THE NORWEGIANS – GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENS – ARE IN SYNC
By Pam Barker | TLB staff writer
In anticipation of the Brexit vote on June 23, which we wholeheartedly endorse, it’s worth noting the response of a Norwegian minister to the question why Norway is not a member of the EU.
The response is published in a very brief article from EuroNews (link is here) titled “Why isn’t Norway in the EU?”. Rune Bjåstad, Minister Counsellor for Culture and Communication at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Paris, addressed this question posed by an Austrian university student. Bjåstad replied:
“The reason is quite simple, the Norwegian people said, ‘no’ twice in referendums, each time by a narrow majority.”
So the Norwegian government believes in taking notice of the will of the people, as does Switzerland, another non-EU member equally thriving in its independent state. National democracy at work, no less.
Rune Bjåstad, Minister Counsellor for Culture and Communication
“The arguments for saying ‘no’ were that membership was a threat to the sovereignty of Norway, the fishing industries and agriculture would suffer, that membership would result in increased centralisation, and there would be less favourable conditions for equality and the welfare state. Fishing is extremely important to the Norwegian economy, especially for coastal areas. It is the second largest industry in our country, after oil.”
This needs a little breaking down. First, national sovereignty would indeed be under threat with EU membership. This is a key aspect of the pro-Brexit plank. Autonomy in lawmaking and governance have proven to count for nothing with EU membership. MEPs cannot propose or repeal laws, merely debate them. It is the EU Commission and the multitude of corporate lobbyists behind them who propose and pass laws.
Further, both the Greek and French populations voted in their supposedly ‘left’ governments to stop the austerity measures that were being imposed following the economic crisis of 2008. Both governments have been pressured mercilessly by the EU and the IMF since then to impose neoliberal economic reforms which have, and will, impoverish the state and thus the citizens. Democracy has proven not to exist within the EU at large.
Second, it is certainly true that Norwegian fishing industries and agriculture would suffer. It is well known how the British fishing industry lost immense ground in the 70s and 80s after it had joined the EU, to the point where fishermen were being paid to destroy their boats. Significant unemployment among fishermen and dock workers became a phenomenon in the UK long ago, which significantly impacted local communities that never recovered. Marks out of 10 for the Norwegian government being willing to protect some of its key industries and local jobs.
Third, centralization is indeed the problem. Decisions, regulations and laws are made exclusively from Brussels with no accountability to the people nor the member states by anonymous, overpaid bureaucrats who dwell in myriad ‘commissions’, the operations of which nobody seems to understand according to the film, Brexit the movie. Everything down to the smallest item of daily life has a place somewhere in the mountain of regulations Brussels’ mandarins came up with all by themselves.
And Norwegians care about social justice concepts and the welfare state. Programmes that benefit the people, such as health and social services, would be under threat in the EU, which we’ve seen in the case of Greece. The EU no longer supports – if it ever did – such programs, despite the longstanding impression we have that the EU is somehow benign and protective, gently on the left of the political spectrum. Its preference for neoliberal policies of stripping the public sector and privatizing as much as possible clearly shows it’s not.
It seems that non-membership still entails productive EU participation. Since 1994, Norway has traded fully as part of the “EU Internal Market” according to Bjåstad: “The question may be a bit misleading: in fact, we are strongly integrated in the European Union, even if we are not members. Economically, we are equal with other member states, through the Agreement on the European Economic Area, the so-called EEA.” It is also allowed to participate in other EU programs, including those in research and education.
Bjåstad concludes: “The Norwegian economy is strong, unemployment is low. Norwegians therefore see no economic argument in favour of EU membership.”
Economic, democratic, cultural and social – there ARE no winning arguments for EU membership. Further, Britain has a unique legal system which, in time, will be lost.
I can strongly recommend Brexit, the movie and an excellent interview Dr. Paul Craig Roberts gave to Julian Charles recently (here and here), which all cover the issue of membership in the EU from a number of angles including those mentioned above.
About the author
Pam Barker is a TLB staff writer/analyst based in France. She has an extensive background in the educational systems of several countries at the college and university level as a teacher and administrator.