Norway retains both influence and sovereignty in dealings with the EU
Anna Sonny, 29 October 2015
David Cameron’s intervention yesterday into the arguments surrounding Britain leaving the EU has prompted a discussion on which trading model would be the best fit. As Eurosceptics continue to flesh out the different options, it is important to remember that these are just models and not structures that would be applied directly to the UK.
Cameron said yesterday that he would ‘guard very strongly’ against the Norway option, on the grounds that despite being part of the European Economic Area and having free trade with the EU, Norway doesn’t have any representation in the EU’s institutions and decision-making bodies, and pays a considerable contribution to the EU budget. In a Civitas report, The Norwegian Way, Jonathan Lindsell points out that Norway’s EEA membership means that it avoids the costly Common Agricultural Policy, controls its own fisheries, and can negotiate its own free trade agreements with countries around the world, with its own priorities.
The Eurosceptic case largely laments the UK’s lack of influence at the EU’s top table, with most decisions agreed by qualified majority voting instead of unanimity, making the UK’s voting power 11% in the Council of Ministers. Despite not having a seat at the top table, Norway can veto EU legislation, and can also put a stop to freedom of movement in social and economic emergencies in theory. The British Eurosceptic case focuses heavily on the importance of influence and sovereignty – Norway is an option that we can consider precisely because it manages to retain a healthy amount of both in its dealings with the EU.
Already at risk of division with two separate campaign groups, the Eurosceptic camp should be careful not to fall into disunity over the different Brexit choices. They should instead be weighing up the costs and benefits of all the options, including Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the EU. Another report by Civitas looks into Switzerland’s free trade agreement with Japan, as an example of how the UK could go about negotiating its own trade deals as a non-EU member.
As both Civitas reports point out, each country is different, but there are similarities with Norway and Switzerland that make comparison both possible, and enlightening for the UK. Cameron’s dismissal of the Norway option adheres to the unhelpful strategy of looking at the issues surrounding the EU in extremes. Building a proper Brexit strategy would depend on working through the nuances of the issues involved, to find the best solution for Britain.