Partnering the European Union

Requires registration
Teija Tiilikainen / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Teija Tiilikainen / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Elsbeth Sande Tronstad / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Elsbeth Sande Tronstad / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Juhana Aunesluoma / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Juhana Aunesluoma / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä

Wed 22.3.2017 at 14:15-15:45
Auditorium of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Ankkurikatu 5, 4th floor, Helsinki

A number of alternative arrangements allowing partaking in the European integration in the absence of EU membership has emerged in the past. The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement ensures that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein take part in the EU Single Market. They also participate in the Schengen cooperation. Switzerland is deeply embedded in the EU through bilateral treaties, and Turkey is a member of the EU’s customs union. What are the opportunities and challenges of the so-called Norwegian model? And what are the implications of the existing arrangements to the UK’s desire to establish a new kind of partnership with the EU?

Outside and inside: Norway’s relations with the EU – Partners for Europe
Elsbeth Sande Tronstad, State Secretary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway

Comments: Juhana Aunesluoma, Research Director, Network for European Studies, University of Helsinki

Chair: Teija Tiilikainen, Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Summary of the seminar: 

Director of FIIA Teija Tiilikainen chaired the seminar. She found the topic of the partnerships of the EU relevant for today: Brexit negotiations are soon starting, and we do not know what kind of partnership will be created with the UK. Norway is one of the key partners of the EU, with an extensive partnership in place since many years. Various countries, such as Switzerland and Turkey, have different models of partnership. How does this fragmented system of partnerships affect the EU? Tiilikainen asked.  

State Secretary Elsbeth Sande Tronstadfrom the Norwegian Foreign Ministry reminded the audience that her party – the Conservative Party – supports EU membership, but joining the EU is not politically feasible due to public opposition. However, the current EEA framework is still supported by the majority of Norwegians. Tronstad disagreed with those who advocate leaving the EEA agreement and renegotiate a partnership in the style of Switzerland, which has several agreements.

The scope of Norway’s current agreement is very wide. The EEA agreement integrates the country as a full member of the European single market, just like Iceland and Liechtenstein. It is a dynamic agreement: Norway continually incorporates relevant EU legislation. The secured market access represents around 80% of Norwegian exports, making the EU the most important market for Norway.

Norway is also a member of the Schengen Area and related instruments like the Dublin system. Tronstad noted that Norwegian citizens have benefited from the possibility of easy travel afforded by the membership which was at first intended to save the open borders between the Nordic countries. Schengen and Dublin have faced challenges in recent years, but they still provide the framework for addressing migration. Giving protection to people fleeing persecution is part of Norway’s values and its international obligations, and it strives to be engaged in this area, according to Tronstad. Norway has a positive view of revising the Dublin regime, it provides resources to authorities, and participates in the relocation scheme with Italy and Greece. It is also involved in efforts in Africa to address the root causes of migration.

Norway also cooperates with the EU in the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The cooperation is less formalised, yet very close and intensive. Norway has aligned itself with the Union’s restrictive measures towards Russia. It is involved in EU crisis management. Underlying the foreign policy cooperation are the values that Norway shares with its EU partners. Norway also benefits from a more stable and prosperous world at large. 

Norway is both an insider and an outsider with regard to the European Union. The EEA is the cornerstone of Norway’s position vis-a-vis the EU, but certain sectors such as fisheries and agriculture lie outside of its scope. However, in Schengen affairs Norway sits at the table when decisions are made. Norway has opted to adopt relevant legislation even if not obligated to do so. This freedom is even more pronounced in the area of security: when it suits Norway, it participates. Norway has followed the EU almost every time when it comes to the adhesion to restrictive measures against Russia, even when this affects Norway negatively. Norway’s influence in its key interest areas is limited in its relationship with the EU, but the country benefits from the European Commission’s willingness to listen to inputs.

This special position has a dual nature. The EFTA countries and the EU always agreed that the single market is one package, where the four freedoms must be accepted. Norway makes f ex financial contributions to the poorest EU states and pays an EEA-fee Norway sees this as an investment, Tronstad said.

Even if Norway has rejected EU membership, Tronstad assured that the country shares the attachment to being European. This commitment will safeguard its partnership from opportunistic attacks, she believed. Norway needs the EU to succeed both inside and outside of Europe, she concluded.

Juhana Aunesluoma, Research Director of the Network for European Studies at the University of Helsinki, noted how the EEA, which was originally planned as temporary, has turned out to be one of the most resilient arrangements in Europe. We often look at the effect of the partnership on the outside partner, but how do the existing partnerships – and the future partnership with the UK – change the EU? European integration has always been differentiated, with special arrangements such as those that have been created for the EFTA countries. Nevertheless, there was an idea that everyone was moving in the same direction, if at different speeds. This has now changed: Brexit means the end of a multi-speed Europe. Partnerships may thus become permanent arrangements – a huge change that is slowly dawning on us, Aunesluoma stated.

As expectations are shifting, there is room for challenging these partnerships: in Norway, some say the EEA agreement should be renegotiated. The more there are different partnership options, the more diffused the power of the EU becomes. The Union is losing its role as a norm-giver, the striking ability to set the rules of the game. The EU’s power rests in creating legislation and informal policies that the countries implement. It is also a way of relegating costs to outsiders. It was once hoped the EU could exert a similar influence globally, but there is now a refocusing on geographical Europe.

Asymmetry with the partners is a feature of the EU’s power. Norway adapts EU norms, but the relationship is smooth. The UK on the other hand is the second largest economy of Europe and very different from Norway. How will the adaptation of norms take place? Britain will seek to have influence in the Union’s internal matters, using its diplomatic skills to maneuver with EU member states, perhaps mirroring the Russian way, Aunesluoma predicted. When partnerships start to shape the EU (and not the other way round), in order to retain norm-giving power, the EU will probably consolidate around a core of older, larger member states, perhaps around the Eurozone or Schengen.