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Dossier : Norvège : Regards sur la plus vieille Constitution d'Europe

Towards Europe – the story of a reluctant nation

Paal Frisvold
p. 39-53


Le peuple norvégien a par deux fois dans son histoire récente voté contre l’adhésion à l’Union européenne. Ces résultats sont communément attribués à un profond scepticisme envers les unions d’États, dû essentiellement au souvenir de 400 ans de domination danoise suivis de 100 ans de domination suédoise. Si cette raison est importante, notre article veut en présenter d’autres. L’obsession des Norvégiens concernant le maintien de leur souveraineté nous semble en effet avoir deux autres causes : la croyance dans le rôle de la Norvège comme pont entre Est et Ouest, et le besoin de protéger le secteur productif national dans la phase où il était vulnérable. En 1994, l’accord sur l’espace économique européen donna à la Norvège accès au Marché commun sauf pour les produits de la pêche et les produits agricoles. Mais le coût démocratique de cet arrangement fut important, la Norvège devant accepter les lois européennes sans être représentée dans les institutions européennes. Au fur et à mesure des évolutions de l’UE, ce déficit démocratique devient de plus en plus visible, en particulier en ce qui concerne la participation aux agences européennes. Dans la perspective de débats parlementaires à venir sur le sujet, le déficit démocratique pourrait redevenir un problème politique en Norvège.

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Initiative belongs to the small people – if not their lives are endangered
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson


1In 2014, Norway widely marked the bicentennial celebrations of its constitution, the second oldest in the world. As one of the richest and wealthiest countries, with the world’s highest gross domestic product (except for tax havens of Luxembourg and Liechtenstein) and the largest sovereign wealth fund, the celebrations and self-satisfaction were overwhelming. But behind Norwegian economic success lies a democratic problem similar to a political timebomb. The European Economic Area does not only deprive Norway of participation in political and legal decision-making in the EU, but also represents a blatant breach of constitutional sovereignty. This paper draws some historic lines from the time Norway gained its independence from Sweden in 1905 until present day and shows how Norway was able to balance the fine line between constitutional sovereignty and access to the EU’s Common Market. This situation might be coming to an end as Norway is confronted with having to engage with new EU institutions and agencies in order to maintain market access. The article does not discuss other key European cooperation efforts, such as the Schengen agreement or the Defence and Security Cooperation, which represent similar constitutional and political challenges.

Sovereign – at last

2National sovereignty was the key element of the Norwegian constitution when it was drafted in 1814. After four hundred years under Danish rule, sovereignty of the people, along with separation of powers and human rights, were at the core of a modern and forward-looking Norwegian constitution, as Norway took its place amongst the family of sovereign nations. Drawn from the US Declaration of Independence and the French revolution, it was the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and Montesquieu that inspired the founding fathers of the modern Norwegian state. Practically every Norwegian scholar takes the view that isolationist attitudes throughout the 20th century were rooted in newly regained and much cherished sovereignty, coupled with the fear of engaging in conflicts and alliances of states, which were seen to lead inevitably to foreign occupation or loss of sovereignty.

3Many still cling to this thinking. Combined with the patriotic feeling of being a young state, the Eurosceptic voice resonates perfectly with the old arguments that Norway had to remain away from European wars and not enter into conflicting battles regarding its own region’s cooperation and integration, be it Scandinavian, Nordic or European. And these arguments are a perfect answer to those who dare to ask: Why did Norway reject EU membership twice and why do no Norwegian politician dare to raise the EU question again?

4History however offers disturbing facts. Commercial interests have predominately shaped and still shape Norway’s economic and political relationship to its neighbouring countries. From the merchant fleet to agriculture, fishing, processed food, and more recently petroleum. These elements, merging with a convenient, but profoundly naïve, perception of Norway’s ability to be the neutral and honest broker amongst world powers, have shaped the Norwegian people and establishment’s attitude to Europe. This article aims to bring forward these new and different perspectives on the underlying reasons for Norway’s sceptical attitude towards economic and political cooperation with the continent it is a part of.

  • 1 The widely known phrase by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson is cited in numerous sources. One recent source is (...)

5After ninety-one years of joint governance of defence and foreign policy under the Swedish King, the Norwegian Prime Minister in Stockholm, Sigurd, son of Henrik, Ibsen, could close his office in 1905 and move permanently back to Oslo. Norway’s remote distance to the continent, as well as its largely agricultural economy and widespread poverty, legitimised the scepticism and resistance to any international cooperation that would curtail sovereignty because it would limit the freedom to protect its markets. Norway wanted to sell fish and shipping services to customers in any country without having to reduce trade barriers that kept foreign agricultural goods out. Oslo’s main preoccupation was also to keep Norway at bay from the many brutal conflicts dominating the continent. This widely cherished view gave rise to the first foreign policy doctrine articulated ironically in a nutshell by the nation’s leading intellectual, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: “The best foreign policy is not to have one”.1

  • 2 Roald Berg, « Norges utenrikspolitiske historie fra 1905 til 1920 », Høgskolesenteret i Rogaland, n (...)

6And it succeeded. In 1908, three years after full independence, the Norwegian government was invited to negotiate the Treaty of Paris: settling national borders to the North Sea to which Norway had one of the longest. To the Government’s great satisfaction, Norway was not mentioned once throughout the entire text. The young country in the North was regarded as a spectator rather than a participant2, a situation in many ways similar to its role in nowadays Europe.

7The pretence of neutrality was maintained throughout the First World War, despite Norway being dragged into it by the size of its merchant fleet: commissioned by both sides of the conflict, over nine hundred Norwegian ships sank and two thousand seafarers drowned. Most of the population, however, clung to political neutrality. The city of Bergen became during the first part of World War I what Casablanca was in the Hollywood version of World War II: neutral ground where foes and friends could meet and negotiate shipments and freights, providing immense wealth to Norwegian ship-owners who dared to undertake the dangerous voyage across the North Sea. After the German submarine offensive in 1917, the Norwegian government took sides, however, and became a “neutral allied” in favour of the entente powers of Great Britain, France and Russia.

  • 3 Nils Røhne, Norwegian Attitude towards the Briand Plan as Described by Professor Frede Cappelen, Ar (...)

8The painful experience did not change the basic foreign policy attitude of the Norwegian Government. Norway was adamantly opposed to any alliance, and hoped to promote an alliance-free world: the universal gathering of all the world’s nations as pronounced by Prime and Foreign Minister Johan Mowinckel during the interwar period.3 Mowinckel was a leading Norwegian ship-owner, and represented the population’s strong belief that Norway could play the role of a neutral bridge-builder between conflicting powers. But the reality was a deeply rooted desire to engage in and benefit from merchant shipping activities with all countries.

9Fridtjof Nansen, the 1922 Nobel Peace laureate, saw it differently. In his speech on behalf of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, when the Prize was awarded to the German and French Foreign Ministers Gustav Stresemann and Aristide Briand in 1926, Nansen called for a United States of Europe.4 But Nansen’s worldview was not met with much understanding, neither in the Norwegian Storting nor within the government. A group of Europe-friendly parliamentarians, namely the “Komitten av interesserte i Oslo” (Committee of the concerned in Oslo) asked Prime Minister Ivar Lykke in 1926 to discuss the Scandinavian proposal for European cooperation in the Parliament. Lykke swiftly refused, claiming a European effort could undermine the role of the League of Nations.5

The fear of undermining national sovereignty?

10Norwegian foreign policy has traditionally been to a certain degree steered by single individuals, often remarkably internationally oriented people reaching important positions on the international scene. One example is the first Secretary General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie. Before that, the President of the League of Nations, Carl J. Hambro, is another example. Hambro was a delegate to the League of Nations in the 1920s and held several elected posts until he was elected president before World War II broke out in 1939. An eminent opinion leader for Norwegian foreign policy was another delegate to the League of Nations, Christian L. Lange. Lange was a committed supporter of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and one of the instigators of the League of Nations, and he became the first Secretary of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo in 1906. He later received the Prize himself in 1921, with the Swedish Foreign Minister Hjalmar Branting, for his work to advance global peace. These high-profile, internationally active Norwegians found themselves however in an ambiguous position, attached to the neutrality of their country, defending the League as a forum for peace, and defiant towards other projects.

  • 6 Ibid.

11In the mid-1920s Lange was asked by the League of Nations to accompany Count Coudenhove-Kalergi during his visit to the US. His purpose was to counter-argue and weaken efforts by the Austrian philosopher and politician to establish a Pan European Congress which first meeting in Vienna, in 1927, attracted valuable support from leading intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud. Coudenhove-Kalergi gained increased support. In 1929, the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand submitted a formal proposal for a Franco-German endeavour in the League of Nations with a view to establishing a union of European states. The Norwegian Prime Minister at the time, and head of the Norwegian delegation to the League of Nation’s session in Paris in 1929, turned a blind eye to Briand’s initiative. He did not attend the special session of European Heads of States, nor did he ask any questions or made any comments on Briand’s proposal during his presentation of Norway’s intervention in the plenary session.6 The Norwegian PM’s total silence is attributed to the foreign policy thinking of government advisors Frede Castberg and Christian Lange. Castberg claimed a united Europe would provoke the Soviet Union and antagonize the United States. Lange went so far as to claim that it was impossible to build political organisations based on geographical vicinity, pointing to the failed supranational union between Sweden and Norway.

  • 7 Arbeiderbladet, July 18th, 1929.

12The subsequent Parliamentary debate of the Briand plan in the Storting, was met with contempt, and ridiculed just like Henry IV’s initiative had been three hundred years earlier.7 Thus ended the first parliamentary debate in Norway about European integration, only a few years before Hitler rose to power and a decade before Nazi Germany invaded Norway.

Europe? What Europe?

  • 8 Paal Frisvold, « Litt om det jeg var med på under krigen », Aftenposten, 1984.

13Norwegian dreams of an alliance-free world and its refusal to choose sides were to reach their climax in the late 1930s. Despite several warnings from diplomatic sources in Berlin about Hitler’s intention to invade Norway, the government in Oslo remained paralysed. Scared of provoking Hitler, it deliberately reduced its defence to that of a passive “neutrality guard”. As Hitler’s troops drew closer, the government in Oslo refused to mobilise Norwegian troops for fear that it could be seen as an act of aggression. Only hours before the Nazi flagship vessel Blücher was sunk in the Oslo fjord, the Norwegian Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs, Birger Ljungberg and Trygve Lie, refused to launch a full mobilisation. Instead they ordered a “silent mobilisation”, sending each reserve soldier a letter in the mail.8

  • 9 AAO, Frihagens archive, Box 5, « Main Lines of Norwegian Foreign Policy ».
  • 10 Carl J. Hambro, Crossroads of Conflict, European Peoples and Problems, New York, The Church Peace U (...)

14Once under attack, the Norwegian King and Cabinet attempted to flee to Sweden in the early hours of April 9th, 1940. Unable to cross the border, they had to take the road to Tromsø where they embarked on a ship to England. Arriving in London, the Government adopted an alliance with the British government but refused to commit itself when the Foreign Office asked for the Norwegian government’s views on post-war European cooperation: “We doubt the usefulness of employing the word Europe in serious political assessments. Europe is no single unit.”9 These words had some weight at the time, as Carl J. Hambro pronounced them - the man whose heroic actions had managed to get the King, the Government and the gold stocks out of Oslo and the hands of the Nazi Germans. In his book Crossroads of Conflict. European Peoples and Problems, published in 1943, Hambro argued that Europe did not exist and had never existed. To cooperate, he claimed, was as unnatural as establishing cooperation between California and Japan, due to differences in language, race and traditions.10 On December 7th of that same year, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour.

  • 11 Haakon Lie, Skjebneår 1945-1950, Oslo, Tiden, 1985, p. 176.

15After the war, the government in Oslo thus returned to its neutral position. Two particular events exemplified the profound desire to distance Norway from the Western allies despite their essential role in liberating the country from the Nazi regime. King Haakon had sent a personal invitation to Winston Churchill, asking him to pay a visit to Oslo in order for the Norwegian people to thank him and pay tribute to his leadership during the difficult days of the war. The king also wanted to thank Churchill for the hospitality he and the British government had shown the Norwegian cabinet and the Royal family during the war. On March 5th, 1946, however, Churchill gave his historic “Iron Curtain” speech during his visit to Fulton, Missouri. Churchill’s speech cemented the beginning of the Cold War, a situation viewed in Oslo as an obligation to choose sides. Visibly irritated, the government led by Einar Gerhardsen decided to cancel Churchill’s visit two months later. Nobody in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dared to convey the message, and the Foreign Minister suggested the Foreign Office in London could informally let Churchill know that the visit had become inappropriate. Obviously, the Foreign Office refused to cancel. Finally, King Haakon himself sent a handwritten letter to Churchill, who answered quickly to his close friend, stating venomously: “I shall wait to the day the situation gets better. Or much worse.11 Two years later, after the Soviet-controlled communists had toppled the Czech government, Finland had been forced to accept a pact with the Soviet Union, and the Berlin blockade was only days away, the Norwegian vision of an alliance-free world was demolished. And Churchill was finally welcomed.

Does Norway belong to Western Europe?

  • 12 Helge Ø. Pharo, « Bridgebuilding and Reconstruction. Norway Faces the Marshall Plan », Scandinavian (...)

16Another significant and illustrative event of Norwegian attitude towards European integration took place at the Chateau de la Muette in Paris, during the negotiations between recipient countries of the Marshall Plan. The Norwegian Government was hesitant to accept aid from the United States as it once again meant an obligation to choose sides and the possibility of provoking the Soviet Union. Oslo wanted the money channelled via the United Nations, and opposed any establishment of a secretarial structure or organisation devoted to the Marshall Plan. This attitude can be attributed to the close dialogue Oslo entertained with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie, who feared any regional coalition that would undermine the role and position of the UN. But mostly again, the Norwegians feared the reactions of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin government had specifically urged Norway to prevent the establishment of a “Scandinavian bloc.”12

  • 13 Nils A. Røhne, « De første skritt inn i Europa. Norsk Europa-politikk fra 1950 », Forsvarsstudier, (...)

17But another important element gave rise to Norwegian opposition: the conditions put forward by the US Government of dismantling trade barriers and pooling economic resources. The Norwegian government feared that the liberalization of trade in Europe would weaken Norwegian agriculture and industry, faced with competition from neighbouring Denmark and Sweden. Leaning on the argument that its industry was still “in its infancy”, Oslo pleaded for the ability to maintain high customs barriers with a view to protect and develop its own economy. After the Swedish Prime Minister openly said Sweden would not accept Norwegian currency as payments, the government in Oslo conceded and accepted the plan. Meanwhile, the head of the UK delegation, Hugh Dalton, had lost his patience; leaning over the negotiating table, he asked his Norwegian counterpart and a resistance hero from the war, Gunnar Jahn: “Does Norway belong to Western Europe?”13

18Following this row, and only after much hesitation and reluctance, Norway took its first step towards European cooperation by joining the Organisation of European Economic Cooperation, the precursor to the OECD. The country ended up receiving more money than any other recipient country per capita, including Germany and Britain.

  • 14 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 52. 2/23.

19From the 1940s to the 1960s, there were numerous attempts to foster closer cooperation and integration in Europe. Throughout all of them, Oslo’s attitude towards the Marshall Plan prevailed. Space does not allow for proper explanation. But Norway systematically opposed entering into any cooperation that would threaten its economic sectors by introducing an element of supra nationality – or sharing of sovereignty. The Norwegian Ambassador to the OEEC ignored to report home the signing of the European Coal and Steal Community.14 Once Oslo became aware of the new agreement, the Ambassador responded that it would in any circumstance never see the light of day as it would be impossible to ratify in the capitals.

Before Norway goes under

  • 15 Haakon Lie, op. cit., p. 275.
  • 16 Kjetil Skogrand, « Cash and Cannons. Norway, Denmark and the US aid programme 19471952 », IFS/Info, (...)

20One important exception to the Norwegian Government’s attitude towards supranational cooperation was Nato. Again, the Gerhardsen government showed strong reluctance due to a profound divergence of views. But in this situation, it was different. Firstly, Norway resented the aggressive behaviour of the Soviet Union. The coup d’État in Prague, the Berlin Blockade and the pressure put on Finland to accept neutrality scared the government in Oslo. Rumour had it that “Oslo was next”, and the UK Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin sent the famous telegram to his US colleague George Marshall, asking him to set Nato negotiations in motion “before Norway goes under15. The Gerhardsen government had asked Stockholm if a Scandinavian option was of interest. Sweden was clearly interested, but could not provide any material assistance in terms of armaments and ammunition. The Marshall Plan had showcased the US capacity as well as strong American commitment to providing economic assistance, and persuaded Norway to lean towards the US-led Nato-option16.

21Secondly, the role of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halvard Lange, turned out to be important. Despite being influenced by his father Christian Lange’s vision of Norway as a bridge-builder between East and West, Halvard Lange was strongly affected by the death of his personal friend and colleague, Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia. Many said he feared for his own life. Political heavyweights of the time such as Lange, the former resistance network Milorg’s chief Jens Christian Hauge, the Labour Party secretary Haakon Lie and others, put an unprecedented passion into persuading their peers of the importance of joining Nato. Never again has any Norwegian politician put so much prestige, commitment and passion into convincing the people and the political establishment of the importance of adhering to Scandinavian, Nordic or European cooperation. That is why Nato has become the only exemption to Norway’s hesitance and reluctance to join an international cooperation that reduces its sovereignty.

The Nordic option

  • 17 Thorsten Borring Olesen, « Den europæiske utfordring. EU, EØS og nordisk samarbejde – i historisk b (...)
  • 18 There is a good book in French that discusses these issues : Vincent Simoulin, La coopération nordi (...)

22One particular initiative laid the political groundwork for Norway’s future attitude towards European integration, namely the plans for Nordic Economic Cooperation. The first initiative was a working group established in 1948 during the negotiations in the Chateau de la Muette on the Marshall Plan. The idea was to establish a Nordic customs union, but due to opposition from Norway the working group was abolished in 1950.17 In 1952, however, the Nordic Council was established. While swiftly adopted with a large majority in Sweden and Denmark, the project once again arose considerable opposition in the Storting. The Norwegian Government had to guarantee that Nordic cooperation would not trap Norway into any future supranational cooperation. There should be no voting power for the ministers and no permanent secretarial functions for the presidency. On these bases, the Storting ratified the agreement on free flow of labour in 1954, despite large opposition not just from the Agrarian Centre Party but also from conservatives. The agreement was hailed as innovative, but it was very far from the initiatives launched in Copenhagen and Stockholm18. Customs unions, reduction of trade barriers on agriculture and processed food and industrial goods were all refused by Oslo, with the help of Soviet-dominated Finland.

  • 19 Thorsten Borring Olesen, op. cit. See also Lasse Sonne, NORDEK. A Plan for Increased Nordic Economi (...)
  • 20 Translated from Swedish : « Det nordiska samarbetets väg till framgång kantas av grandiosa misslyck (...)

23In 1968, Denmark made a last attempt to establish a common Nordic economic cooperation, called NORDØK (or NORDEK in English). Again, the proposal was to create common external customs borders, but complemented this time with common decision-making institutions for trade in fishery and agriculture. The negotiations turned out to be difficult: even if a document was scheduled to be signed in early 1970, the Finnish government felt the Soviet Union’s muted reluctance to the project barred it from signing. Frustrated by the Norwegian attitude, the Danish government turned to France and the European Economic Communities, now that De Gaulle had left power and the French veto towards UK membership no longer existed.19 Olof Palme could not hide his disappointment when he expressed himself at the Nordic Ministerial meeting in 1971: “The Nordic cooperation’s road to success is best known for its grandiose failures.”20

24As a parenthesis; other examples that fit into the series of strong Norwegian opposition to international cooperation with elements of supranational cooperation: It was only due to strong pressure from its western allies that Norway accepted membership in the European Council with its Human Rights Court and the International Maritime Organisation, IMO. Vocal opposition from many key Members of Parliament led Norway to become the last country to ratify the UN protocol on the establishment of the IMO. In fact, when the UK and US governments discovered that Norway had put pressure on Japan not to ratify the protocol, they threatened to permanently block Norway’s representation on the Board unless they changed its discourse towards Tokyo. The protocol was ratified in the Storting, with a proposed resolution that the IMO should never undertake activities beyond cooperation on pure technical and safety matters. In the end, the parliament voted to drop the resolution.

Democracy and the Bicentennial Constitutional Celebration

25In 2014, Norway proudly marked the bicentennial celebration of its constitution. It took place at a time when Norway had experienced unprecedented economic growth over the previous twenty years. In fact, no other OECD country had ever experienced such long uninterrupted period of high growth. The petroleum sector has been an undisputable engine for growth, but solid economic governance coupled with access to the EU Single Market, has also been vital for the strong economic performance. Little attention was paid to the vast democratic deficit due to Norway’s participation in the Agreement on European Economic Area (EEA) and the paradoxical erosion of sovereignty when celebrating the constitution as a symbol of national independence and sovereignty from Denmark and Sweden.

26Almost like dissidents and opposition to the communist regime in the People’s Republic of China, there are very few opponents to the current Norwegian position in Europe. Both countries have enjoyed unprecedented economic growth – although from different levels and at different scale. But the vast majority of the population does not see any problems with the lack of democracy in China and the huge Norwegian democratic deficit in the EEA. Only some 12-15 per cent of the Norwegian people believe that Norway should replace the EEA affiliation with full EU membership. Luckily, the Norwegian democracy tolerates opposition to the current agreement, but the reasons for accepting the status quo are probably not far apart: Economic growth and welfare creation, jobs and material satisfaction.

  • 21 Norwegian Central Bank, Economic Perspectives, February 12th, 2015, Oslo.

27The Norwegian economic success story becomes even more evident in compari- son with the performance of our neighbouring countries and indeed the rest of Europe. Not to speak about the Mediterranean countries, often referred to with a flair of unfortunate vulgarism as the PIGS- countries; Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. But the hardship experienced by our Scandinavian neighbours, where an unprecedented vast number of Swedish youth have entered the Norwegian labour market to take advantage of the high salary level, is the result of a depreciated Swedish krona and a particularly beneficial tax scheme for Swedes living at home while earning salaries in Norway. In 1971, Norwegian GDP per capita was similar to that of Greece, and amongst the lowest in the OECD. In 2013, Norway has the highest GDP per capita in the world21. The strong Norwegian economic performance vis-à-vis the surrounding crisis-dominated economies, has thereby also given rise to a strong feeling of patriotism.

28The exclusion of fishery and agriculture policies in the EEA is fairly well known to Norwegians. But the scoop obtained by the Norwegian authorities in 1990-1992 was to also exempt trade liberalisation of processed food from the Agreement. All the large and labour intensive agro-alimentary companies are today shielded from competition from their Scandinavian and European competitors. The French dairy product producer Danone has for instance made several attempts to enter the Norwegian market, but has had to give up due to a whole range of barriers, predominantly tariffs, but also procedural and technical barriers. This means that most Norwegian economic sectors of importance, from fishery to agriculture, to food processing and to a certain extent petroleum, are all able to maintain the privileged and shielded positions the country had fought so hard for during so many occasions since the end of World War II. These sectors do not only benefit from several hundred per cent customs barriers, over four hundred for cheese and meat, but also receive abundant subsidies. Such is true also for producers of processed agricultural goods.

Democracy and the EEA

29So what is the problem with the EEA? How does it respect the legal sovereignty of the Norwegian constitution, while also accepting the integration of the EU acquis communautaire?

  • 22 Professor Eivind Smith has articulated this statement on several occasions, inter alia, at a hearin (...)

30Professor Hans Petter Graver, Dean at the Faculty of Law of the University of Oslo, has said that the EEA is the exception to the rule that a square cannot fit into a circle. His colleague, Eivind Smith, adds “the EEA is a constitutional catastrophe22”. What they refer to is that the EEA agreement consists of applying all the secondary legislation adopted by the EU that relates to the Internal Market. By February 2015, Norway had implemented legal act number ten thousand since the EEA entered into force in 1994. The mechanism of integrating EU law adopted by European decision-making bodies where Norway is not represented was well known from the onset of the agreement in the early 1990s. But since then, two phenomena have arisen. Firstly, the legal practice set out by decisions of the EU Court of Justice. Secondly, the emergence of a number of EU Agencies and the powers allocated to them.

31It is generally known that Norway is excluded from participating in the EU decision-making bodies, the Council of Ministers and European Parliament. The Norwegian Prime Minister is obviously not invited to the European Council meetings either – i.e. the EU summits. Articles 99, 100 and 101 give Norwegian experts the possibility to attend expert groups set up by the European Commission when proposals for new legislation are drawn up. Similarly, when directives are adopted, and committees to manage its implementation, so-called Comitology, are set up, Norwegian representatives can be admitted as observers. They are asked to physically leave the meeting room when supplementary legislation is voted on.

32Once EU adopts legislation, each legal provision has to be integrated into the EEA agreement. The Commission, or nowadays the European External Action Service, speaks on behalf of all the Member States in the monthly meeting with EEA-EFTA State governments. These meetings take place in the EEA Joint Committee. However, the most blatant breach of legal democratic practice occurs when Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein ask for derogations from EU acquis. Having flagged their difficulties and opposition in the EEA Joint Committee, it is up to the European Commission to present their case in the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. In other words, the Norwegian government is not even present when their case for derogation is presented to those who decide. This feature of the EEA Agreement is a brutal breach of international cooperation and international law.

  • 23

33The Norwegian Storting has formally voted on laws that adapt Norwegian law to the EU’s body of laws and regulations approximately five hundred times between the entry into force of the EEA treaty and 2011. Almost all, with the exception of a few, have been adopted unanimously – with the full endorsement of political parties vocally hostile to Norwegian membership in the EU. It was only in 2007, thirteen years after the agreement began, that a half-yearly briefing on EU and EEA matters was introduced. The recently Government-appointed research group, Europa-Utredningen23, describes this parliamentary involvement in Norwegian integration of EU laws as key to the constitutional anchoring and political legitimization of Norwegian adaptation to the EU. But in a political context, parliamentary adoption of laws the government has neither participated in negotiating, nor adopting, is a futile exercise. In fact, the Norwegian Parliament has no formal link to EU decision-making. It does not receive legislative proposals from the European Commission or have formal liaison other than a Joint Parliamentary Committee which the European Parliament has with all other countries of the world. After complaining about the poor flow of information from the government, the Storting established a news service and a representative office in Brussels. Placed in the Norwegian Mission to the EU, the representative office of the Storting was moved to the European Parliament building in Brussels following a promise by Martin Schulz during his trip to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

34Constitutional debates in the Norwegian parliament regarding the concession of sovereignty to the EU have occurred several times. In areas that lead to considerable loss of sovereignty, the government can choose to evoke article 93 of the Constitution, demanding ¾ (qualified) majority. This has only happened once when the Storting adopted the EEA Agreement itself (135 in favour, 30 opposed) in 1992. In subsequent enlargements, such as the agreement on veterinary issues and the Schengen agreement, the Government chose to evoke article 26 of the Constitution, demanding only a simple majority. When adopting the Schengen agreement in 1999, the majority in the Storting was far from the needed ¾ majority.

Norwegian sovereignty and the role of EU Agencies

  • 24 A court ruling establishing the principle of free movement of goods after German authorities had re (...)

35The EU is a legal system where the Commission is the executive branch, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament the legislative, and finally the Court of Justice the judicial. The Court of Justice interprets the law and settles disputes. In doing so, it creates legal precedents used by the Commission to ensure proper transposition of EU acquis. But it also ensures that all national legislative frameworks are aligned with EU law. This is particularly important in areas where the Commission has not proposed proper legal acts. Judgements by the Court on interpretation of the EU Treaty, primary law, serves as basis for developing specific EU legislative acts and policies. Such was the case with the famous act on “Cassis de Dijon” in 197924, paving the way for the Single Market Act three years later. A series of key judgements by the Court has developed EU law over the past decades. Examples are too many but the principle of the Court leading the development of EU cooperation has had direct consequences on the way the EEA has evolved. It is therefore reasonable to say that decisions of the Court have turned the EEA into a considerably more wide-reaching agreement than what was first anticipated in 1992. This development was unforeseen when the Norwegian Storting ratified the Agreement.

36Furthermore, the recent EU practice of establishing specialized agencies and bureaus has triggered a new constitutional debate over Norway’s relationship to the EU. Norway already enjoys observer status in some thirty EU agencies on everything from maritime, aviation and rail to chemicals, environment, xenophobia, as well as many others. A common theme within these agencies is that they do not have legislative authority, which would call for a transfer of sovereignty that Norway is adamant about. That is no longer the case with more recent bureaus such as those on consumer rights, supervision of financial markets and energy. The most evident example of loss of sovereignty is the recent draft regulation reinforcing the EU agency on border and coastal control, Frontex.

37The current government, led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, has clearly indicated that Norway’s adhesion to the agencies on energy and financial supervision shall be submitted to the Storting as per article 93 of the Constitution, i.e. demanding a three quarter majority. New competencies and powers being allocated to Frontex and Eurocontrol might lead to similar parliamentary votes. Parliamentary debate and voting on these issues will take place during the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017. It is expected to raise vivid debate, reopening the wounds of the two referenda on Norway’s adhesion to the EU in 1972 and 1994.


  • 25 Sommerfelt (1997) p. 86, 156, Maren Hertzberg Erichsen and Tore Halvorsen, « Marshallplanen og nors (...)

38Over the course of the last century, Norway has thrived to keep a fine balance between maintaining constitutional sovereignty, in pure legal terms, and reaping the fruits of other nations’ efforts to cooperate and share sovereignty. Norway has benefited vastly from European integration since World War II, in fact a lot more than certain other European nations. Having initially opposed the Marshall Plan negotiations, the country turned out to be one of the biggest beneficiaries along with Iceland, receiving more money per capita than Germany and Great Britain.25 Exceptional diplomatic pressure from UK and US, its allies during the war, was put on key Norwegian politicians to relinquish their opposition to Nato, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Maritime Organisation. Yet Norway has remained on the margins of the EU as a consequence of two referenda in 1972 and 1994, but it was nevertheless able to ensure market access through the European Economic Area Agreement. As a small open economy, Norway is one of the clear winners of the EU internal market, with 80 per cent of its trade going to the 28 EU countries. Paradoxically, its affiliation via the EEA deprives it of participation in political and legal decision-making. But in return for giving up its sovereignty, Norway has been able to protect its agriculture, fishery and processed food industries from increased competition by its neighbors.

39In 1994, the EEA proved to be the political compromise that allowed Norway to be part of the Internal Market while staying clear of any compromise regarding its constitutional sovereignty, at least in theory. Today, more than twenty years later, EU integration has advanced considerably, threatening this status quo with the establishment of new decision-making bodies. While the Norwegian people do not wish to reopen the scars of the two referenda, the Storting will soon have to address Norwegian participation in key EU agencies that require sharing sovereignty with its EU partners. Parliamentary approval will demand clear majority and is therefore likely to revive the political debate on Norway’s place in Europe. This time around, nobody can claim the country is the poor, “underdeveloped” and distant country demanding special treatment by its European partners, as it could arguably be regarded in the early 1970s. To the contrary, Norway is today the richest country in Europe, a clear winner of European integration in economic and financial terms. Incorporating EU laws without participation in EU decision-making has become a democratic problem. Norway’s two hundred year old sovereignty is up for renewal. Time may finally have come to take a place next to other sovereign nations of Europe, by pooling political sovereignty and invest in the political stewardship of the EU.

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1 The widely known phrase by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson is cited in numerous sources. One recent source is from an article in Minerva,

2 Roald Berg, « Norges utenrikspolitiske historie fra 1905 til 1920 », Høgskolesenteret i Rogaland, nº 8, 1994.

3 Nils Røhne, Norwegian Attitude towards the Briand Plan as Described by Professor Frede Cappelen, Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4/26 Jno 08505, 1930.

4 Nobel Lecture, Oslo, December 10, 1926,

5 Nils Røhne, op. cit., 1930, p. 5.

6 Ibid.

7 Arbeiderbladet, July 18th, 1929.

8 Paal Frisvold, « Litt om det jeg var med på under krigen », Aftenposten, 1984.

9 AAO, Frihagens archive, Box 5, « Main Lines of Norwegian Foreign Policy ».

10 Carl J. Hambro, Crossroads of Conflict, European Peoples and Problems, New York, The Church Peace Union, 1943.

11 Haakon Lie, Skjebneår 1945-1950, Oslo, Tiden, 1985, p. 176.

12 Helge Ø. Pharo, « Bridgebuilding and Reconstruction. Norway Faces the Marshall Plan », Scandinavian Journal of History, 1-4, 1976, p. 125-153.

13 Nils A. Røhne, « De første skritt inn i Europa. Norsk Europa-politikk fra 1950 », Forsvarsstudier, 5, 1989, p. 13.

14 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 52. 2/23.

15 Haakon Lie, op. cit., p. 275.

16 Kjetil Skogrand, « Cash and Cannons. Norway, Denmark and the US aid programme 19471952 », IFS/Info, n° 2, 1998.

17 Thorsten Borring Olesen, « Den europæiske utfordring. EU, EØS og nordisk samarbejde – i historisk belysning », Europautredningen, delrapport 12, 2012.

18 There is a good book in French that discusses these issues : Vincent Simoulin, La coopération nordique, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1999.

19 Thorsten Borring Olesen, op. cit. See also Lasse Sonne, NORDEK. A Plan for Increased Nordic Economic Cooperation and Integration 1968-1970, Helsinki, Finnish society of science and letters, 2007.

20 Translated from Swedish : « Det nordiska samarbetets väg till framgång kantas av grandiosa misslyckanden. »

21 Norwegian Central Bank, Economic Perspectives, February 12th, 2015, Oslo.

22 Professor Eivind Smith has articulated this statement on several occasions, inter alia, at a hearing in the Storting in 1997, subsequently referred to in the Europautredningen, « Inside Outside », NOU, 2, 2012,


24 A court ruling establishing the principle of free movement of goods after German authorities had refused to import French liquor, using health reasons in disguise for protecting domestic producers.

25 Sommerfelt (1997) p. 86, 156, Maren Hertzberg Erichsen and Tore Halvorsen, « Marshallplanen og norsk offisiell statistikk », State Bureau of Statistics, SSB

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Paal Frisvold, « Towards Europe – the story of a reluctant nation »Nordiques, 31 | 2016, 39-53.

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Paal Frisvold

politologue, ancien président du Mouvement pour l’Europe (Europa-bevegelse i Norge), Paal Frisvold est partenaire-consultant pour Geelmuyden Kiese. Il est l’auteur de Mot Europa. Fortellingen om et nølende Norge (Origami, 2014), à paraître en traduction française aux Presses universitaires de Caen.

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