What we can learn from Norwegians (Daniel Hannan, 27/10/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Today, Norway’s king will take his leave of Britain’s queen. Both are monarchs, but only one is sovereign. The word “sovereignty” is often used nowadays as a loose synonym for power, but it has an exact meaning. In Norway, the 1814 constitution vests supreme authority in the Crown. In Britain, the 1972 European Communities Act shares sovereignty with the EU, which now accounts – depending on how you measure it – for between 50 and 80 per cent of our laws.

Sovereignty evidently suits the Norwegians. They are the richest people in Europe, with a GDP per head of £31,200, as against an EU average of £12,600. According to the UN, which measures infant mortality, literacy rates and so on, they are the healthiest and happiest people in the world.

We are forever being told that Britain is too small to survive on its own: a post-imperial state, a speck of land on Europe’s fringe, blah blah. This is bilge, of course: we are the world’s fourth largest economy and fourth military power. But it is instructive to consider the situation of a country that really is small, and really is on Europe’s fringe.

There are four-and-a-half million Norwegians, clinging to an icy strip of tundra on the uttermost edge of the continent. Yet, on every measure, they are outperforming their continental neighbours. At a time when France and Germany are struggling to comply with the Stability Pact, Norway is running an annual surplus of seven per cent. Its unemployment is less than half the EU’s. Its real interest rates are comfortably below those in the euro-zone. Its inflation is low, its trade booming, its stock exchange soaring.

A people two generations away from subsistence farming have become Europe’s new elite. Like blue-eyed sheiks, they buy vast houses in Chelsea which lie empty between their occasional visits to London (Norwegians, in the main, being tremendous Anglophiles).

How have they done it? Much of the answer has to do with the deal they struck with Brussels. Norway is a member, not of the EU, but of its penumbra, the European Free Trade Association (Efta). It participates fully in the so-called Four Freedoms of the European single market-free movement, that is, of goods, services, people and capital. But it is outside the Common Agricultural Policy; it controls its own territorial resources, including energy and fisheries; it decides its own human rights questions; it determines who may settle on its territory; it can negotiate free trade accords with third countries, and it makes only a token contribution to the EU budget.

Trade everything freely but your own sovereignty.

In Norway, EU pros and cons (the cons still win) (Ivar Ekman, 10/27/05, International Herald Tribune)

Jens Stoltenberg, the recently installed leftist prime minister of Norway, believes that his country should join the European Union. So do some of his rivals on the right. Even the often euroskeptical populists today say they are neutral.

So why is this increasingly wealthy North European nation remaining outside the fold at a time of broadening European integration? […]

At present, 54 percent of Norwegians oppose membership, according to a poll published Monday in the newspaper Aftenposten. Their opinion, analysts say, is intimately linked to the broad feeling here that oil-rich, high-growth Norway does not need an economically stumbling European club.

Projections show gross domestic product in Norway growing almost 4 percent this year, up slightly from 3.5 percent in 2004, compared with about 1 percent in the euro zone in both years.

Even the European Commission’s ambassador to Norway, Gerhard Sabathil, admitted last year that such figures posed a problem. “There are no economic arguments for Norway to join the EU,” Sabathil said in an interview with Aftenposten.

“But,” he added – and this is where those working for Norwegian membership get most of their ammunition – “there are arguments for Norway to become a member in order to have its voice heard on a European level.”

Today, Norway is part of the European Economic Area, a solution that gives the country and its companies access to the EU’s internal market. For most Norwegian businesses – the fishing industry is a clear and vocal exception – this arrangement is a necessity, with close to 80 percent of Norwegian exports going to the EU.

The flip side is that Norwegians have to abide by almost every piece of internal-market legislation while having no vote on these laws. In Norway, this has become known as the “fax democracy,” since Brussels simply faxes new directives for the Norwegians to follow.

“Because we’re not part of the decision-making process, we can’t take care of Norway’s interests in a good way,” said Svein Roald Hansen, chairman of the European Movement in Norway, the main organization working for Norwegian membership. “We’re left to lobbying other countries to make our views have influence.”

But the lack-of-influence argument has not been enough to inspire a wider Norwegian debate on Europe. Instead, most politicians avoid the EU question.

Norway’s voters have twice rejected EU membership in referendums – in 1972 and in 1994 – and most pro-European politicians fear that a third loss would kill the matter for the foreseeable future. “It would probably be received as if we had closed the door emphatically,” Stoltenberg said.

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