Stoltenberg blocks EØS alternatives

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has confirmed his government won’t launch any studies of alternatives to Norway’s main trade agreement with the EU, known in Norway as the “EØS-avtale.” That should hush up his government partner who’s been complaining about the EØS pact, at least for now.

Liv Signe Navarsete, leader of the small Center Party that’s part of Stoltenberg’s Labour-led government coalition, launched a new round of objections to the EØS agreement last week in newspaper Aftenposten, and called for serious consideration of other means of gaining access to EU markets. Both Navarsete and her party are struggling to boost their standing among voters, and Navarsete was seizing upon new polls that show record low support for the EU. She also claims “grass roots” support for scrapping the existing pact between Norway and the EU, on the grounds it has far exceeded its mandate and gives EU regulations too much influence in Norway.

Navarsete’s party has support for its anti-EU and anti-EØS positions from the third member party of the government coalition, the Socialist Left (SV). The pro-EØS Labour Party, however, dominates the coalition and Labour officials quickly rejected Navarsete’s attempt to reconsider it. Stoltenberg confirmed dismissal of her initiative at a pre-Christmas meeting with reporters on Wednesday.

Stoltenberg said he respected the Center Party’s objections, but noted that both Navarsete’s party and SV have twice accepted the government platform that preserves the EØS pact, both when their coalition was formed in 2005 and when the government was reelected in 2009. Their reelection was largely based on voter support for Labour, since both SV and the Center Party had lost backing at the polls.

“We have to learn to live with issues that the three parties in the government have different views on,” Stoltenberg said. Newspaper Aftenposten, which Navarsete used last week to launch her anti-EØS effort, noted how Stoltenberg claimed Navarsete was not speaking on behalf of the government when she called for alternatives to the EØS pact. The government’s platform instead builds upon the EØS agreement, according to Stoltenberg.

“We have no plans to study alternatives to the EØS agreement,” Stoltenberg said. “The agreement serves us well.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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