Will Norway join the EU after Iceland?
Being Norwegian and working in Brussels, I’ve been approached by other international friends many times with the question, when will Norway join the EU, and more recently, will the Icelandic application “push” a Norwegian application as well? Well, here is an attempt on a “short” answer.
Triggered by the up-coming parliamentary elections in Norway and the Icelandic application for EU membership, a light breeze of European debate has entered the political sphere in Norway. The Norwegian Parliamentary elections are held on 14 September, and the EU might, or at least should, become one of the outsider issues.
Iceland triggers a debate, but not the application
The Icelandic EU-application started the discussion on the future of the EEA-agreement. No one seems to know what will happen if the EEA-agreement only has two signatories. What would happen if Norway and Liechtenstein disagree on an issue? There are, therefore, credible rumours that both Andorra and San Marino are looking into joining EFTA and signing up to the EEA-agreement. This would make the EEA-solution effectively a way for microstate’s in Europe to upgrade their relations with the EU, without receiving full membership. Whether it is in the interest of Norway to have these microstates as teammates when dealing with the much larger team of EU member states on their other hand is, at best, questionable. But Iceland cannot alone trigger an application debate in Norway, for that read my previous analysis of the issue.
The political debate pushed by the conservatives, while Labour and the Progress party pretends the EU does not exist
The conservative party, Høyre, has thus been pushing the second largest party in Norway, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), to take a stand on the issue of EU membership. They more recently also demanded that the pro-European Labour party also took a stronger stance on EU-issues. Høyre deserves credit for raising the debate, but their motives are questionable as they did very little to discuss the EU when they were in government four years ago. It can be argued that they are using the EU-issue to win voters and distinguish themselves from the Progress Party.
This year, however, they have promised not to join a government that would block a potential application (as has been the case with past government coalitions on the left and right). The liberal party, Venstre, has also moved closer to the pro-European ranks, as they adopted a party programme for the elections where they would not block another application. The centre-right alternative, therefore, seems to have a more pro-European profile than their centre-left counterparts. The Centre Party and the Socialist Left party are strongly opposed to membership, and the Labour Party, majority coalition partner, is (very) quietly in favour. However, it is commonly accepted that the Labour Party must be driving any serious bid to join the Union, as they are the largest political movement with strong ties to the trade unions.
The data-retention directive might become an issue
The one EU issue that could become the “hot potato” in the elections is the very belated discussion on the data-retention directive (adopted by the EU 15 March 2006), which has been causing wide spread debate in the blogosphere for over a year. Now the campaign against the directive is becoming more and more vocal as the elections approach, and (especially young) politicians from all political strands are speaking out against it. The difference with this “veto”-campaign from earlier ones (such as the one against the services directive) is that some of its loudest voices are normally considered very pro-European. This gives the campaign much more strength, as previous campaigns often have been seen as a way for the eurosceptics to rid themselves of the EEA-agreement. For more infromation, read my previous blog-entry on the topic.
– Lets order another impact assessment!
At the end of the day, the debate over this directive is in essence about Norway’s (lack of) decision-making influence through the EEA-agreement. As a member of the EEA-agreement, Norway has to accept any directive from the EU without having a democratic say, unlike the voting power it would have as a member of the EU. The options are bi-lateral free-trade agreement or full membership. But most likely, we will continue with the EEA and the government will resolve the problem by issuing a study and an impact assessment and maybe another study and stall it till after the election…
Conclusion: the head in the sand is the easiest way out
So, what is the conclusion? I personally hope that the EU will be a prominent issue in the elections, as our relation with Europe is of crucial importance in how we conduct domestic politics and on a whole range of international issues such as climate change and energy security where the EU plays a key role. Is this likely? Probably not, as Norwegian politicians prefer to stick their head in the sand and pretend that the world (or at least the EU) around them does not exist.