Pro-EU movement in shambles

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Proponents of Norwegian membership in the European Union (EU) are few and far between these days, and the organization promoting EU membership is itself in crisis. Its leader is quitting and economic support is hard to find.

The EU's flag isn't flying very high in Norway these days. PHOTO: EU Commission

Trygve G Nordby, who took over as secretary general of the pro-EU Europabevegelsen just 18 months ago, confirmed last week that he was leaving his post and opting to become a consultant instead. He claimed that he was still an active supporter of EU membership, but admitted it had become difficult to promote the issue and muster support.

“It’s hard when no one wants to put it on the political agenda,” Nordby, age 57, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “Even many of those who still support EU membership aren’t enthusiastic about a new debate on the issue.”

Paal Frisvold of the pro-EU group called Nordby’s departure “sad.” He said he and Nordby had managed to build up an organization covering the whole country, made it “more politically relevant,” challenged some of the EU doubters on the left side of Norwegian politics and established a resource group to evaluate Norway’s economic agreement that gives the country access to EU markets (the so-called EØS avtalen that costs Norway hundreds of million of kroner every year).

“But when a man of his age wants more flexibility for his own projects, I respect that,” Frisvold said.

Norwegians have twice rejected EU membership in national referenda, in 1972 and 1994, and politicians since have been reluctant to bring up the issue again. Support for the EU remained relatively high, though, until the past few years when it has sunk like a stone, not least since the global finance crisis and serious debt problems within the EU started to emerge. Many Norwegians now seem relieved their country is not part of the EU, with recent public opinion polls showing as few as 25 percent of voters still favouring EU membership. That’s been highly satisfying to the farmers’ lobby and other protectionist interests who long have fought EU membership and the obligations it would bring.

Frisvold, based in Brussels, admitted that it’s been difficult to drum up financial support for the organization from Norwegian companies and individuals. “A European cooperation plagued by crisis and with great social unrest doesn’t make it easy to raise funds for our cause,” he told DN, adding that the current left-center coalition government’s truce not to bring up the divisive issue doesn’t help. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour Party is itself split on the issue, while his government partners, the Center Party and Socialist Left (SV), are firmly opposed to EU membership.

Nordby has had a widely varied career, including top posts at the Norwegian Red Cross, Norway’s refugee council, its immigration agency UDI and within politics. He’ll continue in his current job at Europabevelsen through the end of the year, or until a new secretary general is found.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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