Why is Norway reluctant to join the European Union?

Author: Rubén Ruiz Calleja

Norway, a State whose integration in some European policies is significant, has not reached the meeting point between the intentions of the successive governments to join the European Union, and the permanent reluctance of Norwegian citizens, who have twice rejected Norway’s accession in two referendums.

Oil transforms Norway

Until the end of the First World War, Norway was one of the poorest countries in Europe, where agriculture, livestock and fisheries were the main sources of income. At the beginning of the 20th century, this country discovers the potential of water, and uses hydroelectricity to develop industry, which becomes the first energy source in Norway. Later, in the decade of 1950, the development of chemical industry and the mining of minerals cause an economic boom in the Nordic country. However, the discovery of deposits of oil in the North Sea in 1969 and exploited during the decade of 1970 has made Norway one of the richest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of 64.000 euro and becoming the world leader in the Human Development Index.

Norway: the welfare system postpones Norwegian accession to the European Union

Norway considers that its economic success is not only a consequence of its energy resources, but also to the way in which these resources have been managed. Thanks to this income, this State has the second largest sovereign wealth fund, 740.000 million dollars, which would correspond to 150.000 dollars for each Norwegian citizen, a figure that has allowed this Scandinavian State to repay the total amount of its debt. Moreover, the government of Norway points out its model to manage the income coming from oil: even if the enterprise in charge of exploiting the resources is not Norwegian, benefits of this exploitation are property of the State. Oil represents for Norway 80 per cent of its exports; and without being a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), this State represented in 2012 the seventh world oil exporter and the second of natural gas.

Norway is looking for its place in Europe

In April 1962, Norway applies for the first time for its accession to the European Economic Community (EEC), one year later than Ireland, United Kingdom and Denmark. However, negotiations with theses candidate States come to a halt because of the reluctance of French President, General Charles de Gaulle, to the British accession. In spite of everything, these four States insist on their European vocation and reapply in 1963 to join the EEC. Accession treaties are signed in January 1972. Ireland, United Kingdom and Denmark ratify these treaties and join the EEC in 1973, but 53,5 per cent of Norwegian citizens reject it in a referendum in 1972. Despite this refusal, this Scandinavian State does not resign itself to stay outside the European Communities and reapply in 1992. Negotiations start one year later, but a new referendum in 1994 (52,2 per cent vote “no” again) stops the pathway of Norway towards the European Union.

Currently, the basis of relations between Norway and the European Union are established in its European Economic Area (EEA) membership. Since this Agreement entered into force in 1994, this treaty links the Member States of the European Union to those which are part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) except Switzerland. All of them form a common internal market, which ensure free movement of people, goods, services and capital. EU legislation relevant for the EEA is incorporated into this Agreement and is transposed into the national legislations of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Norway also takes part of a large number of EU agencies and programmes in several fields, and as a member of the EEA and EFTA, Norway contributes financially to the economic and social cohesion of the EU. The EEA Agreement includes cooperation in areas such as research and development, education, social policy, environment, consumer protection, enterprise policy, tourism and culture. However, the EEA does not cover the Common Agricultural Policy and Fisheries (although some provisions on some aspects of these areas are included), the Custom Union, the Common Trade Policy, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Justice and Home Affairs (although EFTA States are part of the Schengen area). Therefore, legislation regarding the European market is also applied in Norway.

In addition to Schengen, Norway takes part of Europol and Eurojust as well, and it works together with the EU in police missions such as in Bosnia. The Nordic country also cooperates with Frontex for the management of the external borders of the EU. Norway’s external border is extremely important for the European Union, as the agreement creating the Nordic Passport Union abolished internal border checks between Norway and Sweden. Therefore, Norway’s external border represents, at the same time, the external border of the European Union. We have to stress that this State is considered by the EU as a State with which Europe can also work together in some areas such as energy of climate change.

Past and present: waiting for the EU accession

 After two referendums in 1972 and 1994 for Norway’s accession to the EU, with the majority of Norwegian population against joining the Union, this issue has been set aside in this country. Although the political parties keep on referring to the EU membership in their political programmes, a new referendum will not be hold in the short term, which in all probability would have a new “no” as a result, particularly in a difficult economic situation where Europe finds itself right now.

 The high level of welfare of Norwegians is not the only reason of citizens’ reluctance to the EU accession. The recent memory of this nation is fundamental to understand why Norway does not want to be more involved in the EU.

 Centuries of forced union with Denmark and, next, with Sweden until its independence in 1905, have led Norway to view with some scepticism some proposals such as the plan of Aristide Briand in 1930 for a European Federal Union. After the united kingdoms of Norway and Denmark, even though under Danish rule, the further Swedish domination from 1814 to 1905 is perceived by Norwegians as a humiliation. At that time, peasants were basically the majority of the population, a nation without noblemen since Denmark left Norway. On the other hand, the important Swedish nobility, inspired by French nobility, showed contempt for Norway’s representatives coming to Stockholm, which provoked the rise of Norwegian nationalism. In the Second World War, Norway suffers German occupation with an ambiguous position of Sweden. Nevertheless, the way of understanding nationalism during the war and the traumatic consequences for the main involved nations were not the same as in Norway. That is why after 1945, Norwegians did not considered so necessary to take part of the united Europe that was being founded and to forget nationalisms that had led to the disasters of the war.

 Currently, Norwegians’ reluctance to the EU accession can also be explained if we take into account the high level of welfare in this Nordic nation. The lack of interest, the fear of losing sovereignty and the belief that citizens can lose resources if they join the EU (e.g. in the field of fisheries), are also strong reasons for understanding Norway’s reluctance to take the final step towards the European Union.



About Rubén Ruiz Calleja

Alumnus of the College of Europe (Natolin) - Marie Skłodowska- Curie Promotion 2011-2012.
This entry was posted in European Union and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why is Norway reluctant to join the European Union?

  1. John Rimell says:

    Norway thrives through refusing to join the E U gang.

  2. US Expat says:

    I really don’t care terribly much what Norway does. Join the EU or not, Norway’s future – and the future of Europe – is not an issue for the US. I’m sure they’ll work it out effectively. When the US departs NATO, Europe will do whatever they have to in order to secure their future. Or they won’t. Not my problem.

  3. Geir Severinsen says:

    The main problem with the current arrangement is that Norway has given large rights to the EU to determine the laws in Norway without having political influence over the making of theses laws.
    Many say that Norway has implementering more EU laws han most EU member states.

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