’s example? If we had done as they did in 1972, would we now be a poverty-stricken pariah, or would we be like Norway?
Perhaps you could explain what we really gain by membership? We know only too well what we have lost, and we can see clearly what Norway has managed to keep.”