Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five green bottles?

 

Poor EFTA. Nobody loves her for herself alone.

EFTA is the European Free Trade Association. This is immediately problematical, because isn’t the European Union a European free trade association?

Yes, and that is the reason for EFTA.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951; it established the European Steel and Coal Community, which united the French and German coal and steel industries. Its members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Britain was invited to join, but declined.

In 1957, the ESCC evolved into the European Economic Community, with a customs union working towards the abolition of internal tariffs. The success of this approach speedily became apparent, and Greece and Turkey applied for associate membership. The British government, fearing economic isolation, took the lead in organising a looser free trade association among other European countries.

This was EFTA and, when it was established in 1960, it had seven members (“the outer seven”): Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Finland joined a year later.

EFTA had a combined population of 90 million; the EEC (“the inner six”) had a population of 190 million. Harold Macmillan decided EFTA was too small for Britain’s interests and, 18 months after it had been set up, applied for Britain to become a full member of the EEC.

Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. That would have reduced EFTA’s membership to six, but General de Gaulle, now President of France for the second time, was not sympathetic to Britain’s application and vetoed it. Ireland, Denmark and Norway promptly withdrew their own applications to join the EEC.

EFTA was now back at eight.

Four years later, a British Labour government under Harold Wilson again applied for membership in the EEC. Britain was in a parlous economic state by this time and appealing to the IMF for help. De Gaulle again opposed the application, although he did not veto it. It was put on hold.

Within a year, de Gaulle had resigned as President, and serious negotiations about Britain’s entry began. Treaties of accession were signed with the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway in 1972. Norway’s population rejected the terms in a referendum. The UK and Denmark left EFTA.

EFTA was down to six.

In 1994, the European Economic Area was created in response to the desire of EFTA countries to share in the benefits of the single market.  It was designed to incorporate all EU and EFTA member states. There are obligations: one of them is a contribution to the EU budget, another is acceptance of the jurisdiction of the supra-national EFTA Court, which is not the European Court of Justice but tends to follow its decisions. Five EFTA states concluded that they would be better served by going the whole way, and applied for full EU membership. They were Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland and Norway (again).

That reduced EFTA to two: Iceland and Liechtenstein, which had just joined.

Then Swiss voters rejected the EEA in a referendum, and Switzerland’s pending EU application was put on ice. (It is still on ice. Switzerland has since negotiated a highly complex series of bilateral deals with the EU.) Norway, asked for the second time to ratify a treaty with the EU, declined a second time. It is back in EFTA, as is Switzerland, although Switzerland is out of the EEA.

That brought EFTA’s membership to four, where it remains, in spite of a blip in 2009 when Iceland, hard-hit by the global financial collapse, applied to join the EU. It withdrew its application as its economy recovered.

This small group of small countries (total population 13.6 million), which Harold  Macmillan decided was insufficient for Britain’s needs, and which countries pop in and out of as a way-station to better things or as a haven until the weather clears, is now the last hope of Remainers who have almost given up and the first straw clutched by Leavers who are starting to see that they will have to compromise on something if the economy is not to sink under them.

There is quite a lot in favour of EFTA – for a start, access, as a de facto member pf the EEA, to the single market. This would preserve Britain’s trading relations with the largest trading block in the world and avoid the necessity of negotiating trade deals, which by common consent usually take at least four years, with approximately 100 other countries by March 2019. (With virtually no trade negotiators. The UK hasn’t negotiated a trade treaty since 1973. This isn’t a steep learning curve, this is an overhanging cliff.) It would preserve our freedom to travel and work in Europe. We would not have to worry about the safety of our nuclear installations (thanks to Euratom). We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals outside the EU if we wanted to, because the EEA does not give access to the customs union.

And it would be a civilised arrangement. This is what is implied when people call it the “Norway option.” Norway is a fine and friendly country, with which we have much in common (fishing; a monarchy; Vikings; an honourable record in “the war”). We also have in common that the Norwegians rejected the EU – not once but twice. Oh, it’s a splendid place.

There have been Norwegian voices, however, suggesting that Norway doesn’t want us take the Norway option. These voices express the view of Harold Macmillan, that Britain is just too big for the boat. The latest figures for the combined GDP of EFTA are 924,970 million euro. The latest figures for the UK’s GDP are 2.6 trillion US dollars.

There are other disadvantages. Because the EEA does not give access to the customs union, it would do nothing to solve, for instance, the difficulties of car manufacturers, whose industry requires the continual export and import of parts. Nor, for the same reason, would it help with the thorny (and urgent) question of the Irish border. On the other hand, it does require observance of many EU regulations, it requires a contribution to the budget and, crucially, it allows for no input into the EU decision-making process.

This is why, in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland became full members of the EU. Why settle for less, pay into the pot, and have no seat at the table?

True Brexiters, of course, want none of it. They have turned their backs on the single market, the customs union and the European Court. This is not a rational position, but at least it’s clear.

To whom, then does the Norway option appeal? To millions of people horrified by this Government’s hellbent pursuit of a hard Brexit. But, while you may end up profoundly thankful for a life-raft, it’s idle to pretend that a life-raft is really where you want to be. Remainers are at best lukewarm. Some Leave voters would settle for it, but many are suspicious: they think it’s a Trojan horse for remaining in Europe, and they’re right, because the more we focus on retaining some of our ties to Europe, the more obvious it will be that the best deal, the obvious deal, is to remain inside.

A further possibility, the “Swiss option,” is sometimes trailed. Britain would be in EFTA without being in the EEA. But Switzerland’s deal with the EU, although it does not involve jurisdiction by the ECJ, does impose some EU regulations, restricts single market access in services, which comprise the majority of British exports, allows unrestricted immigration, and requires a contribution to the budget. It took many years to negotiate and comprises around 120 different bilateral agreements.

(What?)

There is legal opinion that the UK may not in fact automatically leave the EEA when it quits the EU, as the Government asserts, and risks being taken to court in The Hague if it does not give the other members of the EEA 12 months’ formal notice of withdrawal (Independent, 12 August). This is required under Article 127, which the Government does not intend to follow because it wants to avoid a Common vote which would essentially be about membership of the single market. James Chapman, former aide to David Davis, told the Guardian on Wednesday, “There is no majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, so the Government is going to have to shift its position.”

We’ll see.

What is Britain going to do? The cabinet is all over the place. The country is divided. Theresa May goes on another walking holiday. The EU has started to wonder whether we are not mad after all but playing a very high-stakes game of poker.

We aren’t. The stakes are high, but the players are engaged in blind man’s buff. They didn’t think it would be like this. They thought they were going to get cake.

The weeks go by.

Her ambition is vague and indefinite, wrote Ezra Pound of a young woman who sent him letters from a convent. She will neither stay in, nor come out.

So it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Five green bottles?

  1. This is a very interesting and important post. I am relatively familiar with the EU structures and the EEA but this piece did tell me a lot of facts I didn’t know before. It is essential reading and it should certainly make us all – and that includes our government – sit up and think.

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