When it comes to Norwegian politics, Venstre is one of the greatest supporters of the country’s EU membership, writes party leader Guri Melby. But, the party finds itself spending more time defending the European Economic Area than arguing for closer European integration.
This op-ed was originally published in ALDE Party's Liberal Bulletin in June 2023.
Since January 1994, Norway has belonged to the European Economic Area (EEA). Perhaps the most important international agreement for our country, it grants Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland full access to the internal market, on the condition that the EU market regulations are continuously incorporated into the EEA agreement. Crucially, the agreement gives Norwegian businesses access to the European Single Market on the same footing as EU businesses.
Equally crucial is that the agreement doesn’t grant Norway any formal influence on regulations affecting the Single Market. As you all know, these regulations are extensive, which creates a significant democratic deficit. This is one of the many reasons why I am convinced that Norway belongs to the European Union and should apply for full membership of the bloc.
2022 was supposed to be the year when the national debate on Norway’s EU membership would truly kick off. Faced with a drastically changed security situation in Europe following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, our Nordic neighbours Sweden and Finland announced their intention to join NATO. Given the unpredictable situation, it would only make sense for us – as Norway shares almost 200 kilometres of border with Russia – to follow suit with an EU membership application. This would send yet another unequivocal message of democratic strength to Russian and Chinese autocrats.
Public polls indicate that there is an increase in citizens’ support for EU membership. Instead of following this lead, however, our government is exploring ways to limit our cooperation with the EU. While ministers publicly state that the EU is more important than ever, leaked documents reveal that internal conferences have focused on arguing whether to decrease Norwegian contributions to EEA grants aimed at reducing social and economic disparities. Our government followed the EU’s lead in meeting with US counterpartts to discuss key economic issues, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, but my guess is that the EU had a stronger bargaining position than Norway, who negotiated alone.
The Norwegian government’s ambivalence towards the EU is the wrong medicine based on a poor diagnosis. Our times call for political courage, strategic foresight and policies that take us into a green, democratic future that grants people freedom and opportunities. We will get there with Europe and within Europe, as closely integrated as possible.