Solberg optimistic after British vote

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg was quick to congratulate her British counterpart Boris Johnson, after his Conservative Party’s landslide victory in Thursday’s general election. She thinks, like many others, that it will lead to more “predictability” after years of uncertainty, but others aren’t so sure.

Norway’s flag flies at the EU in Brussels when its leaders are visiting. Brexit, which now seems assured after the British general election on Thursday, will change Norway’s relations with the EU despite Prime Minister Solberg’s confidence in good relations with both the EU and Great Britain. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Juha Roininen/EUP Images

“When the Conservatives have now gained a majority (in the British Parliament) by a good margin, the chances rise that the British will leave the EU with an agreement,” Solberg stated early Friday. Others, including Johnson himself, have also claimed that the Conservatives’ surprisingly big victory gives him and the UK a much stronger mandate and more credibility in negotiating an exit deal with the EU.

Solberg noted that her government “has prepared for both ‘deal and no-deal,'” and claimed Norway also is prepared to implement its own bilateral agreements with the UK regardless of the result of Britain’s negotiations with the EU. She further noted how the UK is Norway’s single largest bilateral trade partner, “and we cooperated in a wide range of areas.” A deal, however, would “provide predictability, also for Norway and the Norwegian economy.”

Norway’s own “close ties” with the EU, through its trade and policy agreement as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA/EØS), mean that a new bilateral agreement with the UK “would need to be worked out in light of the future relations between the EU and UK.” That would seem to imply ongoing uncertainty, but Solberg stressed that Norway “wants a close relation with Great Britain also after they have left the EU and EØS. We look forward to develop the future relation between Great Britain and Norway,” and, presumably, with Johnson, whom Solberg has called “witty and funny.”

Concerns regardless of the election result
Some political commentators have noted that Norway had reason to worry despite the outcome of the British election. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) editorialized on Thursday, for example, that if Labour won on its radical social program, the UK’s economy would likely suffer from capital flight, a sagging stock market and a weaker British currency. That in turn would not have been good for Norwegian business, since Britain is such a big trading partner and Norway’s biggest single export market, not least for Norwegian oil and gas.

That didn’t happen, but now it’s all but certain that the UK will leave the EU, and many analysts believe that will also hurt the British economy. Norwegian exports would then suffer as well.

Brexit will also result in the EU having a new, close relationship with a non-member country that will continue to try to influence EU policy. That will put Britain in much the same position as Norway, but Britain is much bigger than Norway and is likely to have more clout and connections. Despite all the talk about great relations between Britain and Norway, they don’t always agree on trade policy, not least within agriculture. British farmers wanted to stay in the EU, and even recently complained about how Norway subsdizes its wool industry. DN recently reported how British wool producers think the Norwegian subsidies are illegal and have filed a complaint with the European free trade organization (EFTA)’s surveillance authority, the ESA.

DN editorialized that Brexit will undoubtedly make it “much more crowded” in the hallways outside EU meeting rooms, as Norwegian and British lobbyists jostle for position. “The British have much greater resources and often other interests than the Norwegians,” observed DN, which has also long editorialized in favour of Norway joining the EU and thus having a seat around the negotiating tables instead of being stuck in the hallways. Debate over EU membership is already being revived.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund