EU support falls to record low

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Only 30 percent of Norwegians want to join the European Union (EU), according to a new public opinion poll. The record low level of support for EU membership is believed tied to the economic crisis in Greece and an “egoistic” view on the part of Norwegians who like going their own way.

The EU flag is especially limp in Norway these days. PHOTO: European Commission

The new poll was conducted by research firm Norstat for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). It indicates that if a referendum on EU membership were held in Norway today, fully 56 percent would vote “no.”  Only 30 percent would vote “yes,” while around 14 percent remain undecided.

That means that even if all the “undecideds” ended up voting in favor of EU membership, the “no” side would still win. And that’s what continues to make most Norwegian politicians afraid to put the EU issue on today’s political agenda.

Top officials of the Labour Party, for example, tend to favour EU membership and Labour dominates Norway’s current three-party coalition government. But EU membership wasn’t even a major campaign issue during last year’s elections, and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (among those believed to support EU membership) has carefully kept it off the agenda since. His own party remains split on the issue, and his two fellow party leaders in the government he leads (Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left and Liv Signe Navarsete of the Center Party) are firmly opposed to EU membership, so the issue is suppressed for the sake of government unity.

That continues to rile the Conservative Party (Høyre), one of Norway’s few parties to publicly support EU membership. And they remain undaunted by NRK’s new poll, while professional advocates of EU membership blame what they call “Norwegian egoism” that prevents the country from joining the European community.

Trond Giske, the Labour Party minister for business and trade who long has opposed EU membership, told NRK Tuesday morning that Norway’s own economy continues to perform well and Norway is managing well on its own, outside the EU. The Greek tragedy that’s been unfolding in recent months points up the risks of the monetary union, and Giske clearly thinks it’s an advantage to remain uninvolved.

Norwegians have voted against joining the EU twice, in 1972 and in 1994. Given the current poll numbers, it’s unlikely a new referendum will be held any time soon. Norway, however, risks sharing the company of only Liechtenstein if Iceland joins the EU and withdraws from a key economic cooperation agreement (the so-called EØS avtale) that has given the three countries access to the EU’s inner market. That may put the EU issue back on the agenda, when renegotiation looms.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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