High-stakes EEA talks underway

Between now and early April at the latest, the EU and the three other members of the European Economic Area (EEA) must come to terms over trade issues that result from the Union’s scheduled 2004 enlargement.

The EU is urging the three EFTA countries of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to increase their contributions to the Union twentyfold, with the bulk of the burden to fall on Norway. According to initial reports of the negotiations, the EFTA states take exception to the EU's markedly assertive approach.

According to the EU, the three EFTA countries should increase their contributions from an annual 24 million euro today to around 500 million. In exchange, they will enjoy continued and improved access to the EU's enlarged markets. During the current negotiations, the spotlight is especially on Norway. Besides the EU request for Oslo to foot almost all the bill, Brussels says that in exchange for continued access to the enlarged EU's fisheries markets, Norway should open up ownership of Norwegian fisheries vessels to EU citizens. This will likely rekindle tensions inside the Nordic country, which is considering holding a referendum on EU membership in 2010. Iceland, the other country seriously affected by the fisheries dispute, will hold general elections in May 2003.

Under the EEA Agreement of 1992, the European Economic Area must be enlarged simultaneously with the EU's enlargement to ensure the smooth continuation of trade between the EU and the EFTA-EEA members. The plan is to sign the EEA agreement and the EU Accession Treaty simultaneously.


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