Norway's European conundrum
In this essay Fossum is discussing the politically divising issue in Norwegian politics- membership in the European Union. Through the EEA agreement Norway has become tightly incorporated in the EU, and this incorporation poses challenges to the Norwegian democracy. Fossum is treating this issue thorugh Holmes' notion of 'gag rules'.
John Erik Fossum
Membership in the European Union has for several decades figured as one of, if not the, most politically divisive issues in Norway. The question of Norwegian EU membership has been turned down in two popular referenda, and three governments have faltered on the issue. Since 1994, through the EEA agreement and other formalized links under all three EU pillars, Norway has become tightly incorporated in the EU. Norway’s ‘tight incorporation without formal membership’ has occurred without much political uproar and within a context where Norwegian political actors have removed the contentious EU membership issue from the political and public agenda. It is the political mechanisms that political actors have used to remove the contentious membership issue from the political agenda that is the topic of this article. I argue that these can be usefully studied with reference to Stephen Holmes’ notion of ‘gag rules’, formal and informal provisions bent on removing contentious issues from debate and decision-making. These mechanisms have helped smooth Norway’s incorporation in the EU, a type of incorporation that poses serious challenges to Norwegian democracy. In the concluding section the democratic implications are discussed. This single-case study of Norway offers insights into mechanisms and patterns of de-politicization of European integration and the democratic implications thereof that are of relevance across Europe.