Against Breaches between the UK and the EU? Part III
6: «The Norwegian model»
In Norway, the British EU debate is closely followed. A change in British EU affiliation will probably have consequences for Norway as well. In addition, the main lines of the Norwegian and British EU approaches are fairly similar. Formally, the two countries parted ways in European politics 40 years ago when the United Kingdom became a full member and Norway was left out after the referendum. Since then, both countries have, in their own way, gained a reputation as EU skeptics and “footnote countries” .
The United Kingdom has special exceptions from important policy areas such as the euro and Schengen cooperation. Norway said no to membership for the last time in 1994. In both countries, the percentage of EU skeptics in the population has been consistently high.
At the same time, there is an alternative history of relations with the EU in both countries. Behind the EU-skeptical façade in the UK, there has been a quiet but extensive “Europeanisation” of public administration, business and civil society. The EU’s four freedoms have been implemented to a greater extent in the UK than in supposedly more “integration-willing” EU countries.
Here there are parallels to Norway: The European Commission recently established that abroad Norway is among the most effective in implementing legislation from Brussels ( see HHD 15 – 2011-12 ). In some areas, Norway is actually more integrated into the EU than some member states. In this sense, we can say that Norway and the United Kingdom share an identity as integration skeptics externally, but adaptable in practice . Where Norway, in the words of the European Commission, is ” outside and within ” the EU, the United Kingdom is in many ways ” inside, but outside “.
In the UK, there is now great interest in “the Norwegian model”, although Cameron has warned that such associated membership will not provide greater political room for maneuver or more real self-determination in the long run. Norway’s access to raw materials and a stable economy also give Norway a distinctive, favorable starting point for an “outside existence” .
Similarly, it is unlikely that the “British model” with membership with reservations will be able to be copied upon a Norwegian entry into the EU. Not only are many doors closed during the integration process, but as an economic and military power, Britain has more leeway and more impact in the EU than Norway can expect.
7: The way forward
Can the UK decide to leave the EU? The question engages in most camps. Both EU spokespersons and leaders say they want Britain to stay in the EU . After Cameron’s speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s diplomatic response was that the EU must sit down with Britain and look at solutions together.
Other EU partners are tired of the UK invoking special status. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated that it was impossible to choose “Europe à la carte”. That is, an EU where each member state has special agreements and chooses and rejects from the “menu” as it suits them. Fabius compared Europe to a football club and pointed out that if Britain is to join the team, the country can not suddenly decide to play rugby instead.
In the UK, according to SHOPAREVIEW, EU skeptics are pleased that “out of the EU” is being discussed as an alternative for the first time in a long time. Cameron’s promise of a referendum fell to good ground among EU critics in his own party. UKIP also said it was satisfied with the referendum, but criticized Cameron for not coming until 2017.
On the other hand, the government partner, the Liberal Democrats, has been clear that they do not like the development in the debate. After Cameron’s speech, Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was concerned and that both the speech and the referendum came at the wrong time in the face of the common challenges facing Europe. It signals that the coalition will find it difficult to survive the next election .
Labor and Ed Miliband, for their part, could have used the room for maneuver that has now arisen following the announcement of the referendum. But the party is having a hard time finding an effective counter-strategy. This is probably due in particular to the fact that the party was repeatedly criticized during Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s reign for not asking the people for advice on EU issues. Former Prime Minister Blair also said that Cameron’s promise of a referendum in practice is like “holding a gun to his head”.
At the same time, the way forward is paved with reservations: If the announced referendum is to become a reality, Cameron and the Conservatives must win the parliamentary elections in 2015. But if the party wins the election, it probably depends on support from the Liberal Democrats. If the referendum is to have a real “EU alternative” as Cameron has outlined, there must also first be a renegotiated agreement with the EU . But if the UK is to succeed in such a renegotiated agreement, it will be a long and laborious process.
In the meantime, Europe’s eyes are once again on Britain. Newspaper comments and professional articles about Britain as the “different country” in the EU abound. And in the UK, the mood is tense. Recent polls show that a majority of the British people want to leave the EU. But no one knows better than Prime Minister Cameron that the EU affair is dangerous waters to enter. It has killed many conservative British prime ministers before him, including Margaret Thatcher.