Can We Affjord It?

If you’re thinking of voting to leave the EU, you may imagine the UK will be like Norway. Our oil-rich chums across the North Atlantic are outside the EU but have what many Tory Eurosceptics desire – access to the vast and wealthy European market for goods and services. (Obviously no one need bother themselves with trifles like civil and employment rights or quality standards etc).

This was also an argument that emerged during the indyref when Britain used its association with the Euro institutions to orchestrate a case against a separate Scotland joining the Brussels club. ‘We don’t need to join. We can be like Norway.’

I found an article on the government website by Norway’s former minister for the EU (eh? A minister for something you’re not part of?). Vidar Helgesen (a Conservative) writes: Norway’s trade with EU countries accounts for a greater share of our foreign trade than of Britain’s alone. In relative terms we have more EU labour immigrants than does the UK. We are part of the Schengen system. We implement more than three-quarters of EU legislation. We regularly align ourselves with EU positions on foreign and security policy. And our financial contributions are on par with comparable EU member-states. Essentially, with the exception of our agricultural policies, Norway is part of the same European integration process as the UK. What really sets Norway apart is that we don’t have the right to vote in Europe.

Norway it seems is in effect already in the EU in all but name.

No one falls in love with a market, Jacques Delors once said. Well, at least Norway is pleased to be lawfully joined to the single market, whether love is involved or not. It is crucial for Norway’s economy, for our companies, our jobs and our welfare. And the EEA (European Economic Area) agreement is our lifeline to this market. During the past twenty years we have incorporated more than 10,000 EU rules into the EEA agreement. That means roughly five acts of EU legislation for each day the Norwegian parliament has been sitting.

We see the results of these rules every day – in our daily lives, in our work, in our public sector and in business. They have brought about a profound Europeanisation of Norwegian society.

Yet for all this direct involvement with Brussels – and all 28 Member States – Norway has only a right to be consulted at an early stage of any new laws. It does not need to have its views accepted and has no votes. I must say that isn’t a relationship I’d favour for Scotland because it leaves us at the whim of other nations who have no reason to consider our national interest. It smacks a little of Britain’s semi-detached stance, indicating selfishness – we’re only in it for what we can get out of it.

The only thing I have some sympathy for is being outside the Common Agricultural Policy which has become the beast they cannot kill. Devouring around 40 per cent of the budget, it embeds the idea of subsidy in a strategic industry and is open to abuse. If a business cannot survive without constant hand-outs, its existence must be questioned. It isn’t just individual farming businesses that are given the subsidy. Check down the lists and you’ll find, for example the Prince of Wales’ Duchy Rural Business School in Cornwall collected £4,159,663 in 2013.

A total reform of CAP could transform the EU itself by shrinking budgets and forcing market discipline on a creaking and largely unprofitable sector, mirroring the transformation in New Zealand after, ironically, Britain joined the Common Market and protected farm produce markets outside Europe disappeared. New Zealand went through the pain and emerged with a productive and innovative industry turning out produce it’s impossible to avoid in British supermarkets. (As for the fisheries policy, I’d rather stick pins in my eyes).

Mind you, it may be the Norwegians don’t feel they need all of the protections available through the EU since they do not a bad job themselves. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise determine the wages and working conditions of most public and private organisations that create wealth. High but fair progressive income taxes fund a universal welfare system, benefiting everyone. They also work together to minimize the disparity between high-wage and lower-wage jobs. We simply don’t have a consensual system like that in which state, business and people invest their aspirations for a greater good. We talk about it but we don’t do it. We have a ruthless capitalist system based on fast profits and short-term thinking, one where we try to trim all welfare to inhuman levels. Sink or swim is our motto. As a result, people look after themselves. There is a report out today confirming that the overwhelming number of top professional jobs are held by graduates of private schools despite only seven per cent attending them. No wonder we have a rat race mentality to get on by scrambling over others – if you don’t look after yourself, the state won’t do it for you.

And that lack of empathy for others and a reluctance to share is what drives the Tory desire to step back from Europe or get out altogether.

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3 thoughts on “Can We Affjord It?

  1. Interesting article but you fail to mention that Norway retains its own currency. Were it to fully commit to the EU and apply for membership it would have to commit to the Euro (Accession acquis, article 17: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/policy/conditions-membership/chapters-of-the-acquis/index_en.htm) It may be that the compromise of having access to the market whilst retaining full control of monetary policy is the most attractive one for the Norwegian government & people.

    If there is a second independence referendum that results in a Yes vote this is a choice that Scotland may have to face. At the very least it would need to clarify whether the current UK exemption to joining the Euro would remain in place for a newly separated constituent nation.

  2. I’m half Norwegian and spend a lot of time in Norway where we have a home. The main reasons Norway has rejected membership of the EU is from the left. You will note the gentleman Derek quotes is a Conservative, from the business class in spohisticated metropolitan Oslo, and he seems to be saying that it’s pretty pointless not being a full member.

    The left in Norway is strong (although they currently have a Conservative prime minister – though Norwegian Conservatives are more like the Lib Dems or New Labour) and the left feels that the EU is too right wing and not socially progressive enough. Women particularly feel that. Also the farming sector is very powerful still in Norway and this is not like the Tory landowners over here.

    Farms are small family farms and there are powerful rules that prevent people especially foreigners from buying farmland and not cultivating it. This all goes back to the 19th century when it became possible for land to be democratised and it has been a powerful thing in Norwegian national identity since, all these small independent farmers grimly and patriotically eking out a living from the land. Food production in Norway is sacrosanct. The small farmers who are the backbone of Norwegian identity forged powerful links with the Labour and trade union movement in the 19th century.

    It might be cheaper today to import food from abroad, that would be the right wing urban Oslo business class Conservative rationale, but the left in Norway says No, small farmers must be protected, food production in Norway must be protected, small farmers are an essential part of the rural economy especially in Trondelag (the west and north) and if they were not protected many areas would see their local economies collapse so rural areas would become depopulated and turn into a desert. That in turn would not be clever from a defence or geostrategic point of view, as Norwegians share a border in the far north with Russia and are very keenly aware of the need to monitor what the Russians get up to there.

    So despite the Oslo business class Norwegians as a whole support these agricultural policies even if food is more expensive as a result. They have no wish to be dictated to by Europe in matters such as fundamental to Norway’s traditional economy and national identity such as fishing and farming.

  3. As someone who lived in NZ during the period you describe it was traumatic but necessary change happened as a result of it. Though the subsidy removal came well over a decade after the EEC entry of the UK. Most farmers are now quite used to the system. Because they sell their produce via large cooperatives they own. Fontera for dairy, Espri for kiwifruit etc. Virtually nobody sells individually into international markets.

    Also in comparison to a lot of Europe NZ farms are much larger. 300k to half a million sheep on a high country station are not impossible. They aren’t run by small families though. There are jobs for shepherds, cooks, mechanics, pilots and every summer big gangs of shearers will descend meaning most stations have a barracks building for them.

    British farmers would do well to form more cooperatives, it would help them get more money from the supermarkets for one thing.

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