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Surviving Brexit: twelve lessons from Norway

Publisert: 15. nov. 2017
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One year after the referendum, after losing its majority in the general election, the UK government is revising what Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson famously labelled the ‘Cake-and-Eat-It’ approach to Brexit. In this context, it might be worth asking if there is anything the UK can learn from Norway’s quarter of a century experience as a ‘quasi-member’ of the European Union. The first lesson is that no lessons apply. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Much the same can be said about European countries that opt out of the EU. Each has its own reason, and its own challenges. But with the exception of Greenland, all experience builds on states that have negotiated closer relations with the EU – not a departure. And back in 1982 it took Greenland three years to negotiate a deal with the far simpler pre-Single Market EEC. Having said that, Norway’s experience might still suggest some valuable lessons. The second lessons is that there is life outside the EU, and it can be quite good. But, non-membership should not be confused with non-integration and non-cooperation with the EU: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members of the Single Market through the European Economic Area; Switzerland take part by way of some 100 or so interlinked bilateral deals. If there is political will in the UK, access to the Single Market is feasible. Lesson three is a warning: The fact that both the UK and the EU are interested in free trade does not mean that this will be easy to achieve. Norway’s approach to participation in European integration without EU membership shows that it is easier to agree on policy than on politics and institutions. A stable and well-functioning relationship between the EU and the UK needs to be based on trust. In political life, trust is first and foremost guaranteed through institutions. The EU and its member states (including the UK) have always insisted that market access should be based on common rules, and that there must be some form of monitoring and dispute settlement mechanisms. It is inconceivable that the EU will accept agreements that dilute the role of the Commission in terms of oversight and the Court in terms of adjudication. The EEA system initially envisaged a joint court, but ended up with a regime that gives the EU institutions jurisdiction over joint cases. For Norway and Switzerland, institutional issues have caused delays and frictions. This is not surprising, as it goes right at the heart of the trade-off between market access, on the one hand, and national autonomy and self-determination, on the other. The UK should prepare itself for this delicate balancing act, and it should know where to look, as only the EEA-model, or some modifications thereof, meets the EU requirements. The Swiss model is by many seen as an ‘accident’, not to be replicated. The fourth lesson is therefore about the importance of implementation and adjudication. The EFTA Court and Surveillance Authority have jurisdiction in cases that only involve the EFTA states. Both institutions were purpose built for the EEA regime. (continue...)

  • Utgivelsesår: 2017
  • Språk: Engelsk
  • Tidsskrift: LSE Impact blog