Will Iceland push the Norwegian EU debate?

The EU-debate in the former euro-sceptic fishing nation Iceland is heating up, as banks, business interests and labour unions are all calling for EU-membership and adoption of the Euro. An Icelandic membership may also trigger a new debate on Norwegian membership to the EU.

It seems difficult to foresee that Norway will join the EU any time soon, as Norwegians narrowly have voted no to EU membership twice (1972 and 1994) and the oil-economy seems less affected by the world’s financial crisis so far.

Previous applications have not been triggered by domestic/internal events

Norwegian politicians seem to lack the political clout and guts to raise the debate, as the question is the most contentious and divisive in Norwegian politics. The 1972 application came as a result of the British application, where both Norway and Denmark applied. The 1994 application came as a result of the Swedish application. In other words, external events seem to trigger the membership debates in Norway.

Three events that can trigger an EU application in Norway

There are currently three external events I believe can trigger an EU-debate in Norway:

  • Iceland applies for membership to the EU. This will leave Norway “alone” in the EEA-agreement together with Lichtenstein. EFTA will become even more irrelevant. More importantly, Iceland will be on the other side of the negotiation table when Norway negotiates their fishery agreements with the EU. This is a situation I think is unacceptable for Norwegian fishing industry who has always regarded themselves as big brothers to Iceland. Norwegian newspaper VG reported on the issue today.
  • Increased pressure from Russia. Norway is currently in a long-standing border dispute with Russia for more than 30 years. If Russia continues to reassert itself in the North, Norwegians might start feeling lonely without international support for their claims. EU-membership might seem like the only viable option to secure Norwegian interests’ in the High North. Read more about it here:  Norway Urges Russia to Stick to International Law in Arctic , President Medvedev threatens Russian Arctic annexation
  • Economic depression. The main rationale used to explain why Norway is outside the EU is that the Norwegian economy has been going so well due to the oil discoveries in the 70ies, leaving Norway as one of the best countries to live in world wide. Many Norwegians thus have not had a clear economic incentive to join the union. If the economy (sadly) is weakened, EU-membership might seem as the option that can boost the economy, as it has been in almost all the new member states of the union.

Read an old, but still good, analysis from the International Herald tribune on the pros and cons in the Norwegian EU debate

Do you think can trigger a new Norwegian application to the EU?


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