Translated from the Norwegian
VG has dismissed the committee appointed to review the EEA Agreement as a Mickey Mouse committee – set up too late and with too narrow a mandate.
In my view, this is a timely and ambitious appointment.
When the EEA Agreement was being debated in the early 1990s, many people viewed it as merely a parenthesis. Yet sixteen years and six Norwegian governments later, it is still the platform for Norway’s relations with the EU.
The agreement has not been static; it has formed the hub of our cooperation with the EU and has been developing throughout its lifetime. It was originally signed by five EFTA countries and 12 EU countries. Today, the European Economic Area includes three EFTA countries and 27 EU countries. Originally, it included 1500 acts of Community legislation – now, nearly 7000 have been incorporated.
As the EU has developed, so has Norway’s cooperation with it. In addition to the EEA cooperation, we are also involved in the Schengen cooperation, and the Norwegian police collaborates with the EU in fighting international crime. Up to 70% of local authority decisions in Norway are based on EU/EEA legislation.
Yes, it is true that Norway does not sit at the table where the rules are made. But that does not mean that we are simply a passive recipient of EU regulations. We work actively at all levels of the EU system to promote Norway’s interests.
This is challenging. But it is possible if you have knowledge, staying power, networks and commitment. As a Schengen associated state outside the EU, we participate in discussions on the development of new legislation, but do not have voting rights in the EU Council.
The EEA Agreement is very important for Norway – for jobs, value creation, research and development. So it is appropriate to stop and take stock at regular intervals and to ask ourselves whether we have a proper overview of the Agreement and the consequences it has for us.
This is why the Government has appointed a research-based committee has been appointed to undertake a thorough review.
The initiative is an ambitious one. The committee is to review all the cooperation arrangements that Norway has with the EU, not just the EEA Agreement, and the consequences for all areas of society.
Some people believe that the EEA Agreement integrates Norway too closely with the EU, and that it does so in an unsatisfactory way; others would have preferred full EU membership. The committee has not been tasked to examine alternatives to the EEA Agreement. VG seems to think that it has been. But a review is not the way to reach agreement on the form of our relationship with the EU.
The objective of the review is to look at how the EEA Agreement functions, and how the various cooperation arrangements affect our day-to-day lives. It is to set out the facts, clarify what we agree on, where we disagree, and which disagreements are only superficial. It is also to promote a knowledge-based debate on these matters.
What consequences does the EEA Agreement have for democracy, value creation, security policy and other areas that are influenced by our relations with the European countries? These questions are particularly important now that the EU is implementing the Lisbon Treaty.
Professor Fredrik Sejersted has been appointed to chair the committee, which will include Liv Monica Stubholt, Director of Aker ASA and former State Secretary, and researchers and others with practical experience of EEA-related work. One or more reference groups will be established to ensure that the business sector, the social partners, NGO’s, political parties and other stakeholders are also able to participate in this process.
The committee is independent. It is to take an open and inclusive approach and to consult with a broad range of interest groups and experts. I hope that its work will encourage a less polarised and more constructive debate and enhance our knowledge.
People who feel the time is ripe to discuss other forms of association with our most important trade partners are welcome to initiate a debate. But in any case, we need a review of our most important agreement with the EU at present.