Norway's main statement at the EEA council's meeting

Brussels, 19 November 2013

- I hope and believe that we together will be able to address the outstanding issues within reasonable time. By all parties being pragmatic and showing the necessary flexibility, satisfactory solutions for all parties should be within reach, said Vidar Helgesen in his main statementat the meeting.

Dear colleagues,

(General remarks)

  • I welcome the opportunity to take part in the EEA Council meeting for the first time. I look forward to attending these meetings in the future.
  • The new Norwegian government will give high priority to Norway´s relations with Europe and the EU. The basis for our policy will be the EEA Agreement and other agreements we have with the EU. If and when common interests are identified within other areas, we are ready to strengthen our cooperation with the EU and EU Member States.  
  • A Minister for EEA and EU affairs has been appointed at the Prime Minister´s Office. My responsibility is to facilitate the government´s objectives and priorities in EU- and EEA-related matters, and to ensure good and sound management of Norway´s overall cooperation with the EU. 
  • The government´s objective is basically two-fold: Firstly, to ensure more active engagement in EU decision-shaping in EU/EEA-related matters, within the framework of our agreements with the EU. Secondly, our ambition is to make sure, in cooperation with our EEA/EFTA partners and the EU, that the EEA Agreement delivers common rules and predictability for the economic operators, as intended and in the interest of all parties. 

(Priority areas)

  • The government is in the process of identifying areas where we intend to engage more actively in EU decision-shaping. Energy, climate and the environment obviously qualify for increased attention. The same goes for financial services, transport and telecommunications. There may also be additional areas of priority. We will get back to that. 
  • The purpose of this engagement is to make our contribution to a sound basis for decision-making in the EU, which will also have a bearing on us through the EEA Agreement and otherwise. Further, it will enable us to identify specific issues which require particular attention and solutions, as the needs of Norway may differ from those of the EU Member States.

(Backlog)

  • The overriding picture is clear: The EEA Agreement has been mutually beneficial and functioned well. It has achieved its main task, which is to provide predictability and a level playing field for economic operators and citizens across the EEA. The Agreement has been robust and capable of adapting to changes in EU treaties and EU enlargements.
  • There are, however, two main challenges that we need to address together: Firstly, the number of outstanding legal acts to be incorporated into the Agreement should be reduced. Secondly, adaptations are needed when incorporating certain legal acts, to comply with constitutional restraints in EEA/EFTA States and with the basic principles of the Agreement.
  • We share the objective of timely incorporation of new EU legislation into the EEA Agreement. Timely incorporation is to the benefit of economic operators throughout the EEA.
  • Due to the very nature of the Agreement, where legislation is adopted first on the EU side, before it is processed on the EEA EFTA side, there are of course certain limits as to how far the number of outstanding legal acts can be reduced in practice. All parties must have realistic expectations: There has been a so-called “backlog” since the outset of the EEA cooperation in the mid-1990s. 
  • However, we are not satisfied with the current size of the back-log. For the past two years we have made substantial efforts to reduce the number of outstanding legal acts.
  • These efforts have, unfortunately, not been enough, although the number of legal acts incorporated into the Agreement in 2012 was the highest since 1999. Many of the outstanding acts are part of “clusters”, for instance plant protection, which at present consist of more than 100 acts. As soon as the “mother” act is cleared, and I know discussions are well under way with the EU, this will fall into place. This will reduce the back-log. We are also in a process on the EEA EFTA side to identify new measures to further reduce the number of outstanding acts.

(Third Postal Directive)

  • Let me now mention a couple of issues, where the new Government has revised the Norwegian position.
  • Norway has taken part in the gradual liberalization of postal services in the internal market by incorporating the first and the second postal directives into the EEA Agreement. So far the third postal directive has not been incorporated into the EEA Agreement. The new government has revised the Norwegian position on this issue and decided to lift the reservation made by the previous government in 2011. Therefore, Norway is ready to incorporate the directive into the EEA Agreement.

(Paediatrics)

  • There has been lengthy discussion between the EEA EFTA States and the EU on the incorporation of the paediatric regulation into the EEA Agreement. The outstanding issue has been whether the EFTA Surveillance Authority should be given the competence to impose fines upon economic operators that are in breach of market regulations. The new Norwegian government has reassessed this issue, and concluded that transfer of such competence to the Authority is acceptable in this case, since it is within the restraints defined in our Constitution and also within the basic principles of the EEA Agreement. 

(The need for adaptations on certain issues)
(Financial supervisory authorities)

  • Norway supports the strengthened cooperation and coordination between supervisory authorities for financial services. It is important for all parties that the EEA/EFTA States are linked to these bodies.
  • Due to the wide powers of these bodies, our participation raises challenges with regard to our constitution and the two pillar structure of the EEA Agreement.
  • We handed last summer over to the EU side an outline of a solution to these challenges. The EEA/EFTA side is still awaiting a reply from the EU. The present situation creates an increasing number of secondary legal acts which cannot be incorporated into the EEA Agreement. This situation may be detrimental to the functioning of the internal market. We hope that discussions on our participation can be concluded soon.

(Telecommunications package – BEREC)

  • Long-standing practice has been that the EEA/EFTA States participate as full members, without the right to vote, in EU bodies and supervisory authorities. This should also be the solution when it comes to our participation in BEREC, but has been rejected by the EU side. The EEA/EFTA side has now suggested that the EU, in its new eCOM package makes the necessary changes in the BEREC regulation which will allow the EEA/EFTA-side to take part as full members, without the right to vote, when the new package has been adopted by the EU.
  • We trust that the Council and the Commission will support such changes, and thereby enable the incorporation of this important legislation into the EEA Agreement.  

(Participation in EU programmes)

  • Norway intends to participate in a broad range of new EU programmes starting in 2014, including Horizon 2020.
  • Participation in EU programmes is an important part of our cooperation - linking Norwegian and European networks, building knowledge and providing valuable input for policy discussions.
  • Due to delays in the adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and subsequent adoption by the EU of the legal instruments establishing the new programmes, we are very short on time when it comes to ensuring our participation in the new programme cycle. We are grateful for the flexibility shown on your side in this matter.

(EEA enlargement with Croatia)

  • Norway welcomes that the negotiations on the enlargement of the EEA Agreement with Croatia have been concluded and that the Agreed Minutes will soon be signed.
  • We would urge all parties to conclude the formal procedures related to the entry into force of the Agreement as soon as possible, thereby enabling the implementation of the Financial Mechanisms and fish quotas.

(Financial contributions and market access for fish after 2014)

  • As you are aware, the current period for the EEA and Norway Grants expires on 30 April 2014. The same is the case for certain tariff quotas for fish and fishery products originating in Norway.
  • We have been informed that the EU has adopted its mandate for the upcoming negotiations for new Financial Mechanisms. The Norwegian Government will conclude its preparatory work in the near future, and will then be ready to initiate negotiations.
  • In the negotiations, we need to agree on new contributions from the EEA/EFTA States that are both reasonable and acceptable. We take note of the fact that the EU’s own funds for cohesion will decline in real terms in the coming long-term budget (2014-2020).
  • It is necessary that an overall solution in the negotiations includes a good  agreement with regard to the continuation of certain quotas for fish and fish products. The quotas provide important raw materials for the fish processing industry in several EU Member States.

(Agricultural trade – Article 19)

  • Norway is not part of the Common Agricultural Policy. Therefore, Article 19 of the EEA Agreement states that the efforts to liberalise agricultural trade are to be pursued within the framework of the respective agricultural policies of the parties, on a reciprocal and mutually beneficial basis.
  • The Government is committed to the rules laid down in Article 19 of the EEA Agreement and the obligations included in the agreements negotiated on the basis of this Article.
  • We do not subscribe to the decision taken by the former Government that led to increased duty on certain cheeses and meat products into Norway. We will not take any new similar measures.
  • The Government´s objective is to change the existing trade regime for cheese and meat. Bearing in mind that we are a minority government, it will require a national process and parliament approval

(Protocol 3 - processed agricultural products)

  • There has been a steady increase over the years in exports of processed agricultural products from Norway to the EU. The exports almost doubled between 2003 and 2012.
  • The last joint review of Protocol 3 was carried out by the Commission and Norway in 2012. It concluded that the Protocol functioned according to its objectives. This is in our view still the case. There should, therefore, be no need to initiate new negotiations under the Protocol.

(Closing remarks)

  • Let me conclude by saying that I hope and believe that we together will be able to address the outstanding issues within reasonable time. By all parties being pragmatic and showing the necessary flexibility, satisfactory solutions for all parties should be within reach. 

Thank you for your attention.