In September 2012, it was
the 40th anniversary since Norway said no to the EU, formerly known as the
European Economic Community (EEC) membership, for the first time. The historic
referendum split the country in two, causing agonizing debates. Some even
argued that approving the membership was the same as saying yes to the beast in
Revelation. Through clever conspiracy theories and mathematical analysis, it
was claimed that the EEC and its institutions had links to the number 666,
associated with the devil.
While these debates were
going on, the country went to the ballot box on 25 September 1972. Even though
there was an overwhelming parliamentary majority in favour of joining the EEC,
the result of the referendum was that 53.5% voted against membership with 46.5%
for it. The Norwegian Labour Party government led by Trygve Bratteli resigned
over the outcome of the referendum, and a coalition government led by Lars
Korvald took over.
Difficult to determine the ideological boundaries
Norway entered into a trade
agreement with the community following the outcome of the referendum. That
trade agreement remained in force until Norway joined the European Economic
Area in 1994.
On 28 November 1994, yet
another referendum was held, narrowing the margin but yielding the same result:
52.2% opposed membership and 47.8% in favour, with a turn-out of 88.6%.
Because these positions to a
great extent cut across ideological boundaries, various political parties have
dealt with the issue in different ways. The Centre Party has maintained the
most principled stand against membership, and though parties such as the
Conservative Party and the Labour Party support membership in their platform,
they allow for a minority to oppose it. Most dramatically, the Liberal Party
split over the issue in 1972 at the famed party conference in Røros and did not
reunite until 1989.
Complicating the matter has
been that a great variety of political and emotional factors have been raised
in the debate. Radical socialists oppose membership because of an opposition to
conservative economic and political forces that concern them within Europe;
opponents on the right are concerned about an infringement on Norwegian
culture; and others are opposed in principle to compromising Norwegian
So, the EU membership
crosses the traditional left-right axis in Norwegian politics. Since the Labour
Party lost its dominance in Norwegian politics, all governments have been a
coalition of several political parties. Because the EU membership issue almost
certainly would break up any conceivable government coalition (except maybe a
rainbow coalition of Labour and the Conservatives), no government has raised
the subject and no opposition party has stated any desire to do so either.
A political suicide for political parties
Currently, parties supporting
or opposing EU membership are to be found in both right-wing and left-wing
coalitions: as a result, most governments contain pro- and anti-EU elements. To
avoid a new debate on EU, anti-EU parties usually require “suicide
paragraphs” in government-coalition agreements, meaning that if some party
in the coalition officially begins a new debate on EU, the government will
fall. This has been true for both the previous centre-right Bondevik government
and the current centre-left Stoltenberg government.
The last general election
(2009) saw an increase in support for the two pro-European parties: the Labour
Party (Government) and the Conservative Party (opposition), whereas the Euro-sceptical
parties (both in the governing coalition and in the opposition) stagnated.
Current government sees EU as vital
Despite this frightening
trend and complicated effect of EU support, the current government has always advocated
the re-approachment, according to Conservative politician Kristin Clemet. A
recent white paper shows that the government, which also includes anti-EU camp
Center and Socialist Left Part, believes in a strong EU, both for the sake of
the world, Europe and Norway.
In the document it is stated
that EU “has shown the ability to act where the UN has had limitations.The
EU plays a central role in many international issues, such as climate, Georgia
conflict, the Balkans, Iran / nuclear issue, Somalia and the Middle East”.
Some of the statements in
this document are like the repetition of the Nobel Peace Committee Chairman
Jagland’s talk during the announcement of the peace prize:
– EU “has helped to
promote stability and solidarity in Europe… Also Norway enjoys the EU which
through expansion to 27 countries has contributed to democracy, political
stability and economic development of increasingly larger portions of Europe.
Cooperation or Dependency?
In the white paper, the
Norwegian Government also lists six main interests in foreign policy. And EU is
regarded as very crucial for Norway in all six areas, according to the
In security, the EU is
featured as one of the “anchors”. “EU security policy relevance
for Norway is great and will probably be bigger.” Government therefore
calls for a “broad and deep participation in the EU’s foreign and security
The document presented by
Clemet emphasizes how Norway has a “very deep dependency” of the
international legal order and the government sets its trust in the EU.
About EU and Norway Relations
Norway is one of very few
western European countries which are not a member of the European Union. Norway
has held a referendum on the issue of EU membership twice, first in 1972 and
then again in 1994. On both occasions, Norwegian people rejected membership.
As a consequence, Norway is
not a Member State of the EU, and the relationship with the Union is therefore
based on other forms and means of close contact and co-operation. This
co-operation has enabled Norway to maintain economic and political co-operation
with the EU and its Member States.
The EEA-Agreement is by far
the single most important agreement regulating the relationship between Norway
(and the two other EEA EFTA States Iceland and Liechtenstein) and the European
Union. The purpose of the agreement is to enlarge the EUs internal market to
also comprise the EEA EFTA States, and it does so by creating a common ”European
Norway has also signed up to
the Schengen Agreement, and is thus participating in the co-operation on common
passport and border control, as well as several other issues within the EU
policy area of Freedom, Security and Justice.
Another area of very close
co-operation between Norway and the EU is in foreign and security policy, where
Norway as a NATO-country has signed up to the Berlin+ accord on co-operation
between EU and NATO on deployment of resources and development of policies.
Norway is also participating
in a whole range of EU programmes and initiatives, for example within the
fields of research, education and culture.