Norway as the EU’s secret 28th member?

I mentioned this last week in class that the BBC News website had this report  (click: on how Norway is almost (okay so its not a secret EU member!) as integrated in the EU as an actual member state, like its neighbors (and great ice-hockey rivals) Denmark, Sweden and Finland. More geeky details are available at:  and as far as I can fathom the actual report is this one:

That is a bit weird but it reveals what I call the reality of ‘banal European integration’...meaning the need for small nation states to club together and agree relatively technical rules and standards  and more than likely relatively free trade with each other in an era of chaotic  globalization. The idea that a small and rich nation state like Norway could simply set standards for its own lightbulbs and office furniture is of course technically possible, but would be more or less economic suicide. In a few cases they may adopt certain odd standards for health and safety or cultural reasons, but otherwise you end up adopting more or less the rules of a big nearby trading bloc. If it wasn’t the EU, it would be NAFTA…or something else.

So what? I think its important because Norway is sometimes looked at as a model by Irish and British people (who are increasingly angry with the EU, often for quite understandable reasons). I guess the thought process is that we could be like Norway, especially if we discovered loads of oil off Dublin or Rossport, Mayo. We could then kiss goodbye to the ECB, the Euro, and the whole humiliating troika thing, maybe leave the entire EU in time for the 2016 commemorations?

Not quite. Our insane banking debts would still have to paid or written off in a negotiated way. Unlike, Norway we have no maritime tradition of engineering, shipbuilding or support for marine exploration. Norway in the late 19th century, already had one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. To make the most of ‘Irish Oil & Gas’ (if it is there in quantity, actually an important ‘if’) we would need to develop a complex marine engineering infrastructure which no Irish government has ever funded or been interested in. In fact, we closed down our state owned shipyards and shipping lines as ‘loss makers’ in the 1980s. The technical know-how of ireland as regards the sea and the marine is massively inferior compared to a seafaring nation like Norway or Iceland.

And then we see that for all of that, Norway actually ends up having to participate in the EU in a technical and legalistic way, without actually the benefit of having their people formally at the negotiating table? Clearly, it means that Norway can steer and dodge some EU laws and policies that they do not like. Good for them. Maybe. Their agriculture sector avoids the whole CAP thing, but their farmers are just as subsidized, if not more so, than EU ones. Certainly on fishing, which matters to them, they have much more freedom, but even here they must export their fish into a common market and the rules and standards for that are determined by the others.

Conclusion: even if Ireland were to strike it rich with oil tomorrow, and then vote to leave the EU, we would still end up like Norway, having to participate in the Brussels based policy process to influence and mitigate the technical and legal details that emerge in quantity. Would it not be better then to remain formally part of the process, even if we (the royal we as in = Irish people) may want to say ‘no’ to specific laws, policies or specific Treaty changes?


4 thoughts on “Norway as the EU’s secret 28th member?”

  1. Yes, even if we were to adopt a Norwegian style we would have to play by the rules of the bureaucrats when trading with Europe, but we live in a highly standardized world anyway. We sell food, services and financial engineering to Europe, not area’s off overt technical specs. The food standards employed by Europe are probably a good then and allow for safe food, so its in our interests to have the same food safety standards. But if we were out of Europe we wouldn’t have to adhere to crazy milk quota rules, and we could control our own production. If we made our co-ops, actual co-ops instead of crypto co-ops controlled by rich farmers and good boys form Clongowes, then we would be able to sell a safe product that’s in high demand.
    Also if we’d been outside of the European framework, we could still have attracted financial companies with “educated english speaking workforce thats cheaper than London” and oh yeah tax breaks. That would mean that we could have enforced some proper rules on the casino capitalists here in Dublin eg..German banks doing in ireland what they cant do at home..
    One thing we could do is offer Norway (statoil) a larger stake in the first gas field. this is only the first gas field. Employ and train Irish staff and then do as the Norwegians did and set up our own company. All politicians run scared when you mention the gas the past they hid behind the usual stuff, “its too expensive”, so far its cost 2.1billion, pittance when you take anglo into account. “we dont have the capabilities”, well most of the staff are Irish with vast experience abroad in the oil business, (incidentally the CEO of Chevron is irish)
    Imagine if we had a sovereign wealth fund of over 400 billion for 5 million people, we cold tell the EU to take a hike too, but we couldn’t do this as its technically in breech of free market competition laws.
    Israel also has a similiar trading deal within the EU as norway, where do you think the year old veg in Aldi comes from, but that’s a different story

  2. Hi there, I agree with some of what your saying (Jonathon maybe?)…especially about how we could develop offshore oil and gas ourselves…i wasn’t saying we can’t do that….just that we would have to change our domestic priorities and policies a lot…..getting irish expats home to run an oil industry is one thing…spending the money, time and infrastructure on ships, rigs, crews, pipelines, is quite another. Yes Fintan O’Toole’s idea of getting Statoil to do it for and with us is a possible way.

    In fact what few people mention is the need to explore and develop our offshore renewable potential for wind, wave and tidal which unlike the oil and gas (which may be there in quantity or not), is certainly there but is trickier to develop and requires more state subsidy and leadership. We’re supposed to have 500MW of ocean energy by 2020. Of course oil off Dalkey would be lovely as well if it wound fund hospitals.

    My bigger point is that you’d still have to be deeply engaged and messed up with EU states regardless. Splendid isolation with or without oil is not an option. The Norway option of simply leaving the EU is actual nothing of the kind. In reality Norway has voted twice to not joined the EU, but ended up informally negotiating with the EU as a semi-member, and they have some of the benefits of that, but also some disadvantages (like they get very little real say and Norwegian citizens know much less about what informal negotiations occur between their government and the EU).

    This means we should never be scared into thinking we can expelled from the EU or whatever the EU evolves to. If worse comes to worst we could well negotiate free trade and ad hoc participation just like Norway. That is some sort of ‘good news’ and balances the line ‘we must agree to everything from Europe’. On the other hand, if that is the way it goes for us (like Norway) that means your less able to have a say and the outcomes are less clearcut. My worry is that we could eventually end up a bit like Norway, detached from an increasingly unpopular EU, but without the oil or fish!!!

    On milk quotas these are being abolished anyway within the CAP from 2014 I think. I am worried about that because it will put huge pressure on some dairy farmers to expand to flog bulk milk into a global market. What will that do to land prices? What about farmers who cannot expand due to land shortages…Ireland not being New Zealand or Wisconsin with loads of available dairy pasture? What will that do to the river systems downstream of what will become a smaller number of larger dairy ranches to feed a global food market?

    The point about Israel is v. interesting. They could just as easily be listed as a 29th ‘stealth member’ of the EU. The Israeli high tech sector is massively integrated with EU companies in defence, computing and aerospace sectors. An embargo on Israeli products (something I think we should consider in certain cases at EU level but will never happen for various reasons anytime soon) would actually cause massive economic disruption for many EU firms not just Aldi! But they said sanctions against South Africa would never happen, and then they said they would never work. Never say never!

    Good comments!

    1. the milk quota question is one close to my heart. my dad was one of the founders of Arrabawn, Dont think its been abolished in 2014, my brother has gone through hell over the last year trying to get quota. Your right on New Zealand, i remember my dad waxing lyrical about kiwis when i was a kid. Much better climate so costs of producing milk are a lot less. But the problem i feel is that we’re playing a big game against lare multi national interests, eg glanbia are now the worlds largest processors of milk, but we’re doing it from a high cost base. As long as the like of Michael coveney are head of Greencore, and the controlling interest of “Co-Ops”, Irish farmers will constantly rely on the scraps from Europe to keep up their income. What a scam it is. farmers spend roughly 18 cent producing a litre of milk, they are receiving about 29-32 per litre, but its 1.26 in the shop. the cost to the processor is minimal. instead i feel small scale co-ops operating under a larger brand, each developing a more high end product is the way ahead. But getting farmers to agree anything is impossible. They allow themselves to be divided to easy, always listen to “very smart man” in a suit and always mind their own small corner. The basque and catalan idea’s around farming are interesting. A few years ago i was in barcelona while the co=op decided to drop the prices paid to farmers. Resulted in a total boycott, they even resorted to buying the dreaded castillian milk. But collective action won out.
      not something we’re really good at in this country.

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