Eurosceptics be warned - the 'half in, half out' EU integration model option is best left to Norway

The Norwegian model is lauded as an ideal for British integration, but as the authors of new report argue, there are deep flaws in Norway's relationship with the EU

Share

As the EU debate intensifies in the UK there has been increased interest from British Eurosceptics in the Norwegian version of European integration. This is perhaps understandable. Norway has stayed out of the European Union, and seems to manage quite happily, reaping the benefits of the single market without the aggravations of membership. To many British Eurosceptics that must seem like the perfect deal.

Well, it is not. On closer examination, the ‘Norwegian option’ is not an example to be followed, but should rather serve as a warning about how difficult a ‘half in; half out’ approach to Europe is. While Norway is formally outside the EU, in reality we are deeply integrated but without the rights of representation. The model is complex and costly, as well as problematic both in terms of democracy and national interest.

Just how complex was demonstrated by an independent 900-page report that we were involved with that reviewed all of Norway’s agreements with the EU. It was a bit of a reality check for most Norwegians, showing just how integrated we are into EU law and policy.

Back in 1960 the European Free Trade Association was created as an alternative to the European Community, and the UK and Norway were partners in European policy. Our paths split when the UK joined the EC in 1973 while Norway stayed in the EFTA. But the split was not all that large. Inside the EU, the UK became one of the least integrated and interested members. Outside, Norway became by far the most closely integrated third country. The difference in substantive integration is small: both countries are outside of the eurozone; the UK participates in some areas that Norway does not, and on the other hand Norway is fully integrated into the Schengen agreement on immigration, border control and police cooperation, unlike the UK.

A key part of our Europe review report was trying to work out what the consequences of this were for Norway over the last two decades. One finding was that the degree of Europeanisation is far larger than anyone has been aware of. Norway has taken more than three-quarters of EU law and policy, and this has had tremendous effects on the national political and legal system. Another main finding was that integration has had largely beneficial consequences – not just for the economy, but also for the labour market, the financial markets, social rights, the environment, regional development, research and development, justice and home affairs and a number of other areas.

The real lesson to be learned from Norway is that for a modern European country with an open economy there is nowhere to hide from the EU. European integration is driven by of a number of economic, technological, political and other processes that go much deeper than the issue of formal membership (or not). Even outside of the EU, Norway has not been able to resist the field of gravity of Brussels, and it has not been in the national interest to do so.

The real lesson to be learned from Norway is that for a modern European country with an open economy there is nowhere to hide from the EU.

As some will continue to hold up Norway as a model for how the UK could reimagine its own relationship with the EU, it is worth examining exactly what this involves. First of all the model is very complex, consisting not only of the main European Economic Area agreement, but also of a patchwork of 73 other agreements. The common feature is integration without representation. Through the agreements Norway is in effect obliged to implement new law and policy coming from Brussels, but without any say in the decision-making processes. A veil of formal sovereignty hides the transfer of real powers, creating a special kind of democratic deficit.

This deficit is clear also in domestic politics. As Norwegians do not participate in EU decision-making they have few incentives to openly discuss European affairs. The present model is a compromise between the “yes” and “no” camps, and most politicians to not want to rock that boat. The result is that debate on European integration is discouraged, dampened and distorted. Paraphrasing a well-known British politician, we conclude our report by stating that there are few areas of Norwegian democracy today where so many know so little about so much as is the case with Norwegian European policy.

The fundamental logic of the Norwegian model – not wanting to lose the benefits of dealing with Europe, but also knowing that a majority of the electorate is against formal EU membership – might seem enticing for many in Britain. From a Norwegian point of view the model is bearable, even if it comes at a high price in terms of democracy. But Norway is a small and rather rich country with limited ambitions to influence European policy. The Norwegian solution to Europe is not one that we would recommend for others.

Fredrik Sejersted and Ulf Sverdrup are co-authoring a European Council on Foreign Relations report on the Norwegian model, due out in October. Fredrik is the director of the Centre for European Law at the University of Oslo and Ulf is the director of the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI).

www.twitter.com/USverdrup

www.twitter.com/FSejersted

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
UK Border Control  

Do you think I'm feckless? I worked for two years in the Netherlands

David Ryan
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin