EU faithful face huge uphill battle

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Support for the European Union (EU) has never been very high in Norway and those who still want Norway to join are now more in the minority than ever. This poses huge challenges for the struggling Europabevegelsen, but it’s soldiering on through crisis and constant opposition.

EU colors aren't flying high in Norway these days, but those still supporting membership aren't giving up. PHOTO: EU Commission

Even its leader, Paal Frisvold, was quoted this week in newspaper Aftenposten as referring to the EU as “madness” during a panel debate in Halden. There will be trouble, he noted, when 27 different European countries, 17 of which share the same currency, need to make things work. But Frisvold is not giving up – he just figured he needed to take the bull by the horns and confront the various crises before moving on to strengths the EU still represents.

Some EU proponents, like former prime minister and current Norwegian Nobel Committee leader Thorbjørn Jagland, have called the EU the best peace project in modern history. In the midst of all its crisis meetings and crisis packages, Frisvold noted, the EU does still represent a much-needed unifying and stabilizing factor in troubled times.

Norway’s relation to the EU is not an issue that’s going to disappear either, stresses Frisvold. Even at a time of record low support for joining the EU, when fully 72 percent of Norwegians oppose joining the EU and only 12 percent are in favour, the EU will remain important.

The EU debate that Frisvold took part in was sponsored by the Foreign Ministry and held in a city near the border to Sweden, which has been an EU member for several years but hasn’t joined the monetary union and doesn’t use the euro. Halden was thus, as Aftenposten noted, about the closest the organizers could get to EU territory itself.

Perhaps that alone posed enough of a threat that the debate attracted a majority of opponents to joining the EU. A local chapter of the Europabevegelsen’s main opponent, the organization Nei til EU, even seized the opportunity to hold a board meeting at the site. Otherwise, turnout was relatively low with Aftenposten reporting just 32 people in attendance.

Membership in Frisvold’s group has fallen to 4,479 as of this week, compared to around 30,000 for Nei til EU. The situation was opposite during the height of campaigning before the last Norwegian referendum on EU membership in 1994. Now the “Ja (Yes)” side is the underdog, and Frisvold has a big job ahead of him to drum up new support for the EU. An upcoming evaluation of the EØS avtale, the agreement that sets the terms of Norway’s economic cooperation and integration with the EU, may help, with Frisvold eager to show how Norway, by remaining outside the EU, has no real influence over EU decisions even though it remains bound by them through economic integration.

“What frightens me is that the EØS evaluation will be so heavy and full of legalese that folks won’t understand it,” Frisvold said. “I want a sort of Idol program about the EØS, a quiz on what we know. That would be really fun.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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