Norway faces possible change in relations with EU after election
While the upcoming elections in Norway could very well lead to a cooling of relations between the country and the European Union, some experts suggest that this may not be the case.
After eight years of pro-European center-right government, polls suggest the Scandinavian country is heading for a change of government.
A left-green coalition in one form or another is expected to emerge victorious, with the main opposition Labor Party relying on the support of several Eurosceptic parties to secure a majority in parliament.
In its remote corner of Europe, Norway is not a member of the EU, but it is closely linked to the bloc through the agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA).
The agreement gives Norway access to the common market in exchange for the adoption of most European directives.
The Center Party and the Socialist Left – the Labor Party’s closest allies, which together have around 20% of voter support – have called for the marriage of convenience to be dissolved.
“The problem with the deal we have today is that we are gradually transferring more and more power from the Storting (the Norwegian parliament), from the Norwegian lawmakers, to the Brussels bureaucrats who are not responsible,” said the leader. of Center Party Trygve Slagsvold Vedum in a statement. recent televised debate.
Defending the interests of its rural base, the Center Party wants to replace the EEA with trade and cooperation agreements.
However, Labor leader Jonas Gahr Store, who is set to become the next prime minister, does not want to jeopardize the country’s ties with the EU, by far Norway’s biggest trading partner.
“If I go to my wife and say ‘Look, we’ve been married for years and things are going pretty well, but now I want to look around to see if there are any other options.’ . No one (in Brussels) is going to pick up the phone “and be ready to renegotiate the terms,” Gahr Store said during the same debate.
Running with the same metaphor, Slagsvold Vedum replied, “If your wife cheated on you every day, maybe you would react.”
The EU, a “difficult negotiating partner”
Initially, Brexit gave Norwegian Eurosceptics a breath of hope. But the difficulties in disentangling relations between Britain and the EU put the brakes on things.
“In Norway we have seen that the EU is a very difficult negotiating partner and even a big country like Britain has failed to gain much in its negotiations,” said Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
While Norwegians have twice rejected EU membership, in referendums in 1972 and 1994, a majority is in favor of the current EEA agreement.
During the election campaign, the EU issue was gradually put on the back burner as the Center Party – which briefly dominated the polls – saw its support wane.
The nature of Norway’s relations with the bloc will depend on the distribution of seats in parliament, but experts generally agree that little is likely to change.
“Labor will surely be tough on the need to keep the EEA deal going,” said Johannes Bergh, a political scientist at the Institute for Social Research, “even if that means making concessions to other parties in other areas.”
Closer cooperation on climate?
It is possible that common issues, such as tackling climate change, will bring Norway and the EU even closer together.
“Cooperation with the EU is very likely to strengthen due to the climate issue” which “could become a source of friction” within the next coalition, Sverdrup suggested.
“Even though the past 25 years have been a period of ever closer cooperation, and therefore can be expected to likely continue, question marks remain” regarding the future ties of Norway with the EU, he said.
These likely include the inclusion and strength of Eurosceptics in the future government as well as the ability of coalition partners to agree on all EU issues.
Meanwhile, Brussels is watching with caution.
The EEA agreement is “fundamental” for relations between the EU and its partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, according to EU spokesman Peter Stano.
But for the rest, “we do not speculate on the possible results of the elections and we do not comment on the different positions of the parties”.