When the Leave.EU campaign saw that Erik Oddvar Eriksen, the director of Oslo University’s Brussels-funded Centre for European Studies, was telling the British press that being like Norway was “the worst thing that could happen” to the UK, they were sceptical. Surely Norway is rich, free, and afforded a great deal more international autonomy by its arms-length relationship with the European Union (EU) than full members like the UK?
“Norway voted against joining the EU twice, and public opinion is dead against joining now, so we wondered how terrible life on the outside for Norwegians could really be,” we said.
“So we spoke to Kathrine Kleveland, the director of the ‘Nei Til EU’ campaign which fought against going into the EU in 1972 and 1994 and which still has tens of thousands of paying members today, to get a taste for the majority opinion.”
Mrs Kleveland said that the EU “is like a political club, and it is not so surprising that politicians want to be members” – naming the Europhile foreign minister Borge Brende as an example.
“But the thing you have to remember about these people is that they are Norwegian Nick Cleggs. They do not speak for ordinary Norwegians.”
She emphasised that, however terrible the picture of life outside the EU which people like Mr Eriksen might paint for outsiders, the public did vote against joining in its two referendums, adding that “polls show more than 70 per cent of people are against trying to join now.”
She also strongly disputed the prevailing narrative that the UK’s fated to irrelevance and isolation after an EU exit.
“Your former prime minister Gordon Brown has said leaving the EU would be ‘the North Korea option, out in the cold with few friends, no influence, little new trade and even less new investment’. I have to say, this has not been our experience in Norway!
“But we have been through the same scare stories you are hearing now. In 1994, the big corporations said we would lose 100,000 jobs if we didn’t join. We were told investors would abandon our country. We decided we wouldn’t be bullied, and look what has happened. Unemployment has been lower than the EU average every year since 1994, and foreign investment in Norway has increased several hundred per cent.”
Mrs Kleveland also warned against the idea that it was necessary to melt into the EU in order to have a say at the “top table”, highlighting the increasing importance of worldwide engagement.
“Instead of being isolated, our small country has in many ways a louder voice in important global bodies like the World Trade Organisation than bigger EU countries, because Brussels controls how they vote. In fact, our neighbours in Denmark and Sweden will often come to us, asking that we make some proposal for them which the EU will not give permission for them to make on their own.
“I know not having the freedom to act without permission has been a problem here as well, for example in the steel industry”.
She did acknowledge that the Norway option has its problems, but denies that the country has to do whatever the EU says with no power to say no.
“We adopted about 9 per cent of EU laws and regulations between 2000 and 2013, but it’s a long way to 100 per cent. We do have a veto over directives we really do not like.
“Outside the EU, we control our own farm policies and our own fishing waters. We can make trade deals with any country anywhere in the world. The relationship is not perfect, but it is an improvement on full membership, and we are working to make it better. It would be wonderful if an independent Britain could become our partner in this work, so come out and join us! You will find that the so-called North Korea option is really not so bad.”