By Sara Karadash
There are no countries that have applied for EU-membership as many times as Norway. The first two applications came in 1962 and 1967, but Norway decided to withdraw them both due to Charles De Gaulle’s veto against Great Britain’s application to EU membership. Not long after, in 1970 and 1992 Norway applied again – this time two referendums were held to decide the outcome. In 1972, Norway held a referendum on joining the then-European Community (EC), but the proposal was rejected by a majority of voters. In 1994, a second referendum was held on joining the EU, but once again the proposal was rejected, this time by a slightly larger margin.
The EEA and the EFTA
Despite the outcome of the 1972 and 1994 referendums, the Norwegian government refused to let go of the EU-membership “dream”. In the years following 1994 the Government worked hard towards maintaining a close relationship with the European Union. This relationship has developed through the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows Norway to take part in the Union’s internal market and other policies, and at the same time to maintain some authority over its own affairs. Along with other non-EU member states such as Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, Norway is also a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Norway’s sovereignty and autonomy
With this much interaction with the European Union, you might wonder why Norway hasn’t become a member of the European Union yet. There is no single answer to this question, but various reasons why many Norwegians may be against EU-membership. Firstly, the concerns about loss of sovereignty and autonomy. In this regard, it is important to remember that Norway was ruled by Denmark for 400 years. Due to Denmark’s defeat during the Napoleonic wars, Norway was handed over to Sweden, and remained under Swedish rule until 1905. Not long after, World War I and 2 broke out. Along with many other countries,Norway was occupied by the Germans in the Second World War so, once again, the little country was in the enemy’s hands – until the end of the war. For this reason, many Norwegians do not like the idea of giving up a part of their sovereignty or autonomy to become EU-members.
The high price of fishing industry and agriculture
Secondly, Norwegian agriculture and fishing industries both played significant roles in the 1972 and 1994 referendums. The Norwegian farmers and fishermen were concerned about the potential impact the EEC could have had on their businesses, basically their livelihoods. Many feared increased competition from the member states, which would have harmed their independence and economy. All of this led to a strong campaign against the 1972 referendum. Moving on to the 1994 referendum, the campaign argued that joining the EU would have meant accepting the Common Fisheries Policy, which would have harmed both the Norwegian fishermen and the coastal communities. The point this argument arises is still valid today as it was back in the 1972 and 1994 referendums. This is because in Norway sea areas are six times the size of land areas, and ocean-based industries account for almost 40% of its total value creation, and as much as 70% of its exports.
What about Millennials and Gen Z?
Since there hasn’t been a new referendum on joining the European Union since 1994, generations such as Millennials and Gen Z haven’t had a chance to vote or express their opinions in a referendum. But would the outcome be any different? One thing is almost certain, and that is, the reasons for voting no are not the same today as it was 30 years ago. Norwegian people, such as me, are proud of their fishing industry, and it is no surprise that the oil discovery in the early 1960s helped improve the economy a lot. As an oil-producing country it is highly unlikely that Norway would want to harmonize the oil-producing laws with the rest of the EU. In my opinion, the generations today are more concerned with protecting the fishing and oil industry, and for that reason I believe that an EU-membership will take away some of the autonomy Norway has over these industries. After seeing what Britain had to go through when exiting the EU, I also believe that the opinions of many Norwegian citizens stand even stronger on the “no” side as for EU-membership.
Norway also has pro-EU citizens
On the other hand, let’s not forget about the Norwegians who support the idea of becoming a member of the European Union. Many of the pro EU-members in Norway see membership as an opportunity for greater economic and political integration with Europe. They also address the issue that Norway doesn’t have the right to vote for proposals in the European Union, but still abides by most European laws and regulations. An EU-membership might help Norway secure their own interests in the European Union and not just “following orders”. Many young people also believe that Norway could find its natural place in the European Union since it belongs to Europe both geographically and culturally speaking. Indeed, up to these days Norway is one of the few countries located in Europe not to be part of the Union.
Is there a future for Norway and the EU?
Whether to join the European Union or not still remains controversial in Norway. The reasons for Norway’s rejection of EU membership are complex and varied. It is difficult to make a generalization about what is typical for all Norwegians, as opinions and attitudes towards the European Union can vary greatly among individuals and can change over time. Personally, I strongly believe that it is up to each Norwegian citizen to decide their stance on EU-membership based on their own values and beliefs. However, it is a fact that Norwegian EU-membership has not been brought to the table since the last referendum, neither does it look like it will be addressed any time soon, as most of the citizens support the status quo.