The EU-directive that could blow up the Norwegian Government

The limited EU-debate in Norway has the past few weeks evolved around the never-ending debate on whether or not Norway should “veto” directives coming from the EU through the EEA-agreement. The disagreement within the Government on what to do with the Services directive is explosive enough for them to implode if they are forced to make a decision.

The crippled EU-debate in Norway has left politicians without the guts to ask the obvious and most important question: what role do we want to play in Europe? Instead, they have reduced the debate to evolve around the past EU Directives, such as the ‘Services Directive‘ and the ‘Data Retention directive‘.

The Directives are important and have big influence on the Member States, but the problem for Norway is that we have chosen not to participate in the debates when the Directives are actually discussed in Europe.

Take the Services Directive as an example. It was one of the most debated Directives in Europe, and maybe even one that created a pan-European debate, with heated discussion in the Member States and demonstrations outside the European Parliament. The compromised final Directive passed on 15 November 2006. 

The Problem: walking the talk

The problem arises when the Norwegian Government still insists that Norway has a a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ choice to the directive by continuing to ‘explore the various issues related to the directive… The Government will now study the reports thoroughly before taking a position’ (quote from the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre Bi-annual address to the Norwegian Parliament on relevant EU issues in May). This statement was made two years after the debate ended in the rest of the EU. It is also in direct contradiction with Støre’s address on the consequences of the Lisbon Treaty, stating that ‘one obvious consequence for us is that we will have to speed up our own handling of EEA and Schengen matters.‘ It beats me how they are going to do this if Norway’s ability to manage EEA matters is to be measured by the treatment of the Services Directive.

The real reason behind that the delay is that the Government is trying to find a way to adopt the Directive without losing face or dissolving itself. The two “No to the EU” parties, the Socialist Left and the Centre Party, may have to accept something they have strongly opposed for years in order to save their ministerial posts and executive powers, as the strongest coalition partner Labour Party is generally pro-EU. 

The reality is simple; the day that the Government fails to reach an agreement on a Directive that is relevant for around 70 % of the internal market legislation is the day when Norway gives the EEA agreement the death penalty.

Prediction: The Government will stall it till after next years election

As far as I see it, all parties in office are aware of the fact, so they are left with three options:

  1. They stall the Directive until after the elections. This will mean that Norway will not implement the Directive within the deadline (28th of December 2009) and Norwegian trade and commerce may suffer as a consequence.
  2.  They accept the Directive. The “No”-parties will either have to accept their defeat in return for a major trade-off with the Labour party or leave the government coalition
  3. They “veto” the Directive together with Iceland and Lichtenstein. The only positive aspect with this scenario is that it will force Norway to join the EU in order to save our lifeline to Europe. 

I think the coalition will go for option one and keep on “exploring” various aspects of the Directive until fall of 2009. If the same coalition then manages be to re-elected, then we will probably see some sort of trade-off between the coalition parties and the Directive will be implemented. This is of course the most coward way of solving this issue, in direct contradiction to one of the main goals of the Government: “An active European policy”.

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