UPDATED: The European Union’s new organization for its foreign relations could mean an end to the relatively privileged status that Norway, which isn’t a member of the EU, nonetheless has enjoyed through the years. Norway has also been muzzled at the EU court in Luxembourg and is lobbying to regain a voice.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that Norway recently hasn’t been allowed to testify at cases brought before the EU court, even when the case can directly affect Norway’s own laws. EU court decisions can have important consequences for Norway because of its economic cooperation agreement with the EU (called the EØS-avtalen in Norway), but now only EU member countries are allowed to present their views in conflicts between EU institutions and member countries.
“We have taken this up with the EU Commission and are following up along with Iceland and Liechtenstein (the other two non-member countries covered by the EØS deal),” Hege Hoff of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry told Aftenposten. She said that the ability to intervene in cases affecting the EØS agreement “is important for us, and we have intervened in three cases earlier.”
Aftenposten had reported earlier, meanwhile, that the EU’s new foreign service organization called EEAS (European External Action Service) currently leaves Norway without its own so-called “desk” at the EU. A desk is a unit staffed by EU foreign service workers with special expertise in dealing with a given country, and responsible for the EU’s relations with it.
Instead, a preliminary overview unveiled by the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton doesn’t mention Norway on its own, according to Aftenposten. Norway and other members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) earlier were part of a department along with countries like the US, Canada and Japan, but now Norway has been placed in a group that encompasses Russia, eastern partnerships and the western Balkans.
While non-member countries like Turkey and Japan have their own “desks” at the EU, Norway is part of a desk that includes the other EFTA countries, reports Aftenposten. Norwegian officials had hoped Norway would get a desk of its own at the EU, but that hasn’t happened, at least not yet.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre earlier expressed some concerns that Norway’s position at the EU would be weakened after the re-organization of its foreign service. Now he seems to be downplaying any pending sidelining, however.
“The most important thing is contact and access, not the labeling or placement in an organizational chart,” Støre told Aftenposten. He added that it’s “positive” that the handling of the EU’s connections with Norway will be consolidated in one spot. “This can make it easier to get a broad dialogue and put various issues in perspective,” he claimed.
‘Close and good cooperation’
The Conservatives’ Ine Eriksen Søreide of the opposition in the Norwegian Parliament isn’t convinced. Eriksen Søreide, who heads the Parliament’s foreign relations committee, told Aftenposten she fears that the time when Norway could enjoy relatively privileged status at the EU is over.
“The EU has turned its attention towards expansion and not least towards China, and won’t use much time on countries (like Norway) that don’t want to be members,” Eriksen Søreide said. Norwegian voters have twice turned down proposals to join the EU, and recent public opinion polls reflect record low support for joining now.
Eriksen Søreide, whose party has long promoted EU membership to no avail, said she realizes the issue isn’t high on any party’s agenda right now and that a clear majority opposes joining. She believes that hurts chances of Norway getting any priority at the EU.
Støre continued to put a brave face on the matter. “Norway has, as always, a close and ongoing dialog with the EU and the EU’s foreign service, and I am confident the close and good cooperation will continue,” he said in classic diplomatic terms. He said he would have an opportunity to stress that cooperation at a meeting with Ashton in Brussels on Wednesday.