Debate: Living the Norwegian way
13 July 2012
The Daily Telegraph
Norway, a a member of the European Economic Area, but not the EU, is the dream country for British eurosceptics. But could it work for countries that want to jump the European ship?
On the historic quayside, gazing out over the North Sea, the sunburnt young man took a swig of his lager and paused. "We want to be our own masters," he said finally, "and not let Brussels tell us what to do. Why should we be in the European Union and pay for the mistakes of other countries?"
With a shrug of his shoulders, he added the oft-heard British refrain: "We're better out of the EU."
But this was not a British shore, and the familiar phrases were not coming from British lips. In Bergen, Norway's second city, such views are almost universally held, and Hans-Erik Almas, 23, is among the 80 per cent of Norwegians who think their country is right not to be in the EU.
"Norway is strong and wealthy, so I don't see why we should put that at risk by joining," he said. "We already have the best parts of the EU without actually being a member."
It's an opinion increasingly shared across the sea, in Britain. Last week, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron raised the possibility of a referendum on Britain's membership. And Norway is often cited as a perfect example of how to leave the EU, yet still thrive.
"People worry that if Britain left we would lose access to the Single Market and not be able to travel freely," said Robert Oulds, director of the Bruges Group think tank. "“But that is not the case. Britain can cancel its membership of the EU and retain the trade benefits, following Norway’s example. The only thing we will lose is the bureaucracy and expense."
Norway's five million people were asked twice whether they wanted to join – with referendums in 1972 and 1994 – and each time, after impassioned debate, narrowly voted No.