The story behind why Norway is not in the EU

Although Norway has tried to join the EU a total of 4 times, it is still not a member. 

In the 1960s membership was blocked by a French veto twice. Later, when Norwegians voted for membership in the union in both 1972 and 1994 Norwegians voted to remain outside.

Despite not being in the EU, Norway is the most integrated non-EU member. In this article, we take a look at why Norway is not in the EU, why Norwegians voted against and current Norway-EU relations.

Membership blocked by France

The foundations of what would become the European Union were laid in 1951, when France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg established the European coal and steel community.

This union later expanded to encourage free trade of all sorts of goods between the member nations in order to ensure European prosperity and peace and became known as the European Economic Community (EEC).

In 1960, a parallel faction called the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was formed by Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, and Norway as an alternative to the EEC.

By 1961/1962, Great Britain, Denmark, and Norway were in talks of joining the EU, but the negotiations were stranded when then-French president Charles de Gaulle laid down a veto against British membership.

This happened again, when Norway, Great Britain, Denmark and Ireland applied for membership in 1967.

There are many reasons for this. One of them was that De Gaulle and France saw the EEC as a tool for France to take a leading role in the development of Europe and restore french pride.

Another is that De Gaulle had a troubled relationship with the United States, and he feared GB would be used as a trojan horse by the Americans to interfere with European policy due to their close relationship.

1972 Referendum

When French President De Gaulle stepped down in 1969, talks of membership resurfaced again. While referendums for Demark, Great Britain and Ireland ended up with victory for the Yes- side, 53% of Norwegians voted to stay out in the 1972 referendum.

Among the political parties in the Norwegian parliament. The centre-Right party Høyre was the only pure yes party. However, a majority of representatives from the centre-Left Labour party were also in favour, as well as factions in the centre parties Venstre and the Christian democratic party.

The key arguments in favour of Norwegian membership included:

  • Empowering Europe through collaboration.
  • The importance of the mission of unifying a war-torn Europe.
  • A unified western Europe would be stronger to stand against the eastern bloc.
  • Membership would strengthen the Norwegian economy.

Among the parties against Norwegian membership, the farmer-centric Centre party were the only pure No-Party. That being said, factions within the centre parties Venstre and the Christian democratic party were also against membership.

Among the business interests, those within the agricultural and fishing industries were the most outspoken against EU membership. Among others, their key arguments against membership included:

  • Membership would threaten Norwegian self-supremacy
  • The union is another political alliance that could potentially weaken NATO.
  • Membership would weaken Norwegian self-governance of its fishing territories.
  • Membership would create a greater divide between elected officials and the public.
  • Membership would result in predatory/non-sustainable use of natural resources.
  • Membership would weaken the Norwegian agricultural industry.

The defeat for those in yes-faction was a huge disappointment for then prime minister and leader of the Labor party Trygve Bratteli, who was in favour of joining the Union. He ended up resigning after the result.

1994 Referendum

The European Union had strong bonds with the united states throughout the cold war. This mad made it difficult for neutral states such as Sweden, Finland and Austria and Switzerland to apply for membership.

This changed as the cold war ended in the early 90s. When Sweden, Finland and Austria applied for membership in 1991, which also fueled another attempt in Norway, leading to a second referendum being held on 28. November 1994.

Again, the centre-right party Høyre was the only pure yes-party in the Norwegian parliament, with the labour party and the right-liberal Progress party being largely in favour. The majority of the Norwegian business associations were also in favour of membership.

The key arguments for the yes campaign included;

  • Membership would strengthen the Norwegian economy
  • Norway should take part in the union’s peace-keeping mission.
  • Norway is a European country geographically, culturally and historically and should participate in a union strengthening European interests.
  • Norway is already being affected by EU policy through the EEA agreement and membership would ensure Norway could participate in the decision-making process.
  • As a small nation Membership would strengthen Norway’s position when bargaining against larger nations.
  • Membership would ensure Norway’s participation in the unions works towards evening out the economic differences across the European continent.

Yet again, the farmer-centric Centre party led the campaign against Norwegian membership, along with the smaller Socialist-left party and far-left party Red electoral alliance.

Norwegian farmer and fishing associations were again outspoken against membership. In addition, Norway’s largest labour union decided to be against membership.

The key arguments for the No-campaign against Norwegian membership included:

  • Membership would threaten Norwegian self-supremacy
  • Membership would result in more bureaucracy.
  • Membership would increase economic interests that would weaken Norwegian cultural distinctiveness.
  • Membership would strengthen economic interests that would weaken labour rights and result in predatory/non-sustainable use of natural resources.
  • The EU largely favours larger, rich countries and fails to even out economic differences between member states.
  • Norway should not join a union that has an out-of-area clause that enables it to make military actions outside its member states (A clause that has later been adopted by NATO but wasn’t at the time).
  • EU was a less democratic organisation than the individual member states.

The referendum was held on the 28. November 1994 and resulted in 52.2% of Norwegians voting against membership. 

Voter turnout was as high as 89% and although the referendum was only advisory and not politically binding, the parliament adopted the will of the people, keeping Norway out of the union.

Current Norway-EU relations

Currently, Norway is a part of EFTA, which consists of 4 member states; Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. With the exception of Switzerland, the other nations are also part of the EEA (European Economic Area).

The EEA agreement gives Norway full access to the EU’s inner market and allows for free trade with the member states. At the same time, Norway is obliged to adopt several core principles that go along with EUs open market principles.

Over time, the agreement has had a large influence on Norwegian legislation. In fact, Norway is the most EU-integrated non-member state. However, as a non-member state, Norway has been unable to influence the legislation the agreement demands.

While the majority of Norwegians and Norwegian politicians agree that the agreement benefits the Norwegian economy and Norwegians in general, Critics of the agreement highlight among other things its undemocratic nature.

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Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.