EU demands airline safety compliance

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Norway is under pressure from European authorities to finally go along with new airline safety measures that went into force two years ago, but the Norwegian government is split over the issue because of sovereignty considerations. EU officials are losing patience.

Most agree that airline safety regulations should be standard all over Europe, but two of Norway's anti-EU government parties won't give in without a fight. PHOTO: SAS

“Norway has been dawdling long enough,” an unnamed EU Commission official told newspaper Aftenposten. “We have made it clear this can’t continue because this involves airline safety. We must ensure that the rules are the same all over Europe.

“In the worst case we could have an airline accident because the safety regulations are less strict in Norway than in other EU countries.”

Norway’s ambassador to the EU has been told that Norway must impose the new airline safety regulations as soon as possible, reports Aftenposten.

Bound by the EEA/EØS deal
Norway is not a member of the EU, but must abide by the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement (called the EØS avtale in Norway) that governs economic cooperation between the EU and Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It’s through that agreement that Norway is also supposed to abide by the EU’s rules in such areas as airline maintenance and education and certification of airline mechanics.

Although Norway went along with the EU’s safety rules for civilian aviation in 2005, it has balked at accepting a new round of stronger, more comprehensive regulations introduced in 2008. Those regulations decree that violations can lead to fines imposed on both persons and companies by the European Commission.

And that’s where the independent-minded Norwegians object, because Norway’s constitution maintains that only Norwegian authorities can impose such punishment on Norwegian citizens and businesses. Two of the three parties making up Norway’s coalition government, the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp), have always opposed EU membership and any potential assault on Norwegian sovereignty that arises through Norway’s deals with the EU.

That’s left the third, and dominant government party, Labour, in a bind. Labour is willing to accept the EU/EØS demands, with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre worrying that otherwise, Norway can become a “backdoor” for companies trying to avoid the stricter European regulations.

Even the state secretary from the anti-EU Center Party, Erik Lahnstein, admits that Norway would be best-served with common rules applying all over Europe. But he claims that Norway’s opposition to fines imposed by the EU Commission is an important issue in principle.

‘Ideological’ opposition rejected
European authorities reject such “ideological” opposition, with one official telling Aftenposten that “we can’t let ideology guide us when we’re talking about airline pasengers’ safety.”

The Norwegians offered a compromise solution that would allow Norway’s own civil aviation authority, Luftfartstilsynet, to be provided with the competence to issue any fines. The compromise would also call for the EU monitoring agency ESA to ensure that Luftfartstilsynet follows the EU rules.

No way, claims the EU Commission, which equates the proposed Norwegian compromise to allowing the fox to guard the hen house. There’s another principle at stake here, they argue, that countries subject to EU rules can’t give themselves fines. That authority is given, in this case, to the airline safety association EASA and the EU Commission.

So the issue remains deadlocked, but it’s expected Norway must eventually give in. Some observers call the Norwegian opposition “political play acting,” and that it’s most important that the same rules apply throughout the region.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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