Norwegian EU-debate at a standstill

Yes, Minister! The democratic deficit in the Norwegian relations to the EU are more obvious than ever before, but despite of this are there few solutions offered by the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre. Støre admitted during his bi-annual address to the Norwegian Parliament last week that Norway is the last in line to influence EU policy. 

Støre, who is renowned pro-European, acknowledged on several points that Norway is falling behind and missing out on important possibilities to influence as a result of the economic membership to the EU.

Jonas Gahr Stoere 

Read the whole speech here. 

 

The responses from the usual suspects are not a surprise:

  • Aftenposten, one of the largest papers in Norway wrote in its editorial that Støre missed out on an important point when he failed to mention the potential consequences for the EEA-agreement if Iceland joined the EU. Aftenposten also supported No-movement’s suggestion that a full review of the agreement as a necessity to conclude that the only way forward for Norway is membership in the EU.
  • BT, one of the biggest regional papers, claimed that the main problem with the EEA is that “we are being governed by Brussels without governing in Brussels“. Furthermore, they emphasised the role of Norway as an unequal partner to the EU, where Norway did as it was told, with regards to the renegotiation of its payments for the EEA coming up next year.
  • The European Movement argueed that the address of the Foreign Minister revealed how much Norway cooperated with the EU but without any influence. They demanded a new ‘open, honest and conform’ debate on the membership issue.
  • The No-side – has been remarkably quiet, but is pushing its agenda for a renewed debate on the alternatives to the current EEA-agreement, without proposing any alternatives.
  • The most critical voice is coming from Brussels. Paal Frisvold, founder of the Norwegian consultancy the Brusselsoffice and a notorious critique of the Norwegian European Policy, reminded his readers that Norway did not have equal influence as its Nordic neighbours and it must not be fooled into believing that.

 

The lack of vision in the Norwegian EU-debate

My problem with the address, and any other coming from the Støre and his entourage of Pro-European Ministers, is that they give the impression that everything is fine in our relationship with the EU as long as we are ‘active and engaged’ in our relations. Comments on the important institutional development following the Lisbon Treaty such as ‘it is something we have to follow closely’, confirms the position that Norway has as spectator of the big European football game. We try to influence the players by shouting at them, or if we are really lucky, try meet them in the changing rooms after the game. Everyone who has ever played any team sport knows that the best way of influencing the game is to take part and play in it.  

My main concern with the current situation is the lack of vision in Norwegian EU debate.Questions such as ‘What is the role of Norway in a united Europe? How can we best contribute in development of our continent?’, are non-existent even within in the Norwegian parliament.

In my opinion, Støre is by far the best Foreign Minister Norway has had in long while. He has tried to convey that EU is relevant to Norway, but he fails to elevate the debate on Europe to a higher level. The general Norwegian debate is at a standstill where it seems as it is up to the Norwegian population to decide whether or not the EU should exist or not.

Last chance to change direction for Støre 

The last chance he has to prove that he is different from any other foreign minister on issue of Norwegian relations to Europe, will be in the White Paper on Globalisation and National interest, that he is expected to deliver some time this year. Leaving the EU-debate at its current level of ‘veto all the bad directives’ and ‘we have plenty of influence on issues concerning Norway’, will leave a very dark stain in the so far impressive CV of the Minister, who promised to elevate the Norwegian Foreign Policy debate to new heights. A failure will reveal that even the ‘Super-Minister’ can’t release the Norwegians from the ‘straight jacket’ that is constraining the EU-debate. In this case, the Yes and No-side will have to continue dig their trenches for the next debate, which is bound to come some time in the next years, and continue the discussion on Norwegians decisive influence on the EU’s existence.   

Støre has still has the chance to be the liberator of the Norwegian European debate, but he must act quickly before the general elections next year. 


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