Saturday, February 2, 2013

'Brexit': a view from Norway

By HEMING OLAUSSEN 1 February 2013

Norway has often been cited as an example of what Britain's future relationship with the EU might look like. One of the most prominent Norwegian opponents to EU membership shares his thoughts on David Cameron's speech.
Demotix/Pål Bergstad. All rights reserved.

Mr Cameron has delivered a very interesting speech about the United Kingdom's relation with the EU. His emphasis on the democratic problem the EU suffers from goes to the very heart of today's Norwegian debate over the EU, and indeed also back to our first EU referendum in 1972. It is all about national sovereignty versus the expansion of centralized EU power to nearly every corner of Norwegian society - and politics.

The Norwegian people's position is overwhelmingly clear: over 70 percent of the population reject joining EU, whereas the 'Yes' side gets support from less than 20 percent of Norwegians. This has been the picture for the last two years - and the 'No' side has dominated every poll since 2004.
Still, Norway is a member of the common market through the European Economic Area, which results in the Norwegian people also experiencing this democratic deficit – an aspect Mr Cameron also evoked, and I absolutely agree with his point there. This is why I find his speech so refreshing and full of promise - also from a Norwegian perspective! A third way must be found, a way to combine national sovereignty with common interests of commerce and co-operation.
This third way would require Norway and Iceland to withdraw from the EEA, Switzerland staying out of it and the UK not joining the EEA at all, leaving them free to combine their forces in developing this third way - a vision of Europe that puts democracy in the front seat, and not Mrs Merkel's ideas of a German version of the United States of Europe.

These are the most exciting possibilities one can extract from Mr. Cameron's speech, from a EU-skeptic Norwegian point of view. The problem is that the leading politicians in Norway, as in many other countries, are far more pro-EU than the people. This last assertion is also valid for the EEA treaty; in the last few days we have seen the Social Democratic Party crush down on its junior partners in Government – the Rural Party and the Socialist Left Party – both of whom oppose the EEA treaty and want to replace it by a more modest trade treaty. Having already had a strong debate over the EEA for a couple of years, the Social Democrats now try to avoid re-opening the topic, not least because polling numbers don't look very good for the ruling red-green coalition ahead of next September's parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, right wing politicians are also expressing skepticism as a result of all the regulations and laws imposed by Brussel, and growing resistance against the EU's influence on the country's policies.

2013 is set to be an exciting and vital year to determine what future relations between Norway and the EU will look like – and no one can really tell how this will end.
 Heming Olaussen is Chairman of the No to the EU, a Norwegian organisation with over 27,000 members. He has been a social worker since 1977, and voted 'No' in both referendums on EU membership (in 1972 and 1994).

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