Amongst those who want the UK to leave the EU there are those who say “Look at Norway, we can have the same arrangement with the EU as they do, a simple free trading agreement”. This is profoundly wrong. The European Economic Area (EEA) countries of which Norway is one have to take on most of the more obnoxious burdens of the EU whilst being excluded from EU decision making . This is unsurprising because the EEA was born of a desire of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) to integrate with the EU.
EFTA was founded in 1960. The founding members were Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Subsequently Finland became an associate member in 1961 (becoming a full member in 1986), Iceland joined in 1970, Liechtenstein 1991 (previously its interests in EFTA had been represented by Switzerland).
EFTA gradually lost its members as they joined what is now the EU. The United Kingdom and Denmark joined the European Economic Community in 1973, Portugal joined in 1986., Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the EU in 1995. This left only Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Negotiations between the EFTA nations and what was then the European Community (EC) for a closer relationship came to fruition in 1992 when the EEA Agreement was agreed by negotiators of EFTA states and the EC members. Switzerland rejected the agreement in a referendum, but later signed bilateral treaties with the EU which have much the same effect as the EEA Agreement. (http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/switzerland/eu_switzerland/political_relations/index_de.htm )The rest of the EFTA members signed. The EEA Agreement came into force in 1994. The full text can be found at http://www.efta.int/legal-texts.aspx (click on the EEA link and open or download the PDF file).
EEA membership requires that subscribing states have to accept the “four freedoms” of the EU: the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital among the EEA countries as well as those comprising the EU. This the prime reason for not joining the EEA or having a bilateral relationship with the EU similar to that of Switzerland. These “ four freedoms” mean amongst other things that EEA members cannot meaningfully control immigration, protect their economy, prevent foreign takeovers or freely engage in any new taxpayer funded subsidy for which is judged to interfere with the market (article 61).
The forced adoption of the “four freedoms” is reason enough not to join the EEA or anything like it. However, there are further sovereignty removal horrors. EEA members have to adopt EU law in the areas of social policy (article 67), consumer protection (article 73), environment (article 73), company law(article 77) and statistics (article 76) and surveillance (article 108). In addition, article 78 states “The Contracting Parties shall strengthen and broaden cooperation in the framework of the Community’s activities in the fields of:
- research and technological development,
- information services,
- the environment,
- education, training and youth,
- social policy,
- consumer protection,
- small and medium-sized enterprises,
- the audiovisual sector, and
- civil protection”
The EEA states are not required to make the type of contribution required of EU members to Brussels nor do they receive any funds from the EU. However, they are forced to follow the judgements of the European Court of Justice, they have to pay a membership fee towards “community cohesion, that is, they are required to subsidise the poorer EU states. (article 82).
The EEA states have no formal position within EU institutions such as the Council of Ministers, the EU Commission or the European Parliament. Hence, EU decisions are made without their official involvement. In addition, the EEA states are required in practice to abide by the European Court of Justice’s rulings (article 105). However, there is a joint committee comprised of EU and EEA representatives (article 90).
If the UK joined the EEA, in theory they would not have to participate in these areas of EU policy
“Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies (although the Agreement contains provisions on various aspects of trade in agricultural and fish products);
Common Trade Policy;
Common Foreign and Security Policy;
Justice and Home Affairs (even though the EFTA countries are part of the Schengen area); or
Monetary Union (EMU).” (http://secretariat.efta.int/eea/eea-agreement.aspx)
However, as we have consistently seen since Britain joined in 1973, the EU has constantly found ways of expanding their powers either by stealth or through new treaties which are never resisted in the end even if national referenda reject them because the elites of all the EU and EEA countries are committed Europhiles . A referenda rejects further EU integration; the elites arrange for another referendum to get the “right” result or produce a new Treaty which is the rejected treaty in a new guise and then find an excuse not to hold a referendum on it , normally along the lines that it is not a constitutionally important treaty.
If the UK is to regain its sovereignty it needs to withdraw completely from the EU for two reasons. First, if we accepted EEA membership or something like it, we should still be so heavily linked into the EU (and would almost certainly become more heavily involved as the EU expanded its remit), that the British political elite would always be able to argue that we were so much part of the EU we might as well go the whole hog and become full members. That argument would have resonance with Europhiles, the resigned and those who have no strong opinion either way about the EU. The second reason is that even as it stands EEA membership would deprive the UK of massive amounts of sovereignty including the most important of all sovereign powers, the ability to control who lives in a country. If we are to leave, the UK should deal with the EU and EEA countries as we do with any country outside the EU and EEA territories.
How easy would it be for the UK to leave? Article 50 of the Treaty runs:
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
The assent of the EU is required for a member to withdraw with an agreement in place, but withdrawal without an agreement can take place after two years. However, the Article does state that but ” the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal.” This seems to assume that an agreement will definitely have to be reached. There is a possible ambiguity there which might be used to invalidate the leaving without agreement clause or at least delay Britain leaving while the matter was argued out.
There would also be great scope for further prevarication. For example, the British Europhile elite would be happy to string things out in the hope that political circumstances would change to allow them to fudge any leaving agreement to tie Britain back into the EU and the agreement of the EU parliament might well be withheld if any proposed agreement deviated seriously from the shape of the Norwegian or Swiss agreements.
But assuming Britain could leave after two years without an agreement, it would still mean Britain being tied in for two years, during which period the EU could cause Britain a good deal of economic harm because in principle they could pass whatever new laws they wanted including those directed at Britain with malign intent, and Britain would still be bound by EU laws for the two years. Or there could simply be administrative action. Take immigration. There could be a deliberate policy to drive as many immigrants as possible into Britain within the two years.
If Britain left without an agreement after two years we would be in a much worse situation than simply announcing we will leave and leaving immediately. That would be technically illegal in terms of the Treaty agreement, but whatever the Treaty says the reality is that if a state as large and wealthy as the UK announced its withdrawal without conditions, the EU would accept it because they could do nothing to prevent it and imposing sanctions against the UK would be counter-productive because the UK runs a large trade deficit with the EU. Moreover, any sanctions against the UK would ruin the Republic of Ireland, another EU member.
Membership of the European Economic Area is a poisoned chalice. Resist the temptation to drink from it.