Trump may push Norway into the EU

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Norwegians on both ends of the political spectrum are suddenly starting to speak seriously about the need for a new public discussion about joining the European Union (EU). Top politicians from both the ruling Conservatives and Labour, experts on defense and US relations, and even editorial writers from traditionally anti-EU media think that US President Donald Trump is already shaking up long-time alliances and threatening international agreements to such a degree that Norway needs to find more reliable and secure partners.

Norway’s flag is not among those flying along with EU members, but there’s been a sudden burst of interest in taking up the EU membership debate again because of all the uncertainty and change being generated by US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: EU Commission

“The uncertainty that’s been created around the pillars of Norwegian security policy should lead to a new EU debate,” Svein Melby, an expert on security policy at Norway’s Institutt for forsvarsstudier (IFS, Institute for Defense Studies), told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. Melby is regarded as one of Norway’s most respected researchers and has followed Norway’s relations with the US in particular for years.

The debate over joining the EU has been silenced ever since an albeit slim majority of Norwegians voted for the second time, in 1994, against EU membership. Leaders of both the Labour and Conservative parties were in favour of joining, and the referendum’s result was a major disappointment. No government has dared to propose joining the EU since: Opposition to joining the EU soared in public opinion polls during recent EU crises over finance and migration, and the latest polls still show a majority as negative to EU membership.

Trump, however, has been making the EU seem more rational, reliable and predictable than the US lately, not least because of the difference between what the EU and Trump seem to value. While the EU membership debate is sensitive and something most politicians haven’t wanted to touch for more than two decades, times are clearly changing.

Svein Melby, who specializes in trans-Atlantic studies at Norway’s defense rearch institute, is urging Norway to reevaluate its defense policy because the US “has changed” with Donald Trump as president. PHOTO: Institutt for forsvarsstudier

Melby, along with increasing numbers of others, sees a need for a stronger and tougher EU that can better respond to Trump’s recent flurry of criticism and complaints. The EU is comprised of many of the US’ strongest allies since the end of World War II, not least Germany, yet Trump has blasted Germany during his opening salvo at the NATO Summit last week, embarrassed the British prime minister over not being tough enough on Brexit, called the EU a “foe” of the US because of how it was responding to Trump’s own trade barriers and then lashed out again over the EU’s decision to fine Google on charges of unfair competition. Trump’s harsh language towards Norway’s European allies and biggest trading partner has alarmed many Norwegian leaders, as has the uncertainty Trump has created over the US’ commitment to NATO.

“For a small country like Norway, the collective system is valuable, and we need to do all we can to protect it,” Melby said. He, like former Norwegian defense- and foreign minister Espen Barth Eide of the Labour Party, points to the uncertainty and risk of Trump making fundamental changes in what’s been the foundation of Norwegian security policy.

“This is not going to go away and we must take it seriously,” Melby told Dagsavisen. “We have to think about how we will organize ourselves in the times ahead, and not just take if for granted that the problems will solve themselves.” It’s not the first time Melby has urged a re-evaluation of Norwegian defense policy because of Trump, but Trump’s sensational statements during just the past week have clearly made Melby’s calls more urgent.

‘Norway’s security begins in Europe’
On Friday, a Member of Parliament for the Conservatives and leader of the pro-EU organization Europabevegelsen, wholeheartedly agreed with Melby. “We have an American president who seems to want to undermine all institutions the US was itself been part of building up, to secure a stable Europe and a stable world order,” MP Heidi Nordby Lund told Dagsavisen. “We’re talking about the EU, the World Bank, the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and NATO.” Lund stresses that such organizations have allowed Norway to “blossom” over the years.

“Norway’s security begins in Europe, and if the EU falls apart at the seams, Norway will be more vulnerable,” Lund added. “At the same time we’re seeing a stronger China and a Russia (which Trump praised after his meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin) that goes in for destabilizing its own neighbouring areas that border on Europe.”

Lund believes the “liberal world order is under pressure, and that it’s in Europe we have our closest fellowship in values. Norway should show responsibility and solidarity by joining the European project.”

Need to ‘think in new ways’
Eide of the Labour Party, who also favoured joining the EU in 1994, said he didn’t want to launch an EU debate right now, but believes Norway should continue developing its strong ties to the EU. He also elaborated on a commentary he wrote in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week, telling Dagsavisen that “we need to challenge our own truths,” and “think in new ways about security policy, cooperation and Norway’s role in the world.” Eide said he thinks “we must test our current policy against a very different USA and a very different world.” Norway must become even more clear, Eide said, that the strong international institutions that Trump is now challenging “are in our best interests, and we must nurture and invest in them.”

Both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide have long been positive towards EU membership, but have learned to be satisfied with (and vigorously defend) the trade agreement Norway has with the EU (known as the EØS/EEA Agreement). It’s been widely viewed as sparing non-EU member Norway from having to pay the higher retaliatory customs duties that the EU is imposing on steel from the US in response to Trump’s import taxes. Neither Solberg nor Søreide were commenting during this summer holiday week on the uproar over Trump’s meeting with Putin, though, and neither has launched any effort to urge reconsideration of EU membership.

While Solberg has tried to put a positive spin on Trump and Norway’s prospects for dealing with him, though, Søreide has been more critical. Søreide has, however, stressed that Norway’s relation with the US remains strong, something US Defense Secretary James Mattis stressed during a weekend trip to Oslo after Trump’s outbursts at the NATO Summit.

‘Europe must stop being scared of Donald Trump’
Janne Haaland Matlary, a professor of political science at the University of Oslo, also urged a tougher EU this week. She wrote in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week that Europe “must stop being scared of Donald Trump and instead gather together and become stronger.” She claimed that Trump’s tactics in getting what he wants is to first launch a frontal attack then soften his stance. He cultivates uncertainty by being alternately mean and then flattering, she thinks, to throw counterparts off guard. “The only solution in a tough world is to join forces and strengthen ourselves, and cooperate with the US when it’s in our interests,” Matlary wrote.

She didn’t write that Norway should join the EU, but Melby, the defense researcher, thinks it will be “irresponsible” for Solberg’s government to avoid the issue. “It’s a political dereliction of duty to shove this away because of domestic political reasons,” Melby told Dagsavisen. “There are overweighing security policy reasons to take up the EU debate.”

‘Must actively signal interest in the EU…’
Dagsavisen itself, traditionally a left-leaning newspaper, published an editorial this week that may have left some anti-EU readers choking over their morning coffee. “When the USA’s role in the word is changing, Norwegian foreign policy must change with it,” the newspaper editorialized. “In the last year-and-a-half, Trump has managed to create so much chaos and uncertainty that we as a nation can’t wait for the Trump phenomenon to disappear into history. We must be pragmatic and always look for the best solutions to our interests.

“While we wait for the USA to hopefully sober up, Norway must actively signal its interest in the EU, and for an expanded European defense cooperation. Work that’s already begun to increase defense cooperation among the Nordic countries must be developed further.

“If the situation in the US continues, Norway must again discuss whether we should become members of the union in Europe.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund