Norwegians back their deal with EU

Bookmark and Share

Norwegians still don’t want to join the European Union (EU), but there’s little if any desire among them to scrap the trade deal they have that gives Norway full access to the EU’s inner market. Any hopes for a “Norwegian Brexit” seem dashed, according to the results of a new survey released this week.

Norway’s trade deal with the EU got a new burst of support in a survey showing that very few want to scrap it. PHOTO: European Commission

Only one of every six Norwegians wants Norway to withdraw from the trade deal provided through Norway’s membership in the Europeaan Economic Area (EEA/EØS). The survey conducted by research firm Opinion for news bureau ANB also showed that 50 percent of those questioned answered “no” when asked whether they want to pull out of the EEA/EØS agreement, while 33 percent answered that they were unsure.

“This is a sign that Norwegians have a secure and clear relation to the EU,” Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre told ANB. Støre and other Labour Party leaders long supported full membership in the EU, but he’s backed away from that following disagreement within the party.

Støre has remained firm in Labour’s support for the EEA/EØS deal, however, and Labour emerged as the party with the lowest percentage of those wanting to scrap it. Only 10 percent of Labour Party members want to do so, according to survey results. “Norwegian policy has embraced the agreement since the mid-1990s, and Labour has helped guarantee a good agreement,” Støre told ANB. “Folks have registered that.”

Skeptics remain
There’s also strong support within the Conservative Party for what’s called the EØS-avtale (Europeisk økonomisk samarbeid, European economic cooperation agreement) in Norway. Both Labour and the Conservatives, however, face disagreement from their respective political partners.

When Labour shared government power with the farmer-friendly Center Party and the Socialist Left party (SV) from 2005 to 2013, they put the EU membership issue on ice while Center and SV had to live with the EØS trade pact. Neither Center nor SV like how it forces Norway to accept most all EU directives including those that have liberalized trade. The Center Party’s agricultural constituency, for example, wants to maintain the tariffs they enjoy that protect them from competition from cheaper EU imports. Fully 30 percent of Center Party voters want to scrap the current EØS deal and have rallied for a “Norwegian Brexit” of sorts, according to the survey. While SV’s leadership also wants Norway to withdraw from the EU trade deal, meanwhile, only 14 percent of its voters wanted to do so in the survey.

On the conservative side of Norwegian politics, the Progress Party has objected to the deal because of its members’ concerns over how it allows citizens of all EU and EEA countries to move to Norway for work. Fully 38 percent of Progress Party voters answered “yes” to the question of whether Norway should pull out of the deal. Only 29 percent answered “no.”

Hans Andreas Limi, leader of the Progess Party’s delegation in Parliament, readily admitted that the EØS issue is “difficult” for the the party: “It’s all about trade of goods and services,” which Progress supports on a free and open basis, “but we see that since so many new countries have become members of the EU, we face challenges regarding work migrants, and, not least, export of our welfare programs.” Limi said the party supports the trade deal, but still wants to renegotiate portions of it.

Other critics who still favour full EU membership claim the EØS deal is akin to taxation without representation. It obliges Norway to send hundreds of millions of kroner in financial support to the EU, as the price for full EU market access, while also accepting EU directives and regulations that Norway has neither been part of forming, debating or approving, since Norway has no vote at the EU.

The bottom-line support among voters for the EU trade deal, however, is significant at a time when top Norwegian politicians are closely following Britain’s negotiations to withdraw from the EU. The ultimate Brexit deal that Britain strikes can affect Norway’s own deal, while Norway also must negotiate a new trade deal directly with Britain. Berglund