Norway to pull rug from under EU as eurosceptic party surges: Discuss alternatives!
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Norway has one of the closest working relationships with the EU of a non-member state. In 1994, it struck a deal that saw it promise to adhere to the bloc’s vast rules. From there on, it would also pay billions of euros in grants for access to the single market.
However, perception of Brussels in Norway appears to be changing.
In recent years, the Centre Party (Sp) – the country’s main eurosceptic outfit – has picked up in popularity.
It now wants a new, looser deal, and its energetic pursuit of a reset has put future relations with Brussels back at the forefront of Norwegian politics.
Last year, as Sp topped the polls, Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, Sp lawmaker and spokesperson on EU relations, outlined the group’s intentions on distancing Norway from the bloc.
He said: “We need to discuss the alternatives.
“The deal we have now is a bad one.”
His words echoed those of many Brexit campaigners in the run up to the 2016 vote.
For the EU, any flare up with Norway would add to the already unstable relationship it has with its northern frontier.
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Historically, both Sweden and Denmark have been averse to the idea of the EU and continue to dodge monetary union.
Eurosceptic parties in those countries are also edging into the mainstream.
Norway’s agreement – the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA) – allowed the country to retain more control over key parts of its economy, particularly its fishing grounds, but forced it to follow big chunks of EU policy over which, as a non-member, it has no say.
It is dissatisfied with this ever-evolving – new rules from the EU are also passed down to Oslo – outsourcing of political control that Sp is tapping into.
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In 2017, Erik O. Eriksen, a political scientist at the University of Oslo, noted in an analysis piece for the London School of Economics (LSE) blog that the so-called “Norway option amounts to self-inflicted subservience”.
On Norway’s decision not to join the EU in two separate referendums, Mr Erisken wrote: “Paradoxically, however, the ‘no’ vote has ended up undermining Norwegian sovereignty.”
Mr Gjelsvik has said Sp wants something closer to a “traditional trade deal like Canada has” – exactly what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wanted for the UK.
But if it seeks such an arrangement, Norway will likely be met with the same resistance in Brussels as was Mr Johnson.
However, if public opinion is anything to go by, Norway could be heading for just that.
According to Politico’s Poll of Polls, while Sp’s popularity ratings peaked in December 2020, it is again gaining traction.
Since mid-May to the present-day, Sp has climbed two percentage points while maintaining an upwards curve.
This is while the ruling Conservative Party has dipped, currently at 22 percent, and the Labour Party has stagnated at 24 percent.
It is all the more salient since Norway has its general elections in under two months, on September 13.
Currently, EU leaders hold that if a state wants access to its internal market, it must align itself politically with Brussels.
The EU has shown it is willing to risk a no-deal outcome rather than compromise on that fundamental idea.
However, it may never get that far along in Norway’s case.
According to Politico: “A majority of Norwegian lawmakers still oppose a negotiation of the EEA deal and are likely to do so after next September’s general election as well, analysts say.”
Even if Sp fails in acquiring backing for a full renegotiation of the EEA deal it currently has, it could still cause the EU a great deal of disturbance.
It is pushing hard to cut the amount Norway pays in grants to Brussels from the €2.7billion (£2.3bn) it paid in 2014-2021.
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