National statement on the EEA Agreement debate

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at the 52nd meeting of the European Economic Area (EEA) Council in Brussels - on the EEA Agreement debate.

Dear colleagues,

It is a good occasion to meet on the 25th anniversary of the EEA Agreement, although with less balloons than in May. The best way to celebrate the achievement of 1994 is to keep working for a well-functioning agreement.

30 years ago this November, the Berlin Wall fell – and The Iron Curtain was soon to follow.

Thanks to the EEA Agreement, a mere five years later the economies of the EEA/Efta-states were integrated with that of the former GDR in the Single Market. The 25 years that passed saw a dramatic rise in prosperity for all parties.

Few could have imagined, in November 1989 that the cooperation in Europe that now exists between the former East and West would be at this level.

To be sure, this cooperation extends far beyond economic relations, as touched upon earlier today. The role played by the EEA Agreement in this process cannot be overstated.

25 years ago this month, the Norwegian people rejected full membership in the EU – but we did not reject an active role in Europe. The EEA Agreement is living proof of our enduring commitment to European cooperation.

Raising awareness of the joint achievements that would have been impossible without the EEA-agreement is crucial to bring the success of the last 25 years into the future.

Because when describing the successes of multilateral cooperation, we must be as bold as we are when warning against the threats facing international rules based cooperation.  

The Single Market has benefitted all of us for 25 years. 

The evolving character of the agreement has allowed the Single Market to adapt to a rapidly changing world environment.  

Its evolving character means that the Single Market is never truly complete – it is always a work in progress.

We have now entered a new legislative period in the EU, and we hope to welcome the new Commission very soon. This is the time to set the priorities for the next stage of our work.

In this regard, I thank you for a constructive discussion on the Future of the Single Market just recently.

As we all know, much of the backlog is an unavoidable consequence of the evolving character of the EEA Agreement.

Still, it is a joint responsibility to keep it at a minimum. Norway will continue to do our part.

I am happy to note that so far in 2019, we have incorporated more legal acts than the whole of last year – and in practice, this means that we have reduced the backlog by more than 30 per cent since January.

Our common effort on financial services this spring was an important contribution to reducing the backlog. I hope similar joint action can be possible in the future.  

I am also pleased to note that since our last meeting, we have completed the implementation of the third energy market package in the EEA agreement. This is important because it ensures a level playing field, enhances security of supply and helps integrate renewable energy into the European energy market.

Last year, when Norway notified the EU side that we had fulfilled our constitutional requirements, we issued a declaration on our principles for future cooperation on energy policy.

I will take this opportunity to remind you of this declaration and its eight principles, and let me highlight two. Among them that Norway’s hydropower resources must be under national and societal management and control, and that any decision on new interconnectors must remain a sovereign decision made by Norwegian authorities

The EEA Agreement has not only delivered economic benefits for our citizens, it has also provided new rights and helped to spread and protect our shared values.

I especially want to highlight the commitment to rule-of-law and the democratic process. These are ends in themselves, but also preconditions for any free and efficient market economy.

Democracy relies on a vibrant civil society. Not only because a free market place of ideas produces the best solutions to the challenges we face. But also because civil society is needed to keep a check on governments, and to make sure that every voice is heard.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, the EEA Agreement contributes to upholding democracy and the rule-of-law across the Single Market. This work is now more important than ever.

Norway remains committed to the principle that the EEA and Norway Grants’ funding of civil society must remain politically independent, and independent from the governments.

Paradoxically, as we are facing unprecedented challenges on a global scale, faith in multilateral cooperation is waning.

To those in doubt: 25 years of successful European cooperation through the EEA-agreement is an excellent counter-argument..

To solve our global challenges, we must strengthen cooperation within Europe – and strengthen Europe’s voice on the international stage.

Investing in European research and innovation is a way to do both.

Norway remains a committed partner through our substantial contributions to EU-programmes, and it is our firm view that the programmes must continue to allow full participation and eligibility for the EEA/Efta-states.

Successful multilateral cooperation is the strongest argument against nationalist and isolationist rhetoric.

So, when talking about the success of the EEA-agreement, it falls upon all of us not to hold back.  

Thank you.