Ambassador fears EU isolation

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Norway’s ambassador to the European Union (EU) has written a confidential report, obtained by newspaper Aftenposten , warning that Norway faces increasing isolation from the rest of Europe. The report also suggests that Norway will have minimal influence over a long list of important issues and be asked to pay higher fees for economic cooperation that gives Norway access to the EU’s inner market.

The report, written by EU ambassador Oda Helen Sletnes, paints a very different picture of Norway’s relationship to the EU than that presented by the government.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has repeatedly claimed that Norway enjoys a good relationship with the EU and that economic cooperation functions well through the so-called EØS avtale , which secures access to the EU market for the three countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) that have been making up the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

But now crisis-hit Iceland is poised to leave EFTA, and its participation in the EØS pact, by joining the EU itself. That leaves the EØS agreement only covering Norway and Liechtenstein, and it likely will need to be renegotiated.Sletnes’ report suggests that even Norway’s own Nordic neighbors are expected to ask Norway to pay more than the access fees it already pays.

The problem now, reportedly, is that it’s becoming much harder for Norway to make itself heard within the EU. Sletnes, according to Aftenposten , writes that the EU often acts so quickly on issues that Norway has trouble keeping up and doesn’t get a chance to argue for its views. The EU also has been developing quickly over the past several years, with many new countries joining the fold, and Norway thus must deal with far more issues that come with the new members.

The EU, according to Sletnes, is also constantly setting up new control agencies and bureaus to which Norway has minimal access. The EØS agreement channels Norway’s EU contact through the European Commission, but many new agencies operate at a different level, including those for airline security, food standards and maritime matters. Norway can quickly be left out in the cold.

Membership a ‘non-issue’ in current election campaign

A recurring criticism of this year’s national election campaign in Norway is that the issue of EU membership has been carefully avoided. Norwegians have twice voted against joining the EU, and most political parties seem reluctant to bring up the hotly contested issue again. The Progress Party, now Norway’s second-largest, won’t even say where it stands on the issue of EU membership, which has prompted its opponents to label it as “cowardly.”

Leaders of parties still opposed to EU membership seized the opportunity to call for negotiation of a new trade agreement with the EU, similar to what Switzerland has. They like to hope that Europe needs Norway’s oil and gas, and will be open to doing business with Norway even though Norway won’t join the organization.

A recent poll showed that just over 50 percent of Norwegians oppose EU membership, around 35 percent favor it and 15 percent are undecided.