Norway remains one of the few Nordic countries not to have joined the European Union, despite having tried four times in 31 years. The first two attempts, in 1963 and in 1967, were blocked by a French veto (Geelmuyden Rød, 2022). In the third attempt, the French did not veto, allowing the membership process to move to its final stage. This gave Norwegians the opportunity to vote on whether their country should join the EU in a referendum. On the 25th of September 1972, 53.5% of Norwegians voted against joining the Union, resulting in Norway remaining outside it. Norway made another attempt about 20 years later: In 1994, Norwegians again voted by a small majority to remain outside the EU (Neumann, 2002). Since then, there has been no meaningful debate on the question. With crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the upcoming elections in 2025, the question of Norway’s relationship with the EU reignited. The debate was formally reopened by Erna Solberg (Høyre) at Høyre’s annual party conference this year (Berglund, 2023). Currently, Høyre is the only one out of the ten parties represented in the Storting to advocate Norwegian EU membership (Europabevegelsen, 2017). A survey conducted by Sentio shows an increase in the number of positive voices across Norway from 27% to 33% in favor of EU accession (NRK, 2023). Among young people, this percentage is even higher at 56% (Berge & Heldahl, 2022). The share of EU opponents remains more or less stable at 56% (NRK, 2023). It is therefore time to revisit the debate and look at the pros and cons of Norwegian EU membership.  

One of the overarching arguments used by EU opponents is the preservation of Norwegian sovereignty. They are afraid of ceding decision-making power to the EU level and having decisions imposed on them by Brussels (Neumann, 2002). Instead, they argue that decision-making should be kept at the Norwegian level so that the best solutions for Norway can be found. Furthermore, it is argued that Norway is more flexible in how it manages issues as it does not have to negotiate a common position with the other Member States (Neubacher et al., 2016). This struggle is often visible in the media, especially in regard to migration, where member states seem unable to find common ground. However, it is also true that we live in a time of crisis, be it the climate crisis or the so-called refugee crisis. Such cross-border issues demand collective policies and solutions that can tackle the problems more effectively through pooled knowledge and resources. Together with the other 27 Member States, Norway could tackle these issues more effectively and efficiently. This also holds true for inflicting change around the world and making Norway’s voice heard. Together with the other Member States and through the economic and normative power of the EU, Norway would be more powerful in fighting for the norms and principles on which it prides itself, such as the rule of law and human rights (Neumann, 2002). Especially in times when the US is no longer a dependable ally with another Trump presidency looming on the horizon, the need for strong allies besides the US increases. Not only regarding shared values and norms, but also as a security guarantor. With Trump being potentially the president of the US again NATO’s fate is up in the clouds. A membership within the EU could then be a more safe option to ensure security (Berglund, 2023). Thus, through its geographical closeness as well as the shared values the EU seems to be a suitable partner. Norway already is closely tied to the EU through EFTA (European Free Trade Association) and the European Economic Area, which allows it to have access to the European Single Market (European Parliament, 2023), which is crucial for Norway as it is economically dependent on the EU. 80% of Norway’s Exports are going to the EU (Sinram & Kindermann, 2016). However, access to the Single Market does not come without strings attached. Norway has to transpose the rules that regulate the Single Market into national law and comply with it without having the opportunity to voice its opinion during the policy-making process (Sinram & Kindermann, 2016). These include policies regarding research and technical development. as well as social policies, consumer protections, and environmental policies. If Norway infringes any of these policies the EU can invoke sanctions (Sinram & Kindermann, 2016). It is thus questionable whether the current relationship is not infringing Norway’s sovereignty and democratic legitimacy more than a Norwegian membership would. In that case, Norway would have a say in the legislative and executive organs of the EU such as the Council of the European Union, the European Council, and the European Commission. Another argument that could appease the EU opponents could be the subsidiarity principle that is anchored in the EU treaties. This principle argues that policies should always be made as closely to the people as possible so that the EU only becomes active when issues cannot be more effectively resolved on the regional or national level. Additionally, the EU has policy instruments such as Directives at its disposal, which allows countries a degree of flexibility when it comes to how a policy objective is achieved.   

Another argument that EU opponents might bring forward is that it will be costly for Norway to join the EU. It is true that Norway would have to contribute to the EU budget and adapt to certain EU processes and procedures, which comes with its costs. However, as Norway already fulfills many of the EU membership requirements (the so-called Copenhagen Criteria), the process of adapting to the EU will not be as expensive as it would be for other countries (Neubacher et al., 2016). Moreover, Norway is already paying about 388 million euros a year to the EU due to its membership in the European Economic Area. Broken down this comes to 76€ per Norwegian annually which is almost as much as Great Britain paid when they were still an EU member with 89€ per citizen (Sinram & Kindermann, 2016). This does not make an EU membership appear so costly anymore. Furthermore, the membership could benefit the Norwegian economy through easier trade negotiations that are facilitated through the collective economic power of the EU and full access to the single market (Berglund, 2023). The collective power will also make it easier for Norway to regulate big tech companies such as Facebook and Google (Løkke, 2022). 

Lastly, one of the overarching arguments opposing Norwegian EU membership is Norway’s fishing industry and agrarian industry. The Norwegian fishing industry is not only important economically to the country, but also culturally. People are concerned that Norway’s fish sector will be harmed by other EU countries accessing Norwegian waters to fish (Neubacher et al., 2016). A Norwegian EU membership could also hurt Norwegian farmers as their products can not compete with the cheaper agricultural goods from other European countries driving Norwegian farmers into insolvency (Neubacher et al., 2016). Thus, both of these sectors could potentially be impaired by Norwegian EU membership. However, only a small share of Norwegians are working in these two sectors which means that not as many people would get hurt by a Norwegian accession to the Union (Neumann, 2002). Furthermore, through the membership Norway would have complete access to the Single Market which does not only mean new potential opportunities for Norwegian businesses and economic growth, but it would also offer Norway the possibility to sell its fish more easily in the other Member States (Löffler, 2003).  

As outlined, there are arguments both for Norwegian EU membership and for maintaining the status quo. Depending on one’s own priorities, one may prioritize the arguments differently and will arrive at a different answer to the question: should Norway join the EU? Norway and the EU must continue to work together, be it through the continuation of EFTA, Norwegian accession to the Union, or some third way. Whatever direction the debate regarding Norwegian EU membership takes, the most important thing is to answer this question through a democratic process. 

 

Sources: 
Berge, J., & Heldahl, H. (2022, August 16). EU-sjokk på ny måling: De unge vil melde Norge inn.  
Berglund, N. (2023, April 5). Erna fires up Norway’s EU debate.  
Europabevegelsen. (2017, September 8). Vurdering av partienes europapolitikk.  
European Parliament. (2023). Der Europäische Wirtschaftsraum (EWR), die Schweiz und der Norden.  
Geelmuyden Rød, E. (2022, July 14). Should Norway Join the EU? Research on Democracy and Peace Suggests So.  
Löffler, R. (2003). Norwegen ante portas? Die wieder auflebende Debatte über einen möglichen EU-Beitritt schafft neue Allianzen (pp. 79–91) 
Løkke, E. (2022, April 5). Derfor bør Norge bli medlem av EU.  
Neubacher, C., Silva, J., & Thil, P.-J. (2016, October). Norwegian Exceptionalism: How the European Union can use Norway to further European Integration.  
Neumann, I. B. (2002). This little piggy stayed at home: why Norway is not a member of the EU. In L. Hansen & O. Wæver (Eds.) 
NRK. (2023, April 26). Flere sier ja til EU-medlemskap.  
Sinram, J., & Kindermann, K. (2016, June 28). Norwegen und die EU – “Norwegen übernimmt viele Regeln, die in Brüssel beschlossen werden.”  

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