Brexit: Norway drops objection to Britain staying in single market via European Economic Area

Norway had worried UK membership of the EEA would shift the balance of power

Jon Stone
Brussels
Monday 14 May 2018 12:19
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What could the sticking points be in the Brexit trade deal?

Norway’s prime minister has said her country would be open to Britain joining the European Economic Area – potentially giving Britain a readymade technical solution for remaining in the single market after Brexit.

Norway’s government had previously hinted it might block British membership of the EEA because such a change would likely shift the balance of power within the trade association against Norwegian interests.

But in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper Erna Solberg suggested EEA membership was now an option for Brexit Britain.

“I think we will cope very well if the Brits come in. It will give bargaining power on our side too. And it would ease Norway’s access to the UK,” she told the newspaper.

Shortly after the EU referendum in August 2016 Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, the country’s European Affairs Minister at the time, said it was “not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation” because such a move could “shift the balance” against “Norway’s interests”.

The EEA technically includes all EU member states, but the term is usually used to refer to those countries outside the EU who still adhere to the rules of the single market.

Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are the countries outside the EU that participate in the EEA through their membership of the European Free Trade Association.

What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

One other country, Switzerland, participates in EFTA but not the EEA, instead following some aspects of the single market through a series of complex bilateral agreements with the EU.

EEA membership requires free movement of people with the EU as well as the implementation of practically all Brussels regulations. EEA states technically have a veto on new laws but it has never been used; they also have some very limited input on how EU laws are converted to affect EEA states through a so-called joint committee.

Ahead of the referendum Ms Solberg warned the UK would “not like” life outside the EU because it would lose influence on policymaking but likely have to implement large swathes of EU rules.

Norway narrowly rejected EU membership in a 1994 referendum by 47.8 per cent to 52.2 per cent. The country’s two traditional main parties, the Labour Party and the Right – Ms Solberg’s grouping – have both long supported EU membership, but smaller parties oppose joining.

Theresa May has effectively taken the Norway option off the table with her Brexit red lines of ending free movement and leaving the single market.

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