Norway has no influence in single market rules? That’s highly debatable.

As an EEA & EFTA member, Norway does in fact have influence. It has formal influence in shaping new EU law through joint EU/EFTA/EEA committees and working groups. Norway can push for adaptations and exemptions from harmful clauses in EU law, and can contest the law through a separate court. It has a veto over EU law if the law runs against its own interests. It also has an emergency brake on freedom of movement. The only thing it doesn’t have (because it isn’t an EU member) is a formal vote in EU institutions to ratify new law. This last point gets blown up into “Norway has no influence”.

A further new angle to this comes from a recent EFTA report showing that the vast majority of single market law includes policy areas now covered by the UN or other global bodies. As a result of globalisation in the 21st century, ASA, UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, WTO, NAFO, ILO and a whole host of bodies few have ever heard of are the new sources of law that then gets handed down. The EU takes a seat on such bodies and negotiates on our behalf meaning we effectively have one twenty-eighth of a seat. Norway takes a single seat on such bodies so has much greater influence than Britain in shaping laws originating from these sources – a seat it uses to great effect, particularly for industries where it has significant interests like fishing, and oil & gas.

Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, a Norwegian minister, therefore flatly denies Norway has no influence. Norway has more influence than we do. Of course there are some Norwegian politicians who support claims that they have no influence. But these politicians tend to want EU membership for Norway so arguably have their own agenda. Or they simply haven’t kept pace with the force of globalisation that leaves their argument high and dry.

And that’s where we really find the clue that the “no influence” claim is wrong: the country as a whole is now firmly against EU membership. The Norwegian organisation pushing for Norway’s full membership has given up. Iceland, another EEA member, has gone the same way. These countries “constantly awaiting orders from Brussels” – or so we are told – are, in reality, nations at ease with themselves.

One other point. The assumption in all this is that the UK enjoys major influence inside the EU. But it doesn’t. When we joined, the UK had 17% of votes in the Council of Ministers; now we have 8%. The veto is now almost non-existent and the UK hasn’t managed to block single Commission proposal passing through the Council despite trying 55 times. More recently we have even been outvoted on financial services measures, which historically was not the case given the UK’s power in this area. Commentators often report how marginalised Britain is in the EU.

The most the IN lobby can realistically say is that influence is constrained in certain ways both inside and outside the EU. But short of setting up a dictatorship with omnipotent powers, that is always going to be the case. It is not an argument for staying in.

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