Project Fear and the Norway option


When those planning the “Remain” campaign drew up their strategy, they had one huge obstacle to overcome – the fact that other countries, notably Norway and Switzerland, had remained outside the EU and yet prospered as well or better than the countries who had joined.

Norway in particular represents an obviously attractive model that Brexit campaigners can point to as a desirable future. So the Remain campaign has poured a great deal of negative publicity effort into discrediting the “Norway option”.  But the two main stories that they chose to use now turn out to be completely false.

The starting gun of this rubbish-Norway campaign was an article, published in The Guardian on 27 October 2015, written by none other than Espen Barth Eide (pictured above) who served as Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from September 2012 to October 2013.

Eide’s article was headlined “We pay, but have no say: that’s the reality of Norway’s relationship with the EU.”

It contains two claims which have been repeated often since, as they come from such an authoritative source (including being repeated by David Cameron.) First that Norway has to contribute to the EU budget, even though it’s not in the EU, and second that Norway has adopted about three quarters of all EU legislation, even though it has no influence over the framing of that legislation.

Eide wrote: “Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and choose the Norwegian way can hence correctly claim that a country can retain access to the single market from outside the EU. What is normally not said, however, is that this also means retaining all the EU’s product standards, financial regulations, employment regulations, and substantial contributions to the EU budget. A Britain choosing this track would, in other words, keep paying . . . ”.

And again, “We have incorporated approximately three-quarters of all EU legislative acts into Norwegian legislation – and counting.”

Both statements are wrong.

Norway does not contribute to the EU budget.  This is best illustrated by the EU itself in its infographic showing contributions from member states here.

What Norway does pay for are services and programmes of the EU in which the Norwegian government chooses to participate.  These include, for example, humanitarian relief programmes and technology initiatives such the Galileo GPS satellite project. The important point about these payments is that they are a matter of customer choice. Norway might equally well decide not to participate, to originate its own programmes or to participate in someone else’s projects, as it sees fit.

This was also confirmed by Atle Leikvoll, Norwegian Ambassador to the EU, speaking to the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee on the 5th of November 2014 when he told MEPs that  Norway doesn’t pay for the EEA which grants them access to the EU Single Market. Instead, Norway voluntarily paid 1.8 billion to help ‘reduce social and economic disparities’ in the European Union. (See a YouTube video of Mr. Leikvoll’s speech here.)

Regarding the adoption of EU legislation, the figure of “three quarters of EU legislation” is equally misleading. According to the secretariat of EFTA, of which Norway is a member, 10,862 acts have been incorporated into the EEA (EFTA-EU) Agreement since its inception in 1992. Taking into account the expiration of time-limited regulations  there are now 4,957 EU acts remaining in force.  However, the number  of EU laws currently in force  stands at 23,076. So Norway (and other EFTA members) have thus adopted 21 percent – one in five, rather than three quarters of EU laws. Again, in many cases whether to adopt EU legislation has been a matter of choice – Norway has done what it considers to be in its own best interests.

It is, of course, extraordinary that a former Foreign Minister of Norway should make such careless mistakes in presenting the facts.

However, Mr Eide is no longer a member of the Norwegian government. He is now managing director of the World Economic Forum –  whose members include 1,000 of the world’s top corporations, global enterprises usually with more than US$5 billion in turnover.

It is, of course, major multinational corporations, with their powerful lobbying influence, who have most to gain from the UK remaining in the EU and who have most to lose from Britain leaving.

An update on 16 June 2016

Several people have challenged the facts reported here, so I wrote to the current Norwegian Ambassador to the EU asking if she would clarify whether Norway contributes to the EU budget and whether Norway is compelled to make payments to the EU by EEA treaties. I’ve received the reply below from Wera Helstrom, head of communications of the Norwegian mission to the EU.

As you’ll see, Ms Helstrom confirms that Norway does NOT contribute to the EU budget and that Norway is NOT compelled to make any payments via EEA treaties.

“Dear Richard

In the EEA Agreement the Contracting Parties agreed on the need to reduce social and economic disparities within the EEA. The EEA Agreement also states that the EFTA States shall establish a Financial Mechanism to contribute to these objectives. This is described in article 115 and 116 of the EEA Agreement. The financial mechanism is known as the EEA and Norway Grants. Negotiations have since the entry into force of the EEA Agreement taken place between the EU and the EEA EFTA States several times, and an agreement on a programme period for 2014-2021 was signed on 3 May 2016. As earlier explained, these grants are not contributions to the EU budget.

Norway’s participation in various EU programmes/agencies is made possible by the EEA Agreement and other bilateral agreements, and for those programmes/agencies that we have agreed to participate in, we are obliged to pay our part of the funding for these. These programmes/agencies are part of the EU and financed through its budget.

I hope this is clarifying.

Kind regards,
Wera Helstrøm”


Update on 17 August 20016

A third charge brought by the Remain campaign against the Norway Option is that, in order to gain access to the single market, Norway has been compelled in its agreement with the EU to accept the free movement of EU citizens.

This claim is completely false.

What Norway has negotiated with the EU is a trade agreement under which Norway must accept the free movement of EU workers, not the free movement of EU Citizens (which is what the UK and other member have to accept.).

What is the difference? If you’re an EU citizen and you want to move to Norway to live and work, you have to have a job first. And when you arrive and start living in Norway, you can’t bring in your wife and family, or husband and family, unless they, too have jobs.Norway is thus a much less attractive target for economic migrants seeking a permanent new home.

This is almost certainly the explanation of the fact that, although Norway has a large and thriving immigrant population (16%) only the Polish immigrants come from an EU country. The rest of the immigrant population are from non-EU countries (The largest other immigrant groups are Lithuanians who mainly came as labour immigrants, followed by Somalisand Eritreans who mainly came as refugees.)

It is clearly the case that if Norway can negotiate an “EU workers only” trade agreement with the EU, then so can Britain.


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