No doubt, readers of this blog would have heard the Prime Minister and other fervid supporters of Britain's EU membership talk dismissively of Norway's position in the European Economic Area (EEA) but not in the European Union (EU).
Or, in other words, Norway is in the Single Market but is not part of the rest of the EU legislation and is very jealous of her ability to dismiss that legislation if it does not suit the national interest as not being part of what they had agreed to when the EEA Agreement was signed. The UK, let me remind my readers, can do no such thing. Mr Cameron, this country's Prime Minister, does not think that would suit Britain as that would mean that we would just "“just accept all the rules of the Single Market, pay for the privilege of being part of it and, as it were, be governed by fax rule".
Let us be charitable and assume that it is ignorance rather than a desire to be economical with the truth that inspired Mr Cameron to make that statement.
A new paper published by the Bruges Group, The Norway Option by Dr Richard North, goes into the subject in some detail, showing how many of the decisions the EU implements are actually made at a higher, international level and how important Norway's role is in a number of those organizations while the UK is represented by the Commission and, possibly, the Council.
Fishing does not come under the Single Market though the original CFP was set up through sleight of hand, by using Treaty Articles that applied to trade. (Here, here and a letter by Tom Hay here.)
Let us now have a look at how "powerless" Norway, who remains outside the CFP, is in the question of fisheries. This is what Dr North writes on page 16 of the pamphlet:
As regards the European Union, the EU ratified the UNCLOS [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] agreement in 1998, and subscribes to the FAO codes, the combination being part of the external dimension of the Common Fisheries Policy.42,43 Although the CFP is not part of the internal market acquis and is not part of the EEA Agreement, trade in fish and fish products is covered, and to some extent is affected by these international treaties and agreements. Norway, of course, represents herself on the relevant bodies, but EU Member States are represented by the European Commission and the EEAS[European External Action Service].
As regards the CFP, much of the current provisions are hedged by the international agreements, to the extent that it would be very difficult for individual member states to formulate their own independent policies. This is especially the case as the EU has also concluded or is party to multiple bilateral and multilateral treaties with neighbouring fishing states. For instance, it lists eleven with Norway, of which three are bilateral, eight with Iceland, and one with the Faroes. These inter-relate with regional organisations such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), to which the Russian Federation, Norway, Iceland, Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland) and the European Union are parties.
Even before that, on pages 12 and 13 we can read this:
Codex Alimentarius promulgates international food standards, which are then adopted regionally and locally. All EU Member States are members of the governing commission. In 2003, the European Community joined, sharing competence with EU countries depending on the level of harmonisation of the respective legislation. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the EU became the body of record. The EU and its Member States draw up EU position papers on the issues discussed in the Commission, the various Committees and Task Forces. The Committee on Fish and Fishery Products is hosted by Norway.
Just in case anyone can misunderstand the implications, on page 31 there is a clear explanation:
For another example, in Codex Alimentarius negotiations, the UK and other EU member states have ceded authority to the EU on some technical issues, allowing exclusive EU “competence”. By contrast, Norway is not only an independent member but, in hosting the Fish and Fisheries Products Committee, is the lead nation globally in an area of significant economic importance to it. It is thus able to guide, if not control, the agenda on standards relevant to this product group, to which the EU then reacts. In all respects, Norway has a far greater say in Codex Alimentarius affairs than does the UK.
Outside the framework of the EU, Norway is thus able to make its voice heard on the international stage, permitting it to express its own interests and take up its own negotiating positions. It can also initiate rules on its own account, without first having to seek EU approval. It has, for instance, been particularly active in exploiting the opportunities afforded by international conventions.
Whether anybody really legislates or imposes rules by fax in this day of e-mail is an interesting question but whoever does that it is not the EU on Norway. It might happen the other way round. Oh, and let us not forget that in negotiations about fishing in the North Sea the UK is represented by the EU (as will be Scotland should it ever achieve that glorious aim of "independence within the EU"). Norway and Iceland represent themselves.