Meld. St. 5 (2012-2013)

The EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU

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4 Key instruments of Norway’s European policy

The Government pursues a proactive European policy based on the objectives set out in the Government’s policy platform and Report No. 23 (2005–2006) to the Storting on the implementation of European policy. The Government considers it important that Norwegian positions are formulated as far as possible on the basis of open and inclusive consultative processes. This will ensure that Norwegian positions are better informed and will help to enhance political awareness of matters under discussion in the EU. Strengthening knowledge of the EU/EEA in the public administration and ensuring more systematic dialogue with relevant stakeholders will be key policy instruments. The Government is also seeking to strengthen the democratic basis for the development of Norway’s European policy by increasing the level of interest in and debate on the EU and the EEA in Norway. Ensuring access to better information and promoting knowledge about Norway’s agreements with the EU in Norwegian society is of key importance in this context.

4.1 Information and knowledge

The Government’s aim is to pursue an open European policy that encourages debate and dialogue. Our relations with our European partners, which are governed by the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU, affect most sectors of Norwegian society.

The Government will work to promote the highest level of transparency in EU/EEA processes. Priority will be given to ensuring access to information on important EU/EEA processes. The EEA database on the Government’s European portal (“Europaportalen”) will be further developed, and a database for justice and home affairs matters will be established.

The web-based information channels are crucial to the Government’s efforts in this area. Updating and improving the European portal has been a key part of the Government’s work to make information on the EEA and Norway’s relations with the EU more accessible, and the portal will be further developed in the future. The updated portal was launched in July 2012. The aim has been to make the new European portal a comprehensive source of information on Norway’s cooperation with the EU. This means that relevant EU/EEA information both from the ministries and from the Norwegian Mission to the EU in Brussels is now gathered on one website.

The European portal has also been made more user-friendly. It contains a combination of background information and information on current issues and is aimed at different target groups, such as the public administration, interest organisations, Norwegian companies, school pupils and students.

Figure 4.1 An upgraded European portal was launched in summer 2012. The new portal is a comprehensive source of information on Norway’s cooperation with the EU.

Figure 4.1 An upgraded European portal was launched in summer 2012. The new portal is a comprehensive source of information on Norway’s cooperation with the EU.

Sound information is essential but not in itself sufficient to secure awareness of and political debate on key EU/EEA issues. The Government will work to ensure that information is communicated in such a way that it stimulates broad debate, which is important for safeguarding effective democratic processes.

The European portal will have a separate webpage for new Commission initiatives. The Commission sends information about new initiatives to the EEA/EFTA bodies, and the Government will make this information available to the public via the portal. The aim is to ensure that relevant stakeholders in Norway have access to information about new EU initiatives at the earliest possible stage.

The public debate concerning the referendums on EU membership in 1972 and 1994 showed a great deal of popular interest in issues relating to Norway’s cooperation with the EU. People were generally well-informed and there was broad participation in the debate.

The Government considers it important in terms of safeguarding Norwegian interests that Norwegian citizens have an adequate knowledge of Norway’s cooperation and agreements with the EU.

A new generation has grown up since the second referendum in 1994. In a survey of knowledge of the EU and Norway’s agreements with the EU among the Norwegian population, which was carried out by the Sentio Research Group in May 2011 in connection with the preparation of Official Norwegian Report NOU 2012:2 Outside and Inside: Norway's agreements with the European Union, young people in particular reported that their knowledge of these areas was poor. Both the official report itself and a large number of comments received in connection with its preparation indicate a need to increase efforts to enhance young people’s knowledge of Norway’s agreements with the EU. Knowledge of the EU/EEA is one of the subject areas included in the current national curriculum for social studies and in the learning objectives set for years 7, 10 and the first year of upper secondary school. The Government will support the work carried out by schools to ensure that these learning objectives are achieved. It is important for young people to have access to up-to-date and neutral information. The Government will therefore facilitate the development of information material that can be used to support teaching in schools.

Norwegian research on European issues

Since the 1990s Norwegian researchers have gained international recognition for their in-depth research on European integration and its consequences. Norwegian research on European issues has helped to promote public debate in Norway, enhance education at various levels and strengthen the knowledge base for Norway’s European policy. Given the importance of developments in the EU and of European integration for Norway in a wide range of areas, the Government will continue to promote the development of a strong community of researchers on European issues in Norway. It is vital that the results of research projects are made available to the general public.

4.2 Transparency and inclusion

One of the Government’s clear aims is to secure the involvement of Norwegian stakeholders in the authorities’ work on EU/EEA matters at an early stage. The Government considers it important to obtain information about how new EU initiatives affect private individuals, organisations, companies and the local and regional public administration. The Government also emphasises the importance of ensuring that, through their participation in European umbrella organisations, relevant stakeholders have access to information and opportunities to exert an influence, both of which are important when promoting common interests.

The Government has taken several steps to increase the level of stakeholder involvement in work on EU/EEA matters. These include establishing a number of dialogue forums where European policy issues are discussed. These efforts will be further strengthened in the future.

The EU decision-making process is rapid, and the Commission’s proposals are often amended during discussions in the Council and the European Parliament. Ensuring that stakeholders in Norwegian society have the opportunity to put forward their assessments and views well before the EU takes a decision that may have implications for Norway is one of the Government’s clear objectives. It is also important to obtain technical and legal expertise from outside the public administration, including from relevant stakeholders, on the issue of how EEA legislation should be implemented into Norwegian law in specific fields.

4.3 EU/EEA expertise in the public administration

Work on EU/EEA-related matters requires knowledge of EU policy and legislation in the various fields. It also requires knowledge about institutions and decision-making processes in the EU and EEA. Expertise in EU/EEA law is also crucial, as are language skills, knowledge of meeting practices and the ability to build networks. Moreover, a high level of EU/EEA expertise is essential if Norway is to be able to participate actively at an early stage of the EU legislative process. It is also crucial if Norway is to be able to make use of the options available at the national level when implementing EEA legislation. In-depth knowledge of the EU/EEA is needed not only in the central government administration and its subordinate agencies, which are responsible for following up cooperation with the EU on an ongoing basis, but also in the local and regional administration, which has considerable responsibility for applying the legislation in practice, in accordance with our EEA obligations. It is also important that stakeholders in the private sector and in society as a whole are well informed about the EU/EEA. This will enhance Norway’s ability to identify and promote its interests effectively.

Training courses

A great deal of expertise on the EU/EEA has been developed in the public administration, but there is scope for improvement. A survey carried out by the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment in 2008 indicated that knowledge is particularly good among employees who have worked on EU/EEA-related matters for a long time. However, this knowledge is to some extent held by individual employees, which makes government agencies vulnerable to employee turnover. The survey showed that knowledge of the EU/EEA is generally poor among employees who are not directly involved in work in this area, including at management level. EU/EEA issues affect most areas of society and are a cross-cutting element of almost all activity within the public administration. It is therefore vital that all civil servants have some general knowledge of the EU and EEA. Training courses in this area should be further developed within already existing structures. The Government will work to ensure that basic knowledge of EU/EEA issues is integrated into training courses provided at all levels of the public administration. Information on EU/EEA matters will be part of the general training provided to all new employees and to new managers in the public administration.

Civil servants in ministries and government agencies who work with EU/EEA legal issues must have a thorough knowledge of EU/EEA law so that Norway can make good use of the options available at the national level when implementing EU/EEA legislation. At present no systematic training in EU/EEA law is provided to lawyers and other employees responsible for dealing with EEA legislation. The Government therefore intends to strengthen and systematise the training provided. This can be done by including a module on EU/EEA law in the programme on Norway’s cooperation with the EU offered by the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment. The Agency plans to carry out an evaluation of this programme in autumn 2012, which will give an indication of whether it is successfully meeting the needs of the users and will provide a basis for its further development.

Making good use of existing expertise

In addition to improving the training provided to employees, it is important to make the best possible use of existing resources. Priority will therefore be given to ensuring that expertise that has been developed through work on EU/EEA matters is put to good use. Much of the EU/EEA expertise to be found in the Norwegian public administration has been developed through participation in expert groups and committees under the Commission. In addition, participation in EU agencies and administrative networks, and in the context of the Schengen cooperation in the Mixed Committee under the Council, has become important in terms of providing opportunities for learning and developing expertise. Sound expertise and the continuity of Norwegian participation are essential if Norway is to be able to exert an influence in these forums. To ensure the transfer of knowledge, new employees should be involved in this work, for example by participating in meetings together with more experienced employees.

National experts

Under the EEA Agreement, Norway has the opportunity to second national experts to the Commission, and also to EU agencies that are under the Commission’s administrative authority. However, we have no such agreement with the other EU institutions. Nevertheless, in the period 2006–09 a national expert from the Ministry of Trade and Industry was seconded to the secretariat of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. This provided an important channel into the European Parliament for both the Norwegian public administration and other Norwegian stakeholders. Due to the success of this secondment, the Government is seeking to continue this arrangement.

It is important to ensure that the ministries take full advantage of the opportunities we have to second national experts to the Commission. The Government will give priority to ensuring that seconded national experts from the Norwegian public administration are as far as possible given policy-oriented tasks while working at the Commission. This means that we have to be able to provide highly qualified candidates who can offer relevant expertise. Experience shows that in many areas, such as food safety, Norwegian national experts are given responsibility for key policy areas on the basis of their qualifications and as a result of their well-developed networks in the EU system and a proactive recruitment policy by the relevant Norwegian authorities.

The Agency for Public Management and eGovernment recently conducted a survey on the public administration’s use of seconded national experts to the Commission, which showed that better use could be made of the scheme. The Government will work to ensure that all ministries develop a strategic approach to recruitment, choice of place of service, contact during the period of secondment and the use of acquired expertise following return to Norway. The Government will also work to make it possible for local and regional authorities to second experts and other personnel to the Commission.

4.4 Close coordination of EU/EEA-related work in the public administration

The increase in cross-sectoral initiatives and legislation in the EU has led to a need for closer coordination in the public administration. The Government is seeking to improve coordination between the ministries, based on the current division of responsibilities between members of the Government. The political and constitutional responsibility for the various fields lies with the relevant minister. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for ensuring that Norway fulfils its obligations under the EEA Agreement and its other agreements with the EU, and also for ensuring that Norway has an integrated European policy by coordinating Norway’s views and communicating a coherent position to the EU and our EFTA partners. The Ministry of Finance’s responsibility for coordinating the budget and implementing economic policy also encompasses EU/EEA matters.

Coordination will be strengthened on the basis of existing structures, including separate coordinating committees for EEA and Schengen matters and a well-developed system of EEA special committees. In priority areas where there is a particular need for coordination, the Government will be able to appoint working groups on a more ad hoc basis within this framework. Efforts will also be made to involve relevant stakeholders more closely and systematically in the public administration’s work on EU and EEA matters.

The Norwegian Mission to the EU in Brussels has a key role to play in communicating Norway’s views to EU institutions. The mission’s staff are recruited from all parts of the government administration. The mission’s role includes following political developments in the EU in the various fields, analysing these developments and keeping relevant ministries informed on an ongoing basis.

Firm commitment and active involvement at the political level in the ministries is essential to enable Norway to put forward its views at an early stage. In connection with this, it is important to ensure close coordination between relevant ministries and their subordinate agencies, since the latter often represent the Norwegian authorities in expert groups and committees. Defining clear national positions requires an understanding of the fundamental issues involved in each case. It is therefore an important task to identify and communicate the politically important aspects of a new case as early as possible. This does not require the creation of new structures, but rather that there are effective procedures for transferring relevant information from the public administration to the political level.

Municipalities and counties are responsible for following up much of EEA legislation once it has been incorporated into Norwegian law. The Government will therefore work to promote a more systematic dialogue between the various levels of the public administration, as part of its efforts to develop Norwegian positions and promote Norway’s views, and in connection with the implementation of new EEA legislation.

Increasing the involvement of the research community and other external actors

A number of Norwegian research groups, stakeholders, municipalities and counties participate actively in efforts relating to the EU through various European organisations. A common feature of these actors is that they have important expertise and often also access to networks and information that the Norwegian authorities lack. It is therefore crucial to coordinate the work of relevant authorities and external actors more systematically than is the case today. The Government will seek to increase the level of involvement of the research community and relevant stakeholders in the development of Norway’s policy towards the EU in priority areas. The plan is to hold annual consultations on important European policy issues based on the model of the six-monthly consultations with the Storting.

The Government is also seeking to strengthen its contact with stakeholders in its ongoing work on EU/EEA matters. Most of the EEA special committees have appointed reference groups consisting of representatives of relevant interest groups and local authorities. The Government will encourage the special committees to involve the reference groups to a greater extent and at an early stage in the work of developing Norway’s positions on EU/EEA matters.

The possibility of offering secondments or internships at the Norwegian Mission to the EU in Brussels for representatives of Norwegian organisations will also be considered.

4.5 Mutual responsibility for managing the EEA Agreement

EU institutions and member states have repeatedly expressed their satisfaction with the EEA Agreement and other agreements between the EU and Norway. Through the EEA Agreement the EU enjoys orderly and predictable relations with Norway, a key trade partner and important supplier of energy, seafood, capital, maritime transport services, environmentally sound solutions and so on. Both the EU and Norway have a clear interest in maintaining these good relations. The EU generally appears to have great confidence that the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court function as intended and are able to ensure compliance with the provisions of the EEA Agreement.

In 2011, responsibility for managing the EEA Agreement was transferred from the Commission to the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s new diplomatic corps. The assumption is that by concentrating responsibility for the EUs external relations in the EEAS, the EU will be in a better position to develop a coherent foreign policy. This could strengthen the basis for a broad dialogue between the EU and Norway. There are also indications that the EU’s relations with third countries are becoming more streamlined. Participation in EU expert groups and committees is based on the rights conferred by the EEA Agreement. It is important for Norway that this is continued, in line with the intentions and principles of the EEA cooperation. It is important to emphasise that it is in the interest of both parties that the EEA Agreement functions as well as possible, and both parties are responsible for ensuring that it does so. This means that it is essential that the EU also has a thorough knowledge of the EEA and that work related to the EEA Agreement is given the necessary attention.

Day-to-day work relating to the EEA Agreement involves extensive contact between Norwegian officials and the Commission and relevant expert bodies. This is crucial for the EEA cooperation in the various fields and helps the EU to maintain its knowledge of key EEA matters. The Norwegian Mission to the EU, the Norwegian embassies and relevant ministries play an important role in providing information to EU institutions and the member states. In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds regular meetings and conferences on Norwegian European policy at which representatives of the EU participate. The Government will continue to give priority to these contact-building and information activities.

4.6 Summary of actions the Government intends to take

The Government will:

  • Support the work carried out by schools to ensure that established learning objectives are achieved, and facilitate the development of information material that can be used to support teaching in schools.

  • Promote the development of a strong community of researchers on European issues in Norway.

  • Work to strengthen knowledge about the EEA at all levels of the public administration by providing relevant training and making better use of existing expertise.

  • Work to ensure that all ministries take full advantage of the opportunities we have to second national experts to the Commission. In the Government’s view, local and regional authorities should also be given the opportunity to second experts and other personnel to the Commission.

  • Work to ensure the secondment of national experts to the European Parliament.

  • Continue to promote close coordination and efficiency in the public administration’s work on EU and EEA matters.

  • Strengthen dialogue with stakeholders and local authorities in ongoing work on important EU and EEA matters.

  • Involve the research community and stakeholders in efforts to assess important European policy issues.

  • Make sure that the business sector is provided with adequate information about the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU.

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