I mentioned this last week in class that the BBC News website had this report (click: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16594370?print=true) 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: http://www.efta.int/eea/eea-news/2012-01-19-efta-seminar.aspx and as far as I can fathom the actual report is this one: http://www.regjeringen.no/pages/36798821/PDFS/NOU201220120002000EN_PDFS.pdf
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?