In 1972, the streets of Norway were filled with protests against the EU when by referendum a majority of Norwegian voters rejected EU membership. The same situation repeated itself in 1994. Throughout the years, opposition against the EU has been dominated by political groups from the centre-left, and especially by farmers, fishermen, and workers on the coasts and in the north. These early protests against the EU reflected, with almost farsighted precision, many of the same topics discussed today in countries like Portugal, Greece and Ireland: lack of democracy, lack of economic justice, lack of freedom and independence, and lack of concerns for the environment.
According to the Norwegian movement against the EU (Neitil EU), which has been active for the past four decades, the main reasons for remaining an independent nation are as follows:
- Democracy. The authority of ever new areas is transferred from the nation states to the EU. The citizens of the EU are rarely aware of what is happening behind the closed doors of Brussels. Consequently, only around 45 percent of the people of the EU participate in elections. As an independent nation, Norway has a better participatory democracy.
- Solidarity: As a strong force in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the EU is pressuring poor countries into allowing multinational companies to set up shop. The EU also enters into unfair trade agreements with former colonies and has reduced its aid to poor countries in Africa. The EU pressures poor countries to accept liberalization and privatization of the economy.
- Environment. The EU is not effectively helping to solve the world’s environmental problems, such as global warming. The EU’s economic policies leads to centralization and large –scale production resulting in overconsumption of resources, increased transport and pollution. The EU has proven to be ineffective in solving global environmental issues and too big and cumbersome to solve local issues.
- Freedom. After the signing of the Lisbon Treaty much of EU foreign policy decisions are taken during elite political dinners in Brussels and these decisions are increasingly favouring rich countries over the poor. Before membership, Sweden used to vote for the interests of the south in the UN, but as an EU member, Sweden rarely does so. As an outsider, Norway can remain an independent voice in the world.
Two themes have been fundamental to Norwegians against membership in the EU since the Treatise of Rome was signed in 1957: 1) the perception that democratic values at the national as well as the local level are best retained outside the EU, and 2) skepticism towards the market liberalism embedded in the EU constitution. As we have noted above, these concerns have become increasingly prevalent in new member countries, as well, especially those at the periphery of power in Brussels, and in those countries suffering the most from the Euro crisis, such as Portugal and Spain.
According to the ‘No to EU’ movement in Norway, the EU has largely designed a society “where local and national communities are replaced by companies and banks as the fundamental building blocks.” This popular movement has been supported by the majority of Norwegians over the years and has been very critical of the fundamentals in the EU’s economic program, namely the four economic freedoms mentioned above. These neoliberal policies, it is argued, restrict local authorities and states from the right “to limit the market freedoms if it is necessary in order to achieve important social purposes.” In other words, this movement has, from its very inception in the early 1970s, pointed directly to the heart of EUs weak links as an economic and social Union, namely its tendency to centralize and monopolize both economic and political power.
According to the No to EU movement, “The Norwegian Parliament, like Westminster [in Great Britain], is far from the individual voter: Brussels, however, is much farther away and too detached from democratic control. If we want politics based on solidarity values, and if we wish to take the people with us on that endeavour, we must begin at the level where democratic power is real. This is a thesis of equal significance to both Britain and Norway.” Indeed, similar concerns are echoed amongst EU sceptics all over Europe today, from Ireland to Portugal.