Norway has applied for membership of the European Union (EU) four times but is not a member. The two first applications were aborted because of de Gaulle’s veto against the U.K.’s application. The two latter were turned down by Norwegian citizens in popular referenda (1972 and 1994). Why did a majority of Norwegian citizens reject EU membership? A survey of the literature identifies a range of historical, cultural, political, and socioeconomic factors. In addition, it cannot be discounted that there were specific features about the referendums and the referendum campaigns that help account for the decisions to reject EU membership, given that all Nordic states except Iceland have held EU membership referendums.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that Norway is not an EU member, it has opted for as close an EU association as is possible for a nonmember. In order to understand Norway’s EU relationship, the following paradox must be addressed: whereas the question of EU membership has long been a highly controversial and divisive issue, Norway’s comprehensive incorporation in the EU through the EEA Agreement and a whole host of other arrangements has profound constitutional democratic implications and yet has sparked surprisingly little controversy.
What then are the distinctive features of the “Norway model,” in other words, Norway’s EU affiliation? In order to clarify this, it is necessary to compare and contrast Norway’s affiliation with other relevant types of affiliation that nonmembers have to the EU. Thereafter, the distinctive features of Norway’s EU affiliation can be outlined: the internal market through the EEA Agreement; justice and home affairs through the Schengen and Dublin conventions; as well as defense cooperation and the institutional apparatus regulating Norway’s relationship with the EU. A distinctive feature of the Norway model is its comprehensiveness: Norway’s various EU affiliations amount to it incorporating roughly 75% of all EU laws and regulations.
What are the domestic mechanisms and arrangements that enable Norway to adapt so closely to the EU when the EU membership issue continues to be so controversial? There is public support for the present arrangement, but how robust and resilient that is can be questioned. The arrangement depends on specific mechanisms that ensure that Norway’s EU affiliation remains depoliticized. In explicating these mechanisms, a clearer conception emerges of how Norway balances the challenges associated with global economic integration, national sovereignty, and democracy.
Norway and the European Union
John Erik Fossum
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics