Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Norway, Sweden, and the New Europe

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Norway, Sweden, and the New Europe

Article excerpt

ON DECEMBER 12, 1990, the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) overwhelmingly voted in favor of submitting a Swedish application for membership in the European Community (EC).(1) On June 14 of the following year, Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson informed the Parliament of his government's intent to apply for membership in the Community. On July 1, he formally submitted his application to the EC Council of Ministers. These events marked a remarkable reversal of traditional Swedish foreign policy, which until 1988 had almost unanimously precluded any foreseeable possibility of full membership in the EC.

While Sweden's dramatic reorientation toward the EC has been parallelled by Finland, the Norwegian government has seemed curiously inert. Gro Harlem Brundtland's Labor Party government refused to open a full debate on EC membership until the conclusion of a European Economic Area (EEA) treaty. Indeed, the Prime Minister long strove to postpone all debate within the Labor Party itself until after the September 1991 local and regional elections. Even after Sweden's desire to enter the EC had become increasingly clear, Norwegian Labor Party General Secretary Torbjorn Jagland in April 1991 declared that there was no need for Norway to follow the Swedish lead. It was only on April 4, 1992, that Prime Minister Brundtland finally declared her own support for EC membership, thereby officially launching the debate within her party.

The positions taken by these two governments have been almost complete reversals of their stances in the early 1970s. At that time, a ruling Norwegian Labor government strongly favored membership, whereas in Sweden, the issue was removed from the agenda in 1971 by a virtually unanimous parliamentary resolution. Why have the Scandinavian states until recently been so skeptical toward European integration, and why have their policies recently changed so radically? What explains the reversal of the Norwegian and Swedish positions since the early 1970s? The answer to these questions will focus on the two states in Scandinavia that are currently outside the European Community, Norway and Sweden.

Features of the Norwegian and Swedish party systems, and specifically the incentives faced by various party leaders, have been of critical importance to these decisions. Although increasing economic integration has generated a strong interest in closer ties to the EC, it is by no means obvious that this interest will be converted into actual political integration, at least not in the short run. For this to happen, it must also be in the perceived interest of the leaders of a sufficient number of political parties.

While economic incentives toward integration have grown in both countries, their impact has been more significant in Sweden than in Norway. More importantly, opportunities and incentives for Swedish party leaders to embrace the EC have recently been much greater than those of their Norwegian counterparts. These political constraints form the most critical barrier to Norwegian membership in the EC in the near future.

This article discusses the salient characteristics of the Scandinavian heritage with respect to international cooperation and integration, the Scandinavian record of economic/political integration in the post-1945 period, recent developments in Norwegian and Swedish relations with the EC, the economic and political factors that in recent years have promoted closer ties, the processes by which any decision concerning EC membership must be made and the institutional barriers confronting any such policy initiative, Scandinavian public opinion concerning European integration, the prospects for membership in view of the positions of the relevant political parties, and finally, the importance of the Norwegian and Swedish party systems in explaining recent relations with the EC.


Scandinavians often appear to be aloof and reluctant Europeans. …

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