EU threatens to punish Norway for breaching EEA agreement

  

Norway is failing to live up to its obligations as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), including imposing extra taxes on EU products and not implementing more than 400 directives, according to an EU report to be published later this year.

In the Commission draft report, which looks into the functioning of the EEA, the Scandinavian country is being criticised for imposing tariffs on EU products from 2013 and "resisted EU efforts for ambitious liberalisation" of the EU's single market.

According to the draft, obtained by EurActiv, 427 acts whose compliance date in the EU has expired, also remained to be incorporated in Norway by October 2012.

"This situation might thus lead to competitive advantages for operators based in the EEA-EFTA countries, and more fundamentally risks undermining the legal certainty and homogeneity of the single market," the report reads.

"This problem is of great concern for the EU side and should be solved as a matter of urgency," the report states.

'Selfish Norway'

Moreover, the EU also dislikes the fact that Norway has rejected several directives coming from Brussels. The Norwegian government has for example warned it won’t implement the EU’s postal directive about competitiveness for letter mail weighting less than 50 grams.

Danish MEP Bendt Bendtsen (European People's Party), who has been closely following the trade issues with Norway, told EurActiv the problems started in 2012 when Norway raised the price of hydrangeas from the EU by 72%.

Eventually, the extra taxes spread to EU food products such as cheese and meat.

Bendtsen said Norway is acting "selfishly" and that the taxes were put on EU goods "deliberately" as the Norwegian Centre Party, which is part of the Norwegian government, has for a long time pushed for the extra taxes.

"Norway only wants the cream on the cake," the MEP said.

Threaten with punishment

The EU’s foreign service and the Commission, which have the formal responsibility for the relationship with Norway through the EEA agreement, have confirmed that there is an increasing disapproval with Norway.

“This development worries us. We don’t like the backlog on implementing directives, and this is a case we are trying to deal with now," Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Norwegian TV2.

She confirmed that the EU is looking into the possibilities for sanctions within the EEA agreement's frame.

Leader of the pro-EU organisation Europabevegelsen Paal Frisvold said Norway risks exclusion from the European marine and cargo market and could lose cooperation on mobile roaming prices, making them more expensive in Norway.

However, Bendtsen said that the right EU punishment would be to hit Norway's fishing industry, or to take the step even further: "The consequence should be kicking Norway out of the EEA," the MEP said.

Stupid situation

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the country has a good relationship with the EU, but the fact that there are disagreements over individual directives is nothing new.

Erna Solberg, leader of the biggest opposition party, the Conservatives, said the Norwegian government doesn’t understand the EEA’s mutual obligations. She said Norway isn't active enough when it comes to its Europe policy and doesn’t use the opportunities in effecting the EU legislation enough.

“It is stupid that we have put ourselves in a situation where our closest partners obviously are frustrated with us,” Solberg said.

Potential impact on British EU debate

Bendtsen said the problems in the EU-Norway relations could eventually affect the ongoing British debate on whether to stay in or leave the EU.

Norway has previously been mentioned as a positive example of a non-EU member which still gets advantages and benefits of being part of the EU's single market.

However, in his EU speech last Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron asked whether it was in Britain's best interest and desirable for Britain to be like Norway or Switzerland – with access to the single market, but outside the EU.

"While Norway is part of the single market – and pays for the principle - it has no say at all in setting its rules: it just has to implement its directives," Cameron said. 

Timeline: 
  • End 2013: EU to publish review of the functioning of the European Economic Area.
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