No easy retreat for UK from EU membership
WORLD VIEW: Reality of Norway’s link with EU should provide UK Eurosceptics with a political reality check
Reuters, Oslo, Wed: Norway’s law limiting single ownership of fish farming concessions to a quarter of its total is in breach of European Economic Area rules, the authority that monitors the co-operation of non-EU states with the EEA has ruled . . .
IT’S CALLED having it both ways. Having your cake and eating it . . .
The idea – the delusion – is that the UK could walk away from the EU, its “bureaucracy” and “usurping of national sovereignty”, and regain its autonomy, simply retaining its trading relationship and free access to markets and capital.
A return, the Eurosceptics argue, to the essence of what the EEC allegedly once was – in fact, never was – a trading bloc with no political dimension.
Easy, they say. There’s already a model. A relationship like independent Norway’s, some have been increasingly suggesting, as they whip up Tory backbench demands for a referendum on membership.
The Tory leadership, insisting still it remains pro-membership, has already conceded the referendum principle if it fails to succeed in persuading EU partners to “repatriate” a somewhat nebulous host of powers from Brussels to London.
A closer look at the “Norwegian model”, however, might add a touch of realism to the debate. Indeed, the Norwegians would cheerfully provide Eurosceptics with a copy of a most useful and candid independent study of the country’s relationship with the EU which Oslo commissioned earlier this year, “Outside and Inside”. Its title reflects nicely the paradoxical relationship – both in and out: Norway enjoys both the benefits and costs of membership and non-membership.
Norway, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein and the 27 member states of the EU, forms part of the European Economic Area (EEA), a treaty-based, open, common market for all 30. But at a price.
To ensure a level playing field, non-EU members are required to align their market-related legislation – and that ranges widely, from competition to the environment to social policy – with that of the EU.
In practice this means that when Brussels passes new laws it faxes them to the three, who then put them on their statute books. They may be consulted, but have no say.
And there is no reason to believe the 26 remaining members of the EU would not insist on as much from a departing UK if it wanted to retain its free EEA-like access to EU markets. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
In Norway’s case – its five million people narrowly declined full membership twice in referendums in 1972 and 1994 – it has now adopted three-quarters of what is called the acquis communautaire, the body of EU laws and procedures that new members have to implement, amounting to 6,000 legislative Acts.