Richard North, 30/01/2013  

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So the spotlight on Norway continues, bringing to light this review of the functioning of the EEA. It was issued in Brussels on 7 December last year by the European Commission and, but for events, would have remained (for us) just another one of the thousands of documents pumped out by the EU each year, for which there simply isn't time to read.

This one, mercifully, is only seventeen pages, and even then we get a helpful summary in EurActiv, telling us that 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.

In the report, Norway is also being criticised for imposing tariffs on EU products from 2013 and resisting "EU efforts for ambitious liberalisation" of the EU's single market. Complains the Commission: "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".

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, says the problems started in 2012 when Norway raised the price of hydrangeas from the EU by 72 percent. Eventually, the extra taxes spread to EU food products such as cheese and meat.

Bendtsen says 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 says.

Brining it bang up-to-date is a report on Norway's TV2 News which headlines that Norway is "threatened with hefty fines" from the EU, while another report has Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg blaming the Socialist government for "poor co-operation" with the EU.

All this paints a very different picture from the image of poor little Norway rolling over and implementing a new law every time the ancient fax machine stutters into life, presenting a much more dynamic and troubled relationship between Norway and the EU.

It may suit the likes of David Cameron to paint a one-dimensional (and dishonest) picture of the relationship, but real life is very different. In fact, links between the EU and Norway are under constant review, and even the Schengen Agreement is being questioned, mainly in response to the Romanian and Bulgarian accession.

I'm beginning to get a sense of the game the Norwegians are playing, which is subtle and clever. Presenting an image to the world as weak, powerless neighbour to the mighty EU, it is using this carefully cultivated image as cover for a ruthlessly aggressive foreign policy, while it exploits every gap and loophole in international agreements, itself acting the bully with its smaller neighbours, as we see with the mackerel dispute.

The Norwegians are not quite the innocents that they would like to make out, and seem to be playing a very successful game of protecting their own national interests, without people realising what they are doing. It is no wonder that so many want the UK to stay in the EU. They don't want Britain to enjoy the same competitive advantages as Norway.


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