The most comprehensive international co-operation Norway participates in is through the EEA agreement (the European Economic Area). This is a collaboration between the three EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway with the 27 member states of the European Union (EU). It is based on a multilateral agreement that ensures Norwegian citizens and companies access to the EU’s internal market with free movement of people, goods, services and capital. The fourth EFTA country, Switzerland, has chosen to maintain bilateral trade agreements with the EU and has opted out of the EEA agreement between the two free trade areas EFTA and the EU.
- What is the EU and what is the EEA?
- Why is Norway in the EEA?
- What challenges does the EEA agreement pose for Norway?
2: What is the EU and what is the EEA?
The EU is an international organization that over time has developed into what can be called a transnational political and administrative system for intergovernmental and supranational cooperation between independent states. This means that co-operation within the EU challenges the sovereignty of the Member States in a completely different way than in other international organizations.
The EU has a number of common political and administrative institutions, which place strong guidelines on Member States’ policies. In addition, parts of EU co-operation are based on a supranational legal system that takes precedence over judicial decisions in the Member States when they are in conflict. That is why we also call parts of the intergovernmental cooperation in the EU supranational or transnational cooperation. The European Union was not really established until 1993, when what was formerly called the European Communities (EC) received a new treaty basis through the implementation of the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty) . EU co-operation is currently based on three treaties, while the EEA agreement is a treaty between the EU and EFTA.
Cooperation between the 27 EU Member States is based on three pillars (pillars, see p.3), with different treaty bases and decision-making procedures for each pillar (see figure). The first pillar consists of what were the three original Treaties of the European Communities: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) from 1952, the European Economic Community (EEC) from 1957 and the Atomic Energy Community from the same year. These were merged into the European Community and signed in Rome on 25 March 1957, but were originally three independent treaties with three different political and administrative governance structures.
The Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community expired after fifty years in 2002. The first pillar therefore today consists only of the EEC and Euratom. The Maastricht Treaty on European Union also established two new pillars: one for the EU’s common foreign and security policy (pillar two) and one for Justice and Home Affairs co-operation, what is today called Police and Justice co-operation (pillar three).
The EEA agreement is only covered by the first pillar and here again only by the EU Economic Community (EEC). However, through the incorporation of the Schengen Agreement on Passport Freedom and External Border Control for the EU into Norwegian law on 25 March 2001, Norway is also linked to the third pillar of Union co-operation. The EEA agreement has been called a pure management agreement , which gives Norway full access to the EU’s internal market and responsibility for and duty to guard the EU’s external borders. But since Norway is not a member of the EU, Norwegian politicians and voters do not have any influence on the political decision-making processes that form the basis for this cooperation. The influence on the EU’s decision-making processes on the Norwegian side can only take place through the European Commission’s expert groupsand other bodies in the EU involved in the preparation or management of cases. This has led to the statement «when the EEA agreement is signed, the policy is over. Now the rest is just law ».
The European Commission is the EU’s executive body and can be compared to a government in one of the Member States. But unlike a government, the Commission, as it is usually just called, is not accountable to a popularly elected assembly such as the Storting in Norway. It is designated by the governments of the Member States and shall work on the preparation and management of political matters adopted by the representatives of the Member States in the Council of the European Union, often referred to simply as the Council, and by the directly elected representatives in the European Parliament, often referred to only as Parliament.
The Commission’s area of responsibility is limited to the first pillar. This is where we find the institutions in the EU that have the political power and administrative authority to act on behalf of the community internally and on behalf of the Member States externally. For example, in negotiations within the World Trade Organization (WTO), with third countries on issues related to development cooperation and the like or with regard to the EEA agreement. Under the first pillar, only the Commission has a formal right to submit proposals for legislative amendments or new laws. Here, too, most decisions are made by a qualified majority in the Council and a simple majority in Parliament.
The authority of the European Court of Justice has also been added to the first pillar. It operates under Community law enshrined in the two Treaties mentioned above. The European Court of Justice is the final court of appeal for decisions taken in the national legal systems of the individual Member States. In addition, the European Court of Justice must ensure that political decisions taken in the Council and Parliament do not run counter to the Treaty treaty basis.
3: Why is Norway in the EEA? (HHD 08-8)
Twice Norwegian governments have taken the initiative for Norwegian membership of the EC and the EU and negotiated agreements with the Commission. The agreements have since been legitimized through consultative referendums – in 1972 for the EC and in 1994 for the EU. Both referendums showed that the majority of those eligible to vote did not support the government’s view; the negotiated agreements were rejected. In connection with the negotiations prior to the referendum in 1994, the Norwegian government, and a majority of the representatives in the Storting, believed that Norway’s relations with the EU member states were so extensive and important that an agreement had to be negotiated with the Union regardless of the outcome of the referendum. membership.
The agreement was to ensure access to European markets for Norwegian products and continued co-operation with the European states and within individual sectors in EU co-operation, for example in research, education and culture. The result was the European Economic Area (EEA). The purpose of the agreement is set out in Article 1 of the text of the agreement:
The purpose of this Association Agreement is to promote a lasting and balanced strengthening of trade and economic relations between the Contracting Parties, with a level playing field and compliance with the same rules, with a view to establishing a uniform European Economic Area , hereinafter referred to as the EEA.
- In order to achieve the objectives set out in paragraph 1, cooperation shall, in accordance with the provisions of the Agreement, include:
- free movement of goods, persons, services and capital (the four freedoms)
- the establishment of a system that ensures that competition is not distorted and that the rules are complied with in the same way, and
- closer cooperation in other areas, such as research and development, environment, education and social policy.
Through EFTA cooperation, Norway had a free trade agreement with the EC from 1973. This was a bilateral agreement, which was primarily to abolish customs duties on industrial goods. When the twelve Member States of the EC implemented the Single Act in 1987, the basis for the EC’s bilateral agreements with non-Community states was changed.
The Single Act meant that it was decided to establish an internal market in the EC. The aim was to create a common regulatory framework to promote trade between Member States and increase the mobility of persons, goods, services and capital across national borders within the Community. This is known as the four freedoms of European cooperation. Until the implementation of the Single Act, these were tried to be promoted through what has sometimes been called negative integration .
Negative integration means that the Member States joined forces to promote integration by reducing barriers between themselves. With the Single Act, instruments were also introduced that laid the foundation for what has been called positive integration in the EU. That is, the EC states agreed to strengthen cooperation in areas related to the working environment, research and development, environmental protection and economic and social equalization. In this way, they created new conditions for bilateral cooperation between the EC and the EFTA states. The result was that negotiations were initiated between the two organizations in order to bring about a broader European economic cooperation area with common regulations in key fields.
For Norway, an agreement on trade and economic relations on equal terms became particularly important when Finland and Sweden joined the EU on 1 January 1995 because:
- 75 per cent of Norway’s exports and 70 per cent of imports in 1995 came from the EEA area .
- European economic and political cooperation in EFTA lost its significance after all countries in this free trade area, with the exception of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, became members of the EU. The EU states at that time had a total of more than 370 million inhabitants (today 492 million), while the EFTA states in the EEA area had less than five million.
- The political and administrative Nordic co-operation changed character after Denmark, Finland and Sweden became members of the EU and only Iceland and Norway were left out.
- The EEA agreement opened up for participation and influence in important areas for Norwegian policy and administration, such as research and education, environmental protection, consumer issues, working life policy and employment, and social issues more generally.
4: The EEA agreement and challenges for Norway
The EEA agreement was signed by the member states of EFTA and EC on 2 May 1992 and has been of great importance to Norwegian business and industry during the years it has been in operation. Exports and imports to the EU have increased. In 2005, around 80 per cent of total Norwegian exports went to EU countries, while around 70 per cent of imports came from there. The year before, close to 80 per cent of foreign investment (FDI) in Norway came from the EU; just over 60 per cent of all Norwegian investments abroad went to the EU.
The EEA agreement provides a uniform European economic area of cooperation between the EU and the EFTA states. Norwegian citizens and companies will be treated equally with EU citizens and companies in the EU within the areas covered by the EEA agreement. The challenges for this collaboration are that important aspects are left out. The EEA Agreement does not cover :
- participation in joint bodies in the EU such as the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice
- The EU’s customs union, ie participation in the EU’s common trade policy towards non-member countries
- EU common agricultural policy
- EU common fisheries policy
- development policy
- regional policy cooperation
- economic policy and monetary union
- the common foreign and security policy
- justice and home affairs, but as mentioned, Norway and Iceland have a separate agreement on participation in the Schengen co-operation for the abolition of personal control at the borders between the participating countries.
The Commission’s proposals for regulations can and often are changed in connection with the Council’s and Parliament’s consideration of the proposal. Here, Norway has no opportunity to influence the processes except through informal contacts and channels. It is therefore important for Norwegian politicians and bureaucrats, not least those stationed in Brussels and in the capitals of the individual Member States, to maintain good contact with representatives of the Commission, the Member States and MEPs, through dinners, meetings or written input.
The European Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance play a key role in the development of EU co-operation, while the EFTA Court is of crucial importance for how the EEA Agreement is interpreted in the case of Norway. After legal acts have been adopted in the EU and subsequently incorporated into the EEA Agreement, Norway can influence the application of the rules and the development of rules that takes place through the courts’ decisions.
In areas that are important for the EEA Agreement, the three EEA states in EFTA and the EU states have the same right and opportunity to provide views on questions of interpretation in cases that are brought before the courts. In the case of national courts in the EU states, they have the opportunity, and under certain conditions, to ask the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of the acquis communautaire where this is relevant to cases pending before national courts. But the European Court of Justice only rules on EC legal matters in the case and leaves it to national courts to make the final decision.
The EFTA Court has a similar role vis-à-vis national courts in the three EEA states, and Norwegian courts have independent access to refer questions to the EFTA Court. This takes place as part of the court’s work with specific cases and is not part of the government’s work with the EEA agreement. Norway is nevertheless entitled to submit submissions in referral cases to the EFTA Court in order to contribute to the development of rules and the necessary clarification of rules.
According to VAULTEDWATCHES, Legal uniformity in the EEA, which is the biggest challenge for this co-operation, is ensured by the agreement’s system for monitoring and judicial control. The Commission ensures that the EU states comply with their obligations, which also include the EEA agreement, while the EFTA Surveillance Authority , ESA (EFTA Surveillance Authority), ensures that the EEA states in EFTA comply with their EEA obligations. In the event of a dispute between a Member State and the Commission as to whether the obligations of the Agreement have been complied with, the matter may be referred to the Court of Justice or the Court of First Instance for a ruling.
The same applies if ESA and one of the EEA States in EFTA disagree as to whether the obligations in the EEA Agreement have been complied with. The case is then brought before the EFTA Court for a decision. ESA applies the same criteria and procedures as the European Commission when it supervises that the EEA Agreement is implemented and complied with in the EEA States. In accordance with the EEA Agreement, the Commission and ESA shall work closely together on this.
5: EU legal basis
The common legal basis currently amounts to between 80 and 90,000 pages, depending on the language in which it is written, and comprises just under 25,000 legal acts. This is far less than what the nation state legal systems among the EU member states operate with. Of the 25,000 acts, fewer than 6,000 are binding European laws and regulations. In addition, agreements with third countries and international organizations as well as the case law of the European Court of Justice are also considered part of EC law.
6: EEA rules in Norwegian law
An important part of the EEA work is the incorporation of new EEA rules into Norwegian law. Until March 2006, this applied to approx. 5300 legal acts, which the EEA states and EU member states had agreed to be part of the EEA agreement. The content and consequences of them vary across areas. Two to six percent of all legal acts that are incorporated each year require a change in the law in Norway.