In Britain’s recent EU debate, it’s clear that the anti-Europeans have been doing most of the running. When they’re not basing their arguments on wholesale lies, they fall back on a mixture of half-truths, assumptions and wishful thinking. One of the best examples is the common claim that Britain can leave the EU but keep trading with the Single Market, ’just like Norway’. A have-your-cake-and-eat-it solution that sounds like the best of both worlds. They highlight the non-EU country’s considerable oil wealth – irrelevant to the membership debate – to drive home their point.
Unfortunately, like most things which seem too good to be true, the ‘Norwegian option’ is a mirage. Anti-Europeans fail to mention that to trade with the EU, Norway still has to implement the vast majority of EU regulations. These are the rules that make sure the food we buy is safe, that appliances are energy efficient and that goods produced in one EU country can be sold in all the others. According to a major independent review earlier this year, Norway has adopted 75% of EU legislation – amounting to some 6,000 laws – despite being outside the EU. This gives the country access to trade with the European market, but without any say whatsoever over the content of those laws.
The review’s 911-page report puts it starkly:
The most problematic aspect of Norway’s association with the EU is that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules on a broad range of issues without being a member and without voting rights. This raises democratic problems. Norway is not represented in decision-making processes that have direct consequences for Norway, and neither do we have any significant influence on them.
In contrast, the UK has a seat at every table, with 73 British MEPs in the European Parliament and a British minister at every meeting of the Council – each with a joint say over all EU rules. As one of the bigger member states, Britain also has greater weight in shaping decisions from the outset – the Single Market and EU expansion to eastern Europe were largely UK-inspired projects – though this is a role we have sadly started to voluntarily resign in recent years.
But surely the Norwegian option would at least save us money? Wrong again, our Eurosceptic friends. As part of its agreement to access the EU Single Market, Norway pays an annual contribution to EU coffers, mostly used to fund infrastructure and other development projects in Europe’s central and eastern member states. And get this: Norwegians actually pay more per capita to the EU budget than Brits, in order to have no say over the EU laws they adopt.
Norway’s economy is certainly thriving outside the EU, but that is the result of shrewd government management of its oil and gas revenues rather than its voluntary exclusion from EU decision-making. British anti-Europeans would be very wrong to think that such success would automatically flow from leaving the EU. Instead, they would sell out Britain’s power and influence in Europe for a half-way house that could end up costing more than being a full member.
Written in conjunction with Linda Ehnmark, a board member of the European Movement in Norway and a former chair of the Oslo branch.