Why Britain should not leave the EU to be like Norway

The Telegraph, 24 February 2015

- When we make decisions about the future of Europe, we need to bear in mind the political forces that are likely to benefit from a weaker Europe and a weaker EU. There can be no doubt that more British influence is better for Europe than less, skriver Vidar Helgesen, statsråd for EØS-saker og forholdet til EU i dette innlegget.

Today I will be speaking at British Influence, a pro-European Union membership campaign, on why Norway thinks the UK should not leave. I have no intention of entering into the British debate. My views are based on what is best for Norway, and I firmly believe that it is best for Europe if the UK remains a member of the EU. At stake is the future of Europe: our security, our prosperity, our welfare, and our fundamental values.

Europe is under pressure from the shift in global power and global competition, from fragile states, conflict and terrorism to the south, from military assertiveness and zero-sum thinking to the east, and from political extremism at home.

Europe has changed since a UK referendum was proposed by David Cameron last year. We now face the most serious security situation in Europe since the Second World War: Russia has annexed another country’s territory and is using military force to destabilise its neighbour. This is old-fashioned power politics that must not be allowed to succeed in Europe. We have seen the EU, long known for a lack of strength in foreign policy, acting with remarkable resolve. Norway has aligned itself with the EU position.

This situation is very different from the Cold War, when Nato was the one organisation that mattered for our security. It still matters, but today, European policy towards Russia and Ukraine is primarily shaped within an EU framework. Never has the EU played such an important role in an international crisis. For Norway, not being at the table when policies so critical to our own security are determined is a challenge. I cannot imagine the UK not being part of such discussions. And without the UK in the EU, Europe’s foreign, security and defence policy will be far less effective.

It is equally important that the EU remains strong and coordinated in dealing with other challenges. We need to strengthen both external and internal security. We need to fight terrorism and prevent violent radicalisation abroad and at home. We need to support stability and democratic rights in the Middle East and North Africa. We need to manage migration and support development in the regions people are fleeing from.

Europe’s diminishing competitiveness globally in recent years means that countries such as the UK need to push for economic reform inside the EU. And it is vital that a strong economy, like the UK, remains in the EU. Growth opportunities will be greater and regulations will be more sensible if the UK helps shape them. In the next few years we hope to see an agreement that could be a global game-changer: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In these negotiations, the US and the EU are partners of fairly equal strength. If the UK is not on board, the impact and effectiveness of TTIP would be weakened.

Without a seat at the table, it is difficult to play a real part in decision-making. Whereas the UK joined the EC in 1973, Norway has remained part of the European Free Trade Agreement, and since 1994, has been party to the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA). But nevertheless, we are very closely integrated. During the past 20 years, Norway has incorporated more than 10 000 EU rules into the EEA Agreement. We see the results of these rules every day – in our daily lives, in our work and in business. However, we have had little direct influence over their development. Although we implement more than three quarters of EU legislation, we have to work very hard to make our voice heard.

Norway’s trade with EU countries accounts for a greater share of our foreign trade than is the case for the UK. We are part of Schengen, and in relative terms we have more EU labour immigrants than the UK. We regularly align ourselves with EU positions on foreign and security policy. And our financial contributions are on a par with comparable EU member-states. Basically, with the exception of our agricultural policies, we are part of the same European integration process as the UK. But we do not have the right to vote in Europe. I find it difficult to imagine the UK, with your global ambition, dedication and contributions, being comfortable with such an arrangement.

As Europe is facing fierce global competition, we need to act accordingly. No European country has more global experience and a more global outlook than the UK. You have one of the world’s most diversified workforces, with human resources from most corners of the globe. These are strengths that are much needed in shaping a globally competitive Europe. The influence and resources of the UK are crucial for the future development of the EU’s foreign, development, security and defence policies. Europe will be a better and safer place if your country continues to provide leadership.