Published on March 10th, 2016 | by frances3
Should the UK follow the Norway model?
By Graham Stewart, Prospect Parliamentary and Campaigns Officer
The EU referendum campaign is likely to get more complicated as the debate, opinion and information begins to filter through to grass roots level across the UK.
The debate over whether the UK should remain part of the EU is unlikely to be straight-forward, despite the relative simplicity of the question to be asked of the British people:
‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’
A good example that shows how political debate is not straightforward or easy is a BBC Radio 4 programme, In Business, that aired on January 21.
Entitled Norway’s European vision, it shows how even though Norway is not part of the EU, a significant proportion of its trade is with the EU; it is part of the Schengen group that allows free movement of people between group members and actually contributes billions of Euros to various EU programmes.
Norway’s trade is dominated by the EU, and Norway is the EU’s 5th most important import partner. It has enacted roughly 20% of EU laws.
Why is this interesting in the UK context? It is because the idea that the UK can walk away from the EU and expect not to interact with Europe ever again is unrealistic. So should the UK follow the Norway model or does it have no option but to follow it?
The example of Norway shows us very clearly that the answer to the EU question is not black and white but graduated, inverted, mirrored – in short complicated.
The political manoeuvring between political figures and their respective factions means the Prime Minister seems to face different ways depending on who the audience is. At the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January, he told the world that the felt deeply European, is convinced that the UK has a European destiny and was prepared delay the referendum until next year if he does not win the reforms he wants.
This flies in the face of earlier comments by him that he was prepared to campaign for a ‘Brexit’ if he didn’t get what he wanted.
For cabinet ministers who said they wanted the referendum to be held in June, the reality is that the deal would need to be presented/endorsed at the EU summit nest month and to allow the requisite campaigning time.
The four main reforms the government is negotiating for are:
- No to closer union: Allowing Britain to opt out from the EU’s founding ambition to forge an “ever closer union” of the peoples of Europe so it will not be drawn into further political integration
- Eurozone integration should be fair to those inside and outside the single currency: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not materially disadvantaged. The UK wants safeguards that steps to further financial union cannot be imposed on non-eurozone members and the UK will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts
- Welfare incentives encouraging EU citizens to seek work in Britain must be tackled: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits and housing until they have been resident for four years. But the European Commission, which runs the EU, has said such a move would be “highly problematic”. Ministers have reportedly been warned by the UK’s top civil servant this could be discriminatory and any limits may be reduced to less than a year
- Need to maintain competitiveness, jobs, growth, innovation and success: Giving greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation. The UK supports a “red card” system allowing member states to scrap, as well as veto, unwanted directives. But this may only be triggered by states acting together, not the UK acting alone.
The PM presented his reform agenda to the European Council in June 2015 and this triggered a process of “technical talks” on what might be feasible, with or without Treaty change. These talks have been held in camera between EU and UK officials, with very little publicly available information.
That there are several campaign groups that have launched in the UK – both pro and anti-EU – may demonstrate that there is no easy path to day of the referendum.
Britain Stronger in Europe – the main cross-party group campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, headed by former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Rose. http://www.strongerin.co.uk/
Vote Leave campaign – A cross-party campaign that grew out of Business for Britain, headed by former Conservative adviser Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, who ran the successful No2AV campaign. http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/campaign
Leave.EU – Funded by UKIP donor Arron Banks and other business people, with the backing of longstanding Eurosceptic groups. http://leave.eu/