“Norway is fully integrated in Europe,” says Minister

20 years to the day since Norway voted against membership for the second time, Norway and the EU have a strong relationship

Photo: MPD01605 / Wikimedia Commons The EU flag flying in Karlskrona, Sweden, in 2011. Sweden joining the European Union in 1994 was a blow to the “no” campaign in Norway at the time.

Photo: MPD01605 / Wikimedia Commons
The EU flag flying in Karlskrona, Sweden, in 2011. Sweden joining the European Union in 1994 was a blow to the “no” campaign in Norway at the time.

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Vidar Helgesen, The Conservative Party’s (H) Minister of EU and EEA Affairs, was on a visit to Riga, Friday. He met with Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and other Latvian officials to discuss shared priorities.

January 2015 will see Presidency of the EU pass to the Eastern European country. The Norwegian official declared that the Nordic-Baltic region “offers much hope and opportunity in a Europe beset with major challenges.”

The Foreigner asked Helgesen about his experiences of being a minister in an “EU no” country.

“Norway is fully integrated in Europe, we are actually more integrated with the EU than the average EU member state: for example in terms of trade and labor immigration,” Minister Helgesen told The Foreigner in an email.

According to him, Norway-EU closeness is due to the fact that Norway is part of the single market, aligns itself with the EU in most foreign and security policy matters, and participates in major EU research and education programs.

The Minister also said he believes this makes Norway a “trusted partner for the EU.” However, Norway not being an EU member does present issues.

“Unsurprisingly, in promoting key Norwegian interests the challenge is to keep abreast of discussion and decision-making processes that take place around tables where we are not invited,” commented Minister Helgesen.

Liv Signe Navarsete MP, spokesperson on Foreign Affairs for the Center Party (Sp), and its former leader, explained the importance of Norway having said “no” for the second time in 1994.

Then Party leader Anne Enger led an intense campaign to secure this at a time when Sweden voted in favor of becoming members.

52.2 percent of the 88.6 percent of voters who turned out for the 27th and 28th November national referendum voted “no.” Current anti-EU membership feeling stands at 74 percent.

Keeping Norway outside the European Union was a struggle against a united elite. All the biggest companies, the leading political Parties, and the national media were in favor of joining, Navarsete explains. “If Norway had said yes to the European Union, we would have been a country with significantly larger social and economic inequalities,” she declared, highlighting Norway’s freedom when it comes to her own fishing and agricultural policies.

Center has traditionally been a Party popular with many Norwegian farmers. “Yes” to EU membership would have meant that many of the 50,000 food processing industry jobs in Norway “would have been lost.”

“Norway would also have been pushed to join the Euro. Losing the Norwegian Central Bank could have hurt our economy greatly, especially since economic cycles look different in Norway than in many parts of the EU,” said Navarsete.

She added that in her opinion, giving away national control is ill-advised if the aim is to ensure full employment.

EU and EEA Affairs Minister Vidar Helgesen stated that some of the most important tasks and priorities in his post are “promoting Norway’s key interests in Europe.” These are “security, economic competitiveness, energy and climate policies, research and innovation, and migration challenges.”

What developments would you like to see in the future?

“I share European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s declared wish to see an EU bigger on big things and smaller on small things.”

The Foreigner also spoke with EU Ambassador to Norway, Helen Campbell, about her thoughts 20 years on from the second “no.”

The Delegation of the European Union to Norway did not hold an official event. At the same time, she spoke about the climate and development at an event held by anti-EU membership organization Nei til EU.

“[EU-Norway] cooperation is as close as ever. We closely follow the EEA agreement, of course, and promote the Erasmus +, Horizon 2020, and Creative Europe trans-border programs,” said Ambassador Campbell. “We have very good cooperation with Norway on women and security, as well as the EU Common Security and Defense Policy Mission.”

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Dec. 5, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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