On Wednesday the Newsnight programme, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, was devoted entirely to the question of this country’s membership of the European Union (note this link is ‘time-limited’ where availability is concerned). During the course of this programme a statement was made by Helle Hagenau – who is actually from Denmark and worked as Secretary General in Norway’s “No to EU” in 2001 – that caused not one ripple of interest among the panelists among the anti-EU side while all Jeremy Paxman could do was make what could be considered a sneering remark. It should be noted that while this programme was hailed as ‘tv not to be missed” by those on twitter, there were some among us, besides me, that were not that impressed – but I digress.
In answer to the accusation that Norway suffered from ‘government by fax’ from Brussels, Hagenau said (starts 32:12):
“No, we are not governed by fax because the European agreement, the single market agreement, that has a clause when we can veto a directive if we don’t like it; and we have done that.”
This promptly set the bloodhound in me off in full pursuit, nose to the ground. With the aid of Richard North, The Boiling Frog and further sifting of the internet by me, some interesting results were found.
First, from Richard North, comes the EFTA Bulletin “The European Economic Area and the Single Market 20 years on”, September 2012 and from pages 13-14 we read:
“Despite the equality of the EU and EEA EFTA in the formal institutional framework of the EEA Agreement, it has always been clear that the EU is the leading partner. As a result, the automatic implementation of EU legislation is rarely discussed in the Icelandic parliament. According to many legal scholars, however, this harmonised legal framework is in violation of the Icelandic constitution. When Iceland does try to deviate from the EU rules, the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) intervenes. More than a dozen times, the Authority has taken direct action or issued formal infringement procedures against Iceland before the EFTA Court for being in violation of EU law. The number of cases against Iceland increased substantially after the 2008 economic crash. Even though EEA legislation needs to be passed through the Icelandic Parliament, it has increasingly become evident that the EEA EFTA Member States cannot refuse EU legislation without threatening the
whole arrangement. If this were to happen, it would go against the overall aim of the EEA Agreement, which is to ensure legal homogeneity in the Single Market, and it would be in the hands of the European Commission to decide whether or not to suspend the part of the EEA Agreement that refers to vetoed legislation. Vetoing EU legislation could lead to withdrawal from the EEA Agreement, not only for the individual Member State, but also for its two other EEA EFTA partners. Often referred to as the “thermonuclear clause”, the formal veto right could be effective, but it might not be to anyone’s benefit if it was used. On a few occasions, however, EU directives (the directives on electricity providers and sewers and, most recently, the service directive) have, however, been disputed to the extent that they have prompted a general political debate over the veto right.
Recently the Norwegian Parliament refused to implement the amended directive on postal services. The Icelandic Government is of course following that process with interest.” (Emphasis mine)
This fact is confirmed by the UNI Post and Logistics Global Union who state (page 12):
“As a result of an extensive campaign run by the union and supported by UNI Post & Logistics, history was made in April 2011 when the Norwegian Government decided it would not implement the Directive.”
Courtesy of The Boiling Frog we then find this from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the pertinent section is 6.1.4. The right of veto, from which:
“According to the principle of unanimity applied in the EEA Joint Committee, all the EFTA states must agree in order for new EU legislation to be integrated into the EEA Agreement and for it to apply to cooperation between the EFTA states and the EU. If one EFTA state opposes integration, this also affects the other EFTA states in that the rules will not apply to them either, neither in the individual states nor between the EFTA states themselves nor in their relations with the EU. This possibility that each EFTA state has to object to new rules that lie within the scope of the EEA Agreement becoming applicable to the EFTA pillar is often referred to as these parties’ right of veto.”
Bearing in mind this section of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs information document appears to have been written before April 2011, it goes on to state that the importance of the EFTA pillar as a market for the EU and as a common market for the EFTA states has been significantly reduced. If problems should arise between Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on the one hand and the EU on the other in connection with the integration of new EU legislation into the EEA Agreement, the natural balance will therefore have shifted in the EFTA pillar’s disfavour and makes the point that this trend will be exacerbated by future enlargements of the EU to include new member states.
Again courtesy of Richard North (and Google), we find this, from which:
“The most direct means the Storting has for influencing EU legislation is through Art. 103 of the EEA Agreement which gives the national parliaments veto power over the decisions of the EEA Committee. This Article was introduced to accommodate constitutional requirements in the EFTA states, and reflects the fact that formally the agreement is only an ordinary international treaty. Under Art. 26 of the Norwegian Constitution, new international obligations of particular importance must be accepted by the Storting before they can be ratified.”
What the foregoing shows is that there are a number of points that need to be made and made quite forcibly.
- That are those supposed ‘eurosceptics’ fighting for withdrawal from the EU ‘up to the job’ and do they actually know what they are talking about? For a statement to be made, such as that by Hagenau, not to be immediately ‘picked up’ by a ‘leading light’ of the eurosceptic movement – Farage – (apologies for any hint of sarcasm) beggars belief.
- For Cameron to repeat what is obviously a lie can only lay him open to the charge of misleading the British public and begs the question whether he has the right to continue to be addressed with a title which includes the word ‘Honourable’.
- Were any referendum to be held in this country on membership of the EU, how can we be sure that we will be presented with all the facts when politicians, such as Cameron and others are, shall we say, “economical with the actualité”?
- Why has our “informative” media not informed us of the fact that membership of the EEA provides a means of applying a veto to EU Directives? Why have the media not exposed Cameron and other politicians as not quite telling the truth and in so doing propagating what are lies about ‘government by fax’?
- If and when (God forbid) Cameron does go to Brussels to ‘renegotiate a new agreement’, why does a sense of foreboding come over me? How can we trust one who is a proven liar where ‘matters EU’ are concerned and who obviously knows not of that on which he intends negotiating?
- That we need a few clauses added to our non-existent written Constitution.
- And that when we do redefine our arrangements with the EU we need a bloody good lawyer.
Update: Courtesy of PurpleRevolution on twitter, who ‘feeds’ me info comes the latest Norwegian Committee’s review of Norway’s Arrangements with the EU.