The EEA Agreement, and issues of The High North

Oslo, 30. juni 2016

Statssekretær Elsbeth Tronstads tale i forbindelse med at EUs transportattachéer var på besøk i Oslo.

Dear Transport Attachés – dear colleagues,

Norway has longstanding, good and close ties with the EU. We cooperate closely on a broad range of policy areas through a number of agreements. Among these, the European Economic Area – The EEA – Agreement and the Schengen Association Agreement are the two most important.

As a result of this, major and minor developments as well as various political initiatives at European level will have direct consequences also for us. At the same time, in many cases they allow Norway to take active part in the European cooperation and to provide input in key policy areas.

European cooperation is more important than ever. [Yes, I will touch upon Brexit in a few minutes] It is crucial that governments work closely together to meet the common challenges we face – such as creating new jobs and growth, fulfil the climate commitments, to deal with the migration crisis and combat violent extremism.

The present Norwegian Government has argued this point strongly ever since it came to power in 2013. Our strategy for Norway's cooperation with the EU contains three key messages:

  • We will focus on policy areas where enhanced cooperation at European level represents added value, both for Norway and for the EU.
  • We will seek to engage in the European debate as early as possible whenever new policies and rules of importance to us are being developed.
  • We will pursue an open and inclusive European policy in cooperation with a range of stakeholders in the Norwegian society.

Our EU strategy then sets out the main priorities for the period 2014–2017: Higher quality research and education – an ambitious climate and energy policy – a global approach to migration – and enhanced security.

The strategy is being implemented through annual work programmes. And an English version of the 2016 programme is available for further reading.

The EEA Agreement

The European Single Market is at the very heart of our cooperation with the EU. Through the EEA Agreement, Norway enjoys the benefits of the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital. It guarantees non-discrimination and equal rules and competition throughout the area of 31 countries and 500 million people.

For Norway, it gives our companies access to the Single Market and ensures that they compete on the same terms as companies in EU countries. At the same time, it offers the same benefits to EU companies and citizens entering Norway. This is crucial, as around 80 per cent of our export go to the EU and more than 60 per cent of Norway's imports come from EU countries.

I would also like to underline that the EEA Agreement covers cooperation in other important areas, such as research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, tourism and culture.

On the other hand – the EEA Agreement does not comprise the EU agricultural and fisheries policies, the customs union nor the monetary union. Apart from this, all areas of the Single Market are part of the EEA with one horizontal exemption: The geographical scope is limited to Norwegian land territory, internal waters and territorial waters. The EEA does not apply to the exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf nor the high seas.

How does it work?

The EEA Agreement is dynamic in its character. It is continuously updated and amended to incorporate new Single Market legislation in order to maintain homogeneity across the European Economic Area.

When it comes to the transport sector, most ofthe EU legislation will be implemented in Norwegian legislation. Thus, your work is highly relevant to us – and I believe that we in many cases can be a valuable partner for you as well.

However, not being a member of the Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do not participate in the decision-making process. But we may give input during the preparatory phase, when the European Commission draws up proposals for new Single Market (EU/EEA) legislation that is to be incorporated into the Agreement.

This includes the right to participate in expert groups and committees under the European Commission. A considerable number of Norwegian civil servants participate in these on a regular basis. We also have around 50 seconded national experts in the Commission. One of them (Espen Rindedal) is in fact working in DG Mobility and Transport on road safety.

I would also like to underline that Norway participates in a number of EU programs through provisions in the EEA Agreement or on the basis of bilateral agreements with the EU. The largest of them being the Horizon 2020, Erasmus+, Galileo and Copernicus. We contribute to the budget of these programs on equal footing with EU member states and thus have the same rights and obligations.

We also participate in a number of EU agencies, among these the European Aviation Safety Agency and the European Union Agency for Railways.

A stable and predictable framework

For more than 20 years the EEA Agreement has broadened and deepened the cooperation between the EU and Norway. All parties agree that it has been mutually beneficial and has functioned well.

The Agreement has provided a stable and predictable framework for our economic relations with EU member states and has made an important contribution to Norway's economy and development. It has had great significance for the business sector and for working life in Norway.

My Government welcomes the EU's strategy to further develop and deepen the single market. We also support the agenda to create a real Digital Single Market which can boost the European economy.

We also fully support the Commission's aim and the work it is doing to avoid over-regulation and unnecessary burdens by systematically reviewing existing legislation and ensuring that future legislation is made simpler, better and more user-friendly.

This is well in line with my Government's slogan "Improve, Simplify and Renew" with special focus on how to make our public sector more effective and our legislation more "business-friendly", especially in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Together we have been able to safeguard the EEA Agreement and to find mutually acceptable solutions to challenges and difficulties that have emerged over the years. I am confident that this will also be the case in the future.

A short comment on Brexit

All this being said, let me add a few words on the outcome of the referendum in the United Kingdom last week.

The British people have expressed their wish to leave the European Union. We respect their decision.

Norway's relations with the EU will not be directly affected the "Brexit". Our agreements with the EU stand firm, and we believe them to be mutually beneficial as I have just mentioned.

The relations between Norway and the UK have deep roots and are wide-ranging. The UK will continue to be among our closest partners. Norway's trade with the UK will be regulated by the EEA Agreement until the country has formally withdrawn from the EU.

We will follow the negotiations between the EU and UK closely. It is in our interest that the parties find solutions that will ensure a liable framework for economic relations between the UK and the rest of Europe.

Norway and The Arctic

Let me then shift focus – to the High North. In today's volatile world, the Arctic remains a region of cooperation, stability, respect for international law and sustainable management of resources. The overall goal of Norway's Arctic policy is to ensure that it stays that way.

Norway has for centuries maintained a strong presence in the North. We are, and have always been, dependent upon income generated in the North.

Some key facts illustrate this:

  • 10 per cent of Norway's population live north of the Arctic Circle
  • 80 per cent of our sea areas are located north of the circle
  • There are excellent universities in the northern parts of Norway. The city of Tromsø is a centre for expertise on polar issues

The Arctic is a region abundant with resources such as energy, minerals and fish. At the same time, the Arctic is a highly vulnerable natural environment, where the impacts of climate change can be clearly observed. Climate change represents a challenge for us all, but it is also opening up new opportunities for economic activity in the Arctic.

This is the backdrop for the increased interest in the Arctic.

The EU is no exception. The Commission and the European External Action Service issued their Joint Communication on an integrated EU policy for the Arctic in April, the third communication since the Arctic was put on the EU agenda a decade ago.

Norway has during the years had a constructive dialogue with the EU on issues of relevance to the Arctic and has welcomed the Joint Communication. We share the view that better knowledge of the Arctic is fundamental to respond adequately to the challenges.

The EU contributes to the work of the Arctic Council through participation in its working groups. The EU is also a major contributor to Arctic research. As a partner to Horizon 2020, Norway will encourage the EU to strengthen research on Arctic issues.

Norway and Russia are neighbours in the High North. Through its actions – in Ukraine and elsewhere – Russia has contributed to a greater sense of insecurity in Europe. Together with the rest of Europe we are standing firm in defence of international law and international rules. At the same time, we continue cooperation with Russia in areas where we have common interests. These are management of shared fish stocks, environmental protection and nuclear safety, maritime safety including search and rescue at sea, as well as Coast Guard and Border Guard activities more broadly.

The Norwegian Government aims to promote sustainable business development in the north. We have initiated various schemes to enhance trans-border business cooperation, including seed funds to stimulate activity in the north.

We target our efforts at industries with growth potential, like the maritime sector, the seafood industry, the mineral industry, tourism, space technology, and of course the oil and gas and the fisheries sectors. There are huge distances in the European Arctic, and an efficient infrastructure is crucial for economic development.

Thank you so much for interest in Norway and our relations with you on transport policy issues. I am confident that you will enjoy a fruitful dialogue and good discussions with your Norwegian counterparts today and tomorrow. I wish you a pleasant stay in Oslo.

Thank you!