The passport controls disappeared, but so did the tax-free luck. What does European cooperation mean for the generation that grew up with the EEA agreement?
- What is the EEA Agreement?
- Who are the EFTA countries?
- What is the EU’s internal market?
- What was it like growing up with the EEA?
In 1994, when the EEA agreement came into force for Norway, I had just turned five years old. I grew up with this agreement and can thus be said to be part of the “generation EEA”.
- This case is based on Martine Tønnessen’s article in the periodical International Politics . Read the full article here.
Still, the impression is that people my age rarely talk about European cooperation. Although the EEA agreement has a great deal of influence in our society, we do not think much about it. Therefore, I want to write a little about how European cooperation has affected me.
For the sake of clarity, it should be mentioned that I personally believe that the EEA agreement serves Norway well. However, this article is not intended as a party contribution to the discussion, but a reflection on what the collaboration has had to say for my life.
- There are strong and divided opinions about the EU and the EEA in Norway. To better understand the disagreements, it can be useful to compare what the organizations European Movement(for) and No to the EU (against) write on their websites.
2: What is the EEA?
In the referendums on Norwegian EU membership in 1972 and 1994, we landed on no both times. Today, few want Norwegian EU membership. In November 2019, 25 years after the previous referendum, 28 percent said yes and 60 percent no .
For the EEA agreement, the figures are opposite, here 61 per cent would vote yes and 20 per cent would vote no . There has never been a referendum on the EEA agreement, but there is broad support for it, both among the population and among politicians.
But what exactly is the EEA agreement?
According to Abbreviationfinder.org, the EEA is an agreement that ensures that the EFTA countries Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein can participate in the EU’s internal market , on an equal footing with the countries in the EU.
This means that goods, services, capital and people can move freely between Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and all EU countries – without being hindered by national borders. Norwegian companies will thus be able to sell goods to, for example, Italy, on the same terms as Italian companies.
The EEA agreement is very comprehensive. It includes free labor immigration (both in and out of the country), trade in both goods and services, free establishment of businesses, a common financial market and competition rules, as well as common rules in a wide range of areas – such as research and education. The agreement also includes rules on state aid, competition and public procurement.
The agreement has been in force since 1 January 1994. The EEA has thus influenced our society for over 25 years. But it rarely affects you as an individual directly. Instead, it affects things that in turn affect you. For example, when I buy goods in the store that have arrived there without customs and with the same quality requirements as elsewhere in Europe. I can travel freely in Europe, apply for jobs and study. Medical education from Poland qualifies for medical jobs in Norway, and if I am on holiday I can use my mobile phone as if I were in Norway.
3: The operating system
The EEA agreement is special because it is both “dynamic” and “uniform” .
By dynamic , we mean that the agreement changes continuously. When the EU makes new rules in the areas that fall within the EEA, they are added to the agreement. Therefore, the EEA agreement looks different now than it did in 1992. Liv Monica Stubholt and Marius Torstensen Grønnbakk (2019) describe the EEA agreement well , as a kind of operating system:
After the EEA has been “installed”, the agreement seems largely invisible. An operating system controls everything on a computer, including processor, memory and storage. When you use a computer, you therefore take it for granted that everything works. You do not need to remember to update the content (software), because the operating system brings you all the updates that are required. You are therefore constantly offered updates. If you want to be up to date and enjoy the machine, in reality you have no choice.
You can say that Norway has installed the EEA agreement, then updates are sent from Brussels (the “capital” of the EU) every time something new happens. If we had to sit down and negotiate a new agreement with each change, we would not have finished the previous one before we had to start on the next one.
The EEA agreement includes rules in very many areas. This means that many of our laws come from Brussels. Unlike the EU countries, Norway does not have the right to vote when the union makes decisions. Through the EEA agreement, on the other hand, we have a veto right against new provisions from the EU. It is therefore up to us whether we want to implement them nationally. It has turned out to be a very high threshold to say no. In the Storting, there are several parties that are against the EEA (Senterpartiet, Rødt and SV are against, FrP wants to renegotiate parts of the agreement), but who still vote for the legislative changes from Brussels because they agree with them. The vast majority of changes made by the EU are therefore unanimously adopted by the Storting. Norway has never used our right of reservation (veto).
When we say that the agreement is uniform , it means that the regulations must be enforced and implemented equally in all countries. For example, the EU’s pan-European rules on the use of mobile phones came into force in the summer of 2017. Before this, it was more expensive to use your mobile phone abroad than in Norway. Under the new rules, it is now not allowed to charge extra when you are within EU and EEA countries. “Roam like home” is therefore something you are entitled to due to the EEA agreement.
4: European cooperation that is felt on the body
Europe is Norway’s most important trading partner. This makes the EEA Agreement Norway’s most important trade agreement. 77 per cent of total Norwegian exports go to the EEA partners (EU countries, plus Iceland and Liechtenstein).
Nevertheless, I do not think much about the EEA agreement in everyday life. I know that it has a great impact on Norwegian exports, for Norwegian companies and thus for Norwegian jobs, but it is not something I talk to my friends about. I dare say that neither I nor my peers know much about the EEA agreement. We never learned anything about it at school. About the EU, we only learned a little overall that what was to become the EU began to take place after World War II. Not until I started university and took political science subjects did we go into some depth on this.
When I wanted to go on an exchange, however, we started talking a bit about the EEA agreement. It was much easier – and cheaper – to go to Italy, France or Germany, than to travel outside Europe. The EEA agreement requires that Norwegians are treated the same as other EU citizens, which, for example, means lower school fees.
Much of the politics in Europe also has consequences for Norway. But since Norway is not a member of the EU, and we do not talk much about European policy, we still notice little of it. Therefore, I have to look a little in my memory to remember when European cooperation was something I thought about in particular. In fact, I have only managed to come up with twice in my life: that was when the euro was introduced, and when we no longer needed to show passports when crossing national borders within the Schengen area.
5: When the tax-free dream shattered
In 2002, many of the EU countries introduced the euro. There was a lot of media attention around this, but it also had a direct consequence for my life.
Suddenly we no longer had to exchange Norwegian kroner for marks, lira and pesetas, you could only save the money that was left until the next time you went on a trip. Euros are used in so many countries that it can be nice to have something lying around. This was not my first ten years – then it was about using up the money before you left the country, because who knew when you needed the same currency again?
The practical consequence of this change was great for a ten-year-old: Now I could no longer persuade my mother and father to shop a little extra at the airport on their way home from the South. Never again would I be tax-free, with the biggest chocolate bars I had seen, and have the opportunity to ask for almost anything I wanted since we had to spend the money anyway.
6: Passport control and queues throughout Europe
The other big transition is that we no longer need to show passports as often as before. Twice I have driven a bus through Europe – from Hamar to Romania. Crossing borders outside Schengen involves long queues. The trailers standing in long, long lines, one by one, while waiting to be inspected and let through. For tourists, the waiting time is boring, but for companies that transport goods, especially fresh produce, the queues are not only boring, but also a competitive disadvantage. It is said that “nothing has as bad a time as a dead salmon.”
By having closer international cooperation through Schengen, the queues today are considerably shorter. At the same time, the requirements for the goods sold are the same in Norway as in other European countries. This makes trading significantly easier.
7: When are we talking about the EEA today?
Other than these two slightly larger changes, I really think little about European cooperation in everyday life. Today, the EU and the EEA appear first and foremost if I talk about things like Brexit, the “NAV scandal”, when the EU adopts something strange, or when the debate about Norwegian EU membership comes up. Although it has been a long time since we discussed a real membership in the EU, many have an idea of whether one should be a member or not.
But on some topics, European cooperation should be part of the talks. For example, when we talk about climate and how the climate challenge can be solved. We absolutely have to work together internationally to solve the climate crisis, and here the EU has proven to be better at commitments than the nation states are on their own. The EU’s quota market for greenhouse gas emissions has provided a system for reducing emissions. In addition, EU agencies make sure that the big countries do not slip away. In recent years in particular, the EU has been forward-looking and offensive when it comes to cutting emissions.
8: A very relevant agreement
Even though few talk about the EEA agreement and think about it in everyday life, the agreement is important for Norway. Norwegian business and industry, for example, is completely dependent on the export opportunities the companies receive through the agreement. It creates jobs for people across the country and provides us with goods and services.
In one way or another, Norway will continue to cooperate with the EU and other countries. In 2019, international cooperation is absolutely crucial. We are facing major climate challenges that we cannot solve alone, and the world is more closely intertwined than before.
For the “generation EEA”, the EEA agreement has always been there. We can not imagine the world without it. We have many opinions about it, but often little knowledge . At the same time, I may have missed the big debate about whether Norway should join or not, but I have also had to take part in the development that the EEA agreement has brought with it.
EFTA (European Free Trade Association) is a trade agreement between Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland . EFTA was first created in 1960 by European countries that thought the EEC (a precursor to the EU) was too intrusive. Although only four countries are included today, EFTA was larger before: Denmark, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Austria and Finland have previously been EFTA members – before joining the EU.
The EEA Agreement (Agreement on the European Economic Area) is an agreement between the EU and three of the four EFTA states – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland – which ensures that these three countries are equal participants in the EU’s internal market . Switzerland instead has its own agreements with the EU. The EEA Agreement entered into force on 1 January 1994.
The internal market is a common market for EU Member States, where goods, services, capital and people can move freely between EU countries, without being hindered by national borders. Common rules and conditions of competition shall contribute to increased value creation and better utilization of resources. Through the EEA agreement, Norway is also part of the internal market.