Article | Last updated: 15/04/2016 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The EEA Agreement ensures that Norway takes part in the EU Single Market with access to the benefits of the free movements of persons, goods, services and capital. It entered into force in 1994.
Like the other EFTA countries, from 1973 Norway had a free trade agreement with the EC. The bilateral agreements between the EC and the EFTA countries only covered some areas of trade. Norway's free trade agreement with the EC primarily concerned the elimination of customs duties on industrial goods.
Under the Single European Act, which entered into force in 1987, the then 12 EC countries laid the foundation for establishing a common market. As far as trade between the EFTA countries and the EC was concerned, the Single European Act brought new challenges. The establishment of the internal market meant that the EFTA countries risked facing trade barriers that had been removed between the EC member countries.
Norway and the other EFTA countries were of the view that this would lead to a weakening of the competitiveness of their companies vis-à-vis their EC competitors. This provided an important impetus for developing the Agreement on the European Economic Area, the EEA Agreement.
The EEA Agreement was signed by the member countries of the EC and EFTA on 2 May 1992. At that time there were seven EFTA member states and 12 EC member states. When the Maastricht Treaty entered into force in 1993, the EC became the EU. The agreement entered into force on 1 January 1994.
In 1994, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway held referendums on EU membership. A majority of Norwegians voted against joining the EU, while in the three other countries a majority of the population voted in favour. This meant that the number of EU member countries increased to 15, while the number of EFTA countries was reduced to three. The EFTA state Switzerland is not a member of the EEA, but it has its own bilateral agreements with the EU in a range of sectors.
In May 2004 a further 10 countries became EU members, in January 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined, and finally, in July 2013 Croatia joined the EU. Following negotiations on new EU member states' entry into the EEA, the 28 EU member states and the three EFTA countries are now contracting parties to the EEA Agreement.
More information: What the EEA Agreement covers