If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a Bruges Group event, or indeed a UKIP press conference, you will be familiar no doubt with the propaganda laid out at each which details how great the “Norwegian model” is and how it should be adopted by the UK. Which is why today’s speech by Vidar Helgesen, the Chief of Staff to the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, a Conservative prime minster no less, was so important.
Vidar started his speech talking about how as a child he revered Margaret Thatcher, to the point of hunting down printed copies of her speeches and endlessly re-reading them. In this context he discussed her infamous Bruges speech in 1988 (indeed the Bruges group takes its name from this event), recasting it in a way not usually heard. Helgesen reminded us of the parts of the speech that, by today’s Conservative Party standards anyhow, were actually fairly pro-European. Thatcher talked in 1988 about the importance of leadership in the EU, as a for instance.
The Norwegian then set about on his real task for the morning: to dispel the myths that have grown up around Norway and the EU, citing some of the disadvantages the country faces by being outside of the Union. Three-quarters of EU legislation is taken up by the Norwegian government, the major exceptions being fishing and agriculture policy. The reasons these are kept outside EU regulations, and indeed this remains the single biggest obstacle to Norway joining the EU, is that EU fishing and agriculture policy is not left-wing enough. In other words, Norwegian farmers and fisherman are worried about their subsidies dropping from their current standard down to a European Union level. There are other worries – protectionist in nature generally. All of which is food for thought for the Tories and indeed the centre-right in general.
Vidar also highlighted the Russian situation and the rise of far-left and far-right parties throughout Europe willing to cosy up to Putin (highlighting beautifully Putin’s trip to Hungary recently, during which he praised Soviet soldiers who fought to suppress the 1956 uprising, all while Orban didn’t even bat an eyelid). How in the face of such a force, European unity is all the more important.
In terms of bureaucracy, Helgesen pointed out that while some of the rules in the EU might seem strange or arcane to one or even several of the member states, it is better to have a set of rules that 28 countries can agree on than each one having everything they like but then not being able to actually trade with one another. This is key to how a single market works, a single market we always hear that UKIP and the right of the Conservative Party wants to keep Britain involved in. Also, Norway, while not an EU member state but part of the single market, has to abide by all these rules anyhow – while not getting a say on any of them.
In terms of funding, Norway has to buy into the market piecemeal – and Helgesen dropped a bombshell by saying the amount they may have to pay next year to have access to what they have access to may go up by 100%. So much for being out of the Union being a huge money saver.
On the issue of sovereignty, it was left to one of the British panellists, Sir Colin Budd, to remind us of a great Heseltine quote on the matter: “A naked man in the Sahara has absolute sovereignty. He also has no power whatsoever.”
Richard Evans says
Firstly Norway is a tiny country with a population of 5 million. Much of EU legislation is irrelevant as Norway doesn’t manufacture/grow/sell the goods or produce mentioned.
“Also, Norway, while not an EU member state but part of the single market, has to abide by all these rules anyhow – while not getting a say on any of them.”
Wrong. Check your facts http://www.efta.int/eea/decision-shaping
“In terms of funding, Norway has to buy into the market piecemeal – and Helgesen dropped a bombshell by saying the amount they may have to pay next year to have access to what they have access to may go up by 100%.”
In the ten years from 2004 to 2014 Norway paid 3.2bn Euros. In those same ten years we paid over 68bn Euros (and that’s after rebates etc). And remember that Norway is a far, far richer country than the UK, if they were members of the EU the costs would be far higher.
You have three substantive points – I will deal with each in turn:
1. The idea that because Norway is so small the legislation doesn’t affect them, or indeed because they are not big maufacturers the same applies, I have never heard made as an argument previously by anyone. As a result, I will look into this further.
2. Yes, EFTA members are consulted on legislation at an early stage. But they do not get to vote on it – nor can they lobby from inside of the EU institutions, only from the outside. I don’t think that would be a great deal for Britain, personally.
3. Your Norway contribution figure is kosher, but this 68 billion Euros, I am confused as to where you are drawing this from. In order to do a full cost analysis of what the UK puts in, you need to look at it cashwise (taking into account rebates), and then add back in what the UK gets in terms of subsides. So 11.3 billion Euros was the cash amount (including rebates) in 2014 – but the UK got a total of 6.6 billion Euros back in terms of funding to businesses, public services, etc. So the net was 4.7 billion. Still too big one could argue, but puts figures like 68 billion into perspective. Plus, the amount Britain has put in has grown over the last few years, thus has the gap. For instance, the UK put in 2.7 billion in 2008 – and that’s before adding back what the UK got from the EU in terms of funding. So I don’t see where you get 68 billion from.
Also, since you brought up the fact that Norway is a small country, I’ll throw it back at you. Norway has 5 million people, the UK 60 million – so the UK is roughly 12 times larger in terms of population than Norway. Multiply the 3.2 billion by 12 and you get 38.4 billion. So what the UK contributes to the EU is thus there or thereabouts what Norway puts in per capita – and the UK gets to be part of the central decision making process.
Steve Peers says
But whatever UKIP say about the Norwegian model, they don’t support it anyway, since the party policy is to oppose the EEA due to the free movement of persons being included in it.