Norway would like to help forge a solution to the UK’s single market dilemma, says Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, Norwegian minister of EEA and EU affairs, in an interview with EURACTIV Slovakia.
Elisabeth Vik Aspaker is responsible for coordinating work on EEA matters and relations with the EU at Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Aspaker is also Minister of Nordic Cooperation.
Aspaker spoke to EURACTIV.sk’s Editor-in-Chief, Radovan Geist.
The UK government may trigger Article 50 next spring, and formally start Brexit. What are Norway´s priorities in this process?
It is in Norway’s interests to maintain our close trade policy cooperation with the UK at the same level as we have today, with the same level of access to the British market. At the same time, we intend to maintain the EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU.
Norway would like to have the opportunity to be included in common solutions between the EU and the UK in areas that affect the internal market. This applies to both permanent and transitional solutions. Because Norway is so closely integrated into the internal market through the EEA Agreement, we are not an ordinary third party, and we have a legitimate expectation to be involved in negotiations that affect the internal market.
Could the United Kingdom re-join the EFTA?
Norway is prepared to enter into a dialogue with both the EU and the UK on future agreements and possible transitional arrangements when that time comes.
In June, Premier Solberg said to the UK: “Don’t leave, you won’t like it.” Is there a possibility that the question of EU membership gets back on the political agenda in Norway?
The question of EU membership is not on the political agenda in Norway today. There is a majority also in the Parliament behind the EEA Agreement. It secures Norwegian businesses full access to our most important market, as more than 80% of our exports go to the EU.
The EU is increasingly diverse; it is possible that in many areas, future integration would not proceed at the level of 28 (or 27) countries, but in smaller groups, for example on tax policies, some aspects of social policy, migration, further fiscal integration, etc. What does this mean for Norway?
An EU moving at different speeds and integrating in differing constellations is nothing new. Norway, as a non-member, has managed to maneuver in this landscape so far, and I am confident we will be able to also moving forward.
It is very important for us though, that any further integration of the single market happens in a cohesive manner. I hear the same message from all member states as well as the institutions in Brussels.
We need to keep the integrity of the single market in order to promote jobs and growth. Norway is a part of this market through the EEA Agreement and an unhindered access to all the 30 other members is something all sectors of Norwegian society depend upon.
How does the Norway see EU plans for deeper defence cooperation? Are there any fears that it might weaken the NATO?
NATO is the cornerstone of Norway’s security and defence policy. NATO has one toolbox, the EU has another set of political tools. We need them both. Hardly any security issue is exclusive to one or the other. Closer cooperation would strengthen European stability and security – and benefit us all. This includes a strengthened cooperation between institutions, in particular between the EU and NATO.
Being outside of the EU, but part of the Common Market and cooperation in some other areas, how does Norway see the EU’s goal of strengthening the Common Foreign and Security Policy?
The EU has a broad toolbox. We are pleased to contribute to this as a member of Schengen, the EEA and as a close partner on common foreign- and security policy issues. We regularly stand with the EU in statements and measures, the restrictive measures on Russia being a case in point.
The EEA Agreement facilitates biannual political dialogue on foreign policy matters since 1995. Our foreign minister meets the EU Presidency foreign minister twice a year, there is frequent contact with the EU’s High Representative / Vice President on the Middle East (AHLC) and other issues, and there are regular meetings between the heads of government.
Norway’s have participated in EU civilian and military crisis management operations from 2004. Norway has also taken part (2008, 2011, 2015) in one of the EU Battlegroups. In 2006, we were the first country outside the EU to enter into a cooperation agreement with the European Defence Agency (EDA).