Norway's Rejection of the European Union

By Emmet, Nicholas | Contemporary Review, June 1996 | Go to article overview

Norway's Rejection of the European Union


Emmet, Nicholas, Contemporary Review


Norway is the only country that has rejected membership of the European Union twice. When Sweden, Finland and Austria said yes in 1994, Norway said no. In 1972 when Britain, Denmark and Ireland entered, Norway had also said no. Norway of course does have oil and gas. A great amount of oil and gas. With a population of four million she has two and a half per cent of the world's oil and eight per cent of the world's gas. A third of Norway's exports are in oil and gas, and the question often asked is, would there have been a 'no' to the EU in 1994, without those great riches in the North Sea.

The proverbial man in the street can see no disadvantages since Sweden, Finland and Austria joined. People say things are the same, they still export the second largest amount of oil and gas in the world after Saudi Arabia, though it cost a lot more to get out of the North Sea than it does from the deserts, and they are still able to export most of their goods into the EU, on more or less the same terms as the member countries. Unemployment is four per cent, a large amount compared to previous years with full employment, but way below the EU average, and Norway has one of the best welfare systems in the world.

The 1994 referendum's no vote was carried by a small majority. The anti-EU organisation has a strong base in the farming and fishing communities. Four-fifths of a Norwegian farmer's earnings come from state subsidies, and fishermen, though not quite so heavily subsidised, are yet very heavily dependent on state handouts. They worried that within the EU their state subsidies would vanish. The anti-EU organisation used some silly propaganda before the referendum: 'Norway would not be allowed to use her flag in the EU; they would not be allowed to celebrate their national day; they would be flooded with poor foreigners from the EU; these immigrants would take Norwegian jobs and EU people would buy up Norwegian land; and the Union would take away their oil and gas.' Pretty nonsensical stuff, but it did influence some people. There is a strong fear of the foreigner in the Norwegian psyche. This fear may stem partly from the hundreds of years of being colonised by both Sweden and Denmark.

Now the 'no' people point out that they were right. The rejection has brought no ill effects. They still export most of their products into the EU, as before, and on more or less the same terms. They have the best of both worlds, and they have their oil and gas. They have the advantages of the EU without the cost and disadvantages.

But there are many ways in which Norway has had to adjust to the EU, without any say in what is done there. Big brother, Sweden, always the richer until Norway found oil and gas on their North Sea shelf, had to watch as Norway became the richer country, and there is certainly some envy there. …

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