Norway is not in the EU but is within the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA, is an agreement between the EFTA states (minus Switzerland) and the EU, giving Norway access to the Single Market. The EEA however differs from most free trade agreements in that it is a ‘living agreement’ into which new EU laws can be inserted as they are made. Norway therefore adopts EU law in many areas (including in areas the UK is not involved in, such as Schengen). However, Norway does not have to adopt EU laws relating to the CAP, CFP and external trade agreements, making the EEA in the eyes of many Norwegians preferable to joining the EU.
In Norway, which has voted not to join the EU, there remains a smouldering IN/Out debate. When it comes to estimating the influence of EU law the ‘lets remain OUT’ campaigners argue that the EEA forces them to enact only 9% of EU legislative acts – thus leaving Norway largely free to pursue its own policies. The Norwegian ‘IN’ campaigners by contrast argue the figure is closer to 75%, making their point that as Norway already has to adopt most of the law they may as well join to gain more influence on how they are made. Naturally, those in the UK who advocate leaving the EU and joining an EEA-type agreement are keen to highlight the 9% figure to argue the UK ‘could be like Norway’, – escaping a large proportion of the laws while retaining access to the Single Market.
How is it possible to argue it is both 9% and 75%?
Firstly, the 9% figure: This comes from the Norwegian No campaign and is based on a study by Morten Harper that, based on a Eur-Lex search, compared all EU Directives, Regulations and legislative acts (a depressing 52,183 from 2000-2013) with the number enacted in the EEA agreement – 4,724. Making the proportion of EU legislative enacted in Norway 9.05%.
The 75% figure comes from a study commissioned by the Norwegian Government into the impact of the EEA “Outside and Inside”. This study, rather than counting the number of EU laws, tried to estimate the effect of the laws in Norway. It concluded “approximately three quarters of substantive EU law and policy” in the EEA comes from the EU. [This study is of EU laws enacted, not the proportion of Norwegian laws that come from the EU]
There is no full-proof way of estimating the proportion of EU law enacted. Counting one for one is one method, but that leads to the problem that one ‘Working Time Directive’ is valued at the same impact as one regulation on, say, blue cheese. Another is subjective, assigning importance to different laws as with the case in the Norwegian Government’s study. And then there are various ways in between.
There are also a range of caveats here. First, many EU measures are temporary and therefore don’t make it into EEA legislation. This is however likely to be an underestimate as pointed out on the EUreferendum blog counting those in force, rather than enacted gets you to 17%. The external trade policy also give rise to a disproportional number of rules as every tariff line is an effective EU measure.
There are a number of interesting things about this debate in Norway – one being that it mirrors the debate in the UK, but with the roles reversed: the “Remain Out” camp wants to talk down the share of national laws coming from the EU, whereas the “In” side wants to talk it up. Nick Clegg, earlier this year claimed that only 7% of all law in the UK came from the EU, by selecting only UK Acts of Parliament rather than the much higher proportion of all UK legislation (though Clegg once claimed it was 50% to argue a different point). The truth is that if the UK joined the EEA, it would have to enact less EU regulation than at present, how much less is definitely open for discussion.