Recently, our Prime Minister, went out of his way (all the way to Iceland in fact) to disparage the so-called “Norway option” (Norway is outside the political structure of the EU but has full access to the European Single Market via the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement). The PM is quoted as saying:
Norway actually pays as much per head to the EU as we do. They actually take twice as many per head migrants as we do in this country but of course they have no seat at the table, no ability to negotiate.
I'm not arguing that all those who want to leave the EU say they want to follow the Norwegian path but some do and I think it's very important in this debate that we are absolutely clear about the consequences of these actions.
Speaking later in Iceland, where he is attending a meeting of the Northern Future Forum, the PM said he wanted the British people to understand what the so-called "Norway option" involved, arguing that "while they pay, they don't have a say - they don't have a seat around the table".
The PM’s behaviour might strike some as overly defensive - he appears to be trying to shut down discussion on the Norway option before a debate has started. The mainstream media has been typically poor in scrutinising the PM’s claims and provides no useful information. But the information is “out there” and I hope to show this in a series of posts.
How many EU laws does Norway adopt ?
One of the claims made by the Prime Minister is that Norway “accepts about three quarters of EU rules".
The first point to note is that only those EU rules marked as EEA relevant are adopted by Norway – in other words Norway is only subject to EU Single Market rules, (since the EEA is the mechanism by which Norway gains access to the European Single Market). By contrast, the UK is subject to all EU laws, including those that have nothing to do with access to the European Single Market – so that’s one immediate advantage to the Norway option.
Furthermore, studies have shown that the actual proportion of EU rules applying to the EEA is much less than three-quarters: a Norwegian study suggests less than 10% of all EU laws created in the period 2000-2015 have been adopted by Norway; a formal question in Iceland’s Parliament confirmed a figure of approx. 10% (Iceland is also part of the EEA agreement). Perhaps Mr. Cameron should have popped into the Icelandic Parliament on his visit to check his facts.
A comprehensive analysis and explanation by Dr.Richard North shows that (i) the “approx. three-quarters” claim is based on an error in the introduction to a Norwegian Government Report; (ii) the statistics in the body of this Norwegian Government Report suggest 11% of EU laws were applied to the EEA (in line with studies above).
Dr. North also suggests the only valid measure is to consider only those laws currently in force (i.e. discount laws that have been repealed). Based on this approach and up-to-date statistics he arrives at a figure of 21% - a more conservative figure than the 10%, but one that can be considered as currently definitive.
Does Norway have a say in the EU Single Market rules?
The EEA Agreement is managed via a “two-pillar” institutional framework shared by the EU and the 3 EFTA States (Norway, Iceland & Lichtenstein) who are party to the EEA agreement. The "two-pillar" framework provides multiple contacts between the EU and the 3 EEA / EFTA states at all stages of the legislative process. Even if one accepts that Norway's role is limited to consultation (and it is far more than that) it cannot be rightly said that Norway has "no say at all" in forming the Single Market rules.
It is true that Britain has voting rights in EU institutions that Norway does not have. However, this only amount to ~12% Qualified Majority Vote in the EU Council of Ministers, and 73 out of 751 MEP’s in the EU Parliament – Britain can be and is consistently outvoted - and has no veto.
The Single Market rules are Global rules
However a crucial point that is not widely advertised is that most of these Single Market rules are not made in the EU, as described here. According to a recent EFTA report, approx. 90% of these Single Market rules are covered by Global bodies.
In a process that has been going on for decades, rules covering trade and market access are increasingly being decided in global bodies (e.g. UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, WTO, ILO, IMO, UNEP etc) and “handed-down” to the EU – these rules are obeyed by countries as far afield as Australia. In effect we are seeing the emergence of a Global Single Market that is making the EU redundant.
Norway has a seat on these global bodies with an independent voice and a veto and hence is fully engaged in shaping and influencing these rules BEFORE they reach the EU. The UK does not control its own trade policy and has effectively surrendered its voice and veto on these bodies to the EU – meaning we are not negotiating at the top table (as Mr Cameron might put it) - as described here.
Also as a consequence of not being in charge of trade policy, the UK is unable to make Free Trade deals with other nations around the world – unlike Norway.
David Cameron’s claims regarding Norway's say over the rules do not stand up to scrutiny.
He claims Norway is a bad option for Britain, so by extension is he claiming he can do better ? If so, as a minimum he should ensure :
- Only Single Market rules apply to UK in future (~21% of all EU rules in force at present).
- UK regains its voice and veto at the real top table (Global bodies).
- UK regains control of its trade policy and is able to make its own free trade deals.
I'm calling this as strike 1 for David Cameron on the Norway option.
how much does Norway pay ?
Norway a bad option ?
Keeping the score on The Norway Option...