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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why the Norway option is a non-starter for the UK

One of the key arguments of those wishing to leave the European Union is that Norway manages to exist outside whilst maintaining all the privileges of a full member. In other words, 'a vote to leave is a win-win situation'. Unfortunately, for them that is far from the truth. Now, according to the Guardian, David Cameron is going to tackle this myth head-on.

The paper says that the Prime Minister will use the Northern Future Forum in Reykjavik, Iceland to challenge the Leave campaign’s claim that Britain could negotiate a semi-detached relationship with EU. And the arguments against this option are compelling:

Cameron, who will meet the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, and the Icelandic prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, in Reykjavik, will challenge the Leave campaign to answer five questions if the UK followed the Norwegian option:

  • Would the UK still have to follow EU rules, with no vote over how they are drawn up? A report by the Norwegian government says Oslo accepts about three quarters of EU rules with no votes in the EU institutions that set them.
  • Would the UK still be obliged to follow EU rules on free movement? Norway is a member of the European Economic Area, whose members are bound by free movement.
  • Would the UK still be forced to pay an EU subscription fee? Norway’s Europe minister said the country’s contributions are “more or less on par” with what it would pay if it were an EU member state.
  • What would happen to the UK’s existing trading deals? The UK would have to leave the EU’s common trade policy, which covers 52 states.
  • Would 31 other governments and parliaments agree to the UK’s new relationship with the EU? The deal would have to be agreed by the 27 other member states plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

  • A Guardian article by the former Norwegian foreign minister, Espen Eide, offers help to Cameron. Eide writes: “Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and choose the Norwegian way can hence correctly claim that a country can retain access to the single market from outside the EU.

    “What is normally not said, however, is that this also means retaining all the EU’s product standards, financial regulations, employment regulations, and substantial contributions to the EU budget. A Britain choosing this track would, in other words, keep paying, it would be ‘run by Brussels’, and it would remain committed to the four freedoms, including free movement.”

    In his article, Espen Barth Eide also explains why the Swiss model is not the nirvana some might claim:

    British voters might also hear about the virtues of the “Swiss model”. It so happens that I currently live in Switzerland. My new alpine homeland is in most respects in a similar position to Norway, but instead of the EEA, it has chosen an array of bilateral agreements with the EU on most aspects of integration.

    Compared to the EEA arrangement it can be seen as an even more cumbersome way of integrating into a EU-led market. Where the EEA is dynamic – which means it trails the developments of EU policy in all relevant areas – the Swiss arrangements are static. Crucially, too, they don’t cover services, which are so central to Britain’s economy.

    The reality is that every single western European country has chosen to take part in the European integration process in some shape or form. Not a single one has felt comfortable with just a classical free trade agreement. Modern economies are about so much more than trade in goods. Rather than a question of yes or no to Europe, it has become a matter of degree. Norway and Switzerland, heavily integrated as we both are in the EU, have simply chosen between the two currently existing options for staying in the outer circle.

    The choice between staying in or leaving the European Union is of course for the British people to decide. But such an important debate should be based on realities. And in European politics, as in the UK, it is still true that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    The time has come to challenge the half-truths and misleading propaganda being put about by the 'Leave EU' campaign and I am pleased that Cameron has now stepped up to the mark on this.
    As a footnote: Erna Solberg is a conservative who personally would like to see Norway as a full member of the EU.

    Switzerland is in a similar position to Norway and it will be interesting to see how relations between the new anti-free-movement government there and the Union work out.

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