Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is How we invented Freedom and why it matters.
Sheesh, europhiles, how many times? No British Eurosceptic is suggesting that we precisely mimic Norway’s relationship with the EU. Norway’s deal is better than full membership; Switzerland’s is better than Norway’s; but the United Kingdom, being a larger market, as well as an existing member, can expect better terms than either.
The Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) campaign has latched onto a new tactic: to pretend that the only alternative to EU membership is Norway, and then line up some Norwegian Eurozealots to pooh-pooh that option.
Hence these wearisome interventions by a former Norwegian minister called Espen Barth Eide, who keeps popping up in British media to tell us that we mustn’t copy the world’s second-richest nation. Hence, too, David Cameron’s first major intervention on the BSE side, to warn against a “Norway-style future”.
It’s worth stressing that Norwegian public opinion is solidly against EU membership. And I mean solidly. Here is a summary of the polls going back to 2003. As you can see, the pro-EU side has never once been in front and, over the past five years, opponents of membership have led by three-to-one or more.
In other words, Eide is an untypical Eurofanatic. It would be rather as if a Norwegian newspaper presented Peter Mandelson as representative of Britain.
More to the point, Eide’s claims are demonstrably false. He keeps asserting, for example, that Norway has “no presence when crucial decisions that affect its citizens are made.” In fact, Norway is independently represented in the international forums where the rules are set, such as the WTO, the ILO and UNECE. Britain, by contrast, is represented on these bodies by the European Commission.
Nor is Norway excluded from the EU’s own decision-making process. As Anne Tvinnereim of Norway’s Centre Party – who, unlike Eide, is a current minister – explains: “We are not there when they vote, but we do get to influence the position. Most of the politics is done long before it gets to the voting stage”.
In any case, Norway isn’t obliged to adopt EU laws. Although its Europhile ministers tend eagerly to transcribe anything that comes their way, their treaty provides for a “right of reservation”. When, for example, they didn’t like the EU’s Postal Services Directive, they declined to implement it.
But the really monstrous lie – the lie constantly repeated by BSE – is that Norway must apply “three quarters of EU laws”.
Three quarters? Let’s look at the figures. Using the EFTA Secretariat’s official statistics, a study found that, between 2000 and 2013, Norway applied 4,724 EU legal instruments. Over the same period, the EU itself adopted 52,183 legal instruments. That’s not 75 per cent; it’s nine per cent.
Iceland, like Norway, is a member of the European Economic Area. Last week, in reply to a parliamentary question, it found that, between 1994 and 2014, it had adopted 6,326 of 62,809 EU legal acts – ten per cent.
Incidentally, why does the Prime Minister keep using Norway as his example when he is actually in, you know, Iceland? Presumably because the Icelandic government, unlike the Norwegian, reflects its voters’ opposition to EU membership. Its prime minister, the centrist Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, cheerfully declares that Iceland is doing very well as a result of being outside the EU, owes its extraordinary recovery from the banking crash to that freedom, and has no intention of joining.
Iceland and Norway have ostensibly similar deals, but Norway chooses to opt into many more EU initiatives than Iceland does. Its per capita contributions are therefore higher: not because it is obliged to pay more, but because it wants to participate in, for example, common international aid projects.
Switzerland gets a better deal than either Iceland or Norway, though, and it’s worth taking a moment to explain why. Switzerland, like Iceland and Norway, is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). All three states have full access to the single market, while being outside the EU’s jurisdiction on agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs, defence, immigration and criminal justice policies. But there is a critical distinction: Norway and Iceland are members of the European Economic Area (EEA) while Switzerland is not.
The EEA was negotiated in 1992, when Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden applied for full membership of the EU. It was only ever envisaged as a transitional arrangement: a way to expedite harmonisation on the way to full accession. No one imagined that Norway would vote No to the EU, but still be in the EEA 23 years later.
Swiss politicians, unlike their Norwegian counterparts, listened to their voters. When Switzerland rejected EEA membership in a referendum in 1992, that was that. Although almost all the political parties had wanted to join both the EEA and the EU, they accepted the people’s verdict. With EU membership off the agenda, they sat down to discuss an alternative. Over the next three years, 120 sectoral treaties were negotiated, covering everything from lorry noise to fish farming.
In consequence, Switzerland has most of the benefits of full membership, but few of the costs. It is wholly covered by the four freedoms of the single market – free movement, that is, of goods, services, people and capital – but it is spared the regulatory burden of Brussels directives. When it harmonises its standards with those of the EU, it does so through bilateral agreement and following a deliberate act of the Federal Assembly in Bern.
Yes, Swiss exporters must meet EU standards when selling to the EU, just as they must meet Japanese standards when selling to Japan. But they are not obliged to apply these standards, except in some very special circumstances, either to their domestic economy, or to their non-EU exports. Being outside the Common External Tariff, they have pursued a much less protectionist policy than the EU and are now, among other things, negotiating a free trade agreement with China – something Britain cannot do while it is in the EU. Oh, and Switzerland makes only a token contribution to the EU budget.
Not that this prejudices its trade with the EU. The EU accounted for 64 per cent of Swiss exports in 2014, as against 44 per cent of British exports. In per capita terms, the discrepancy was far greater: $25,770 to $3,340. In other words, in population terms, the Swiss sell seven times as much to the EU from outside as we do from inside.
Why, then, don’t the Norwegians copy the Swiss? Why, 20 years on, do they keep the lopsided EEA agreement in place? Because their politicians – and here, at least, Mr Eide is typical – still hanker after eventual membership. Replacing the EEA with something more permanent would mean formally accepting that their dream was over.
So, to summarise, Norway has a much better deal than the UK, but Switzerland’s is better yet. There is no reason why, after Brexit, we shouldn’t get an even more attractive arrangement. We are 65 million people to Norway’s five million and Switzerland’s eight million. We run a massive trade deficit with the EU (but a surplus with the rest of the world). On the day we left, we’d become the EU’s single biggest market, accounting for 21 per cent of its exports – more than its second and third largest markets (the US and Japan) combined.
To be clear, both Norway and Switzerland are inspiring, beautiful, freedom-loving countries. They’re both in my top ten favourite nations. They are the two wealthiest states in Europe and, according to the United Nations (which measures literacy, longevity, infant mortality and the like) the two happiest places on Earth. Their deal with the EU would be a big improvement on where we are now; but we can realistically expect to do far, far better.