Switzerland and Norway, join EU
Should Switzerland and Norway seek to join the European Union?
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Both countries would benefit from pooling sovereignty in an increasingly globalised world. For rela...
Both countries would benefit from pooling sovereignty in an increasingly globalised world. For relatively small states true independence is no longer possible, with countries like Switzerland and Norway at the mercy of bigger economic forces. For example, both countries’ agreements with the EU allow them the access to its enormous market that they need to survive economically, but they have to abide by EU rules that they have no influence over making. Norway in particular, as an EEA member must accept all EU single-market, employment, environment and competition rules, and even contribute to the EU budget. If they joined the EU, they would at least be given a say in the regulations they have to implement, and as their presence would strengthen the relatively more free-market camp led by the UK, Ireland and Denmark, they are likely to be happier with the rules that then result.
Both countries greatly value their sovereignty and do not want to give it up to Brussels. The Swiss have a tradition of proud independence stretching back to the middle ages, while the Norwegians still remember what it was like to be politically dominated by Denmark and Sweden. In both, voters have consistently shown that they have no wish to compromise their sovereignty by joining the European Union’s superstate. The Swiss particularly fear their tradition of more direct democracy would be threatened with EU membership, as laws from Brussels could not be overturned by referendum as at present. And while it is true that trading freely with the EU requires acceptance of many of its rules, neither country has given up control over key policy areas such as agriculture, fishing (highly important for Norway) and foreign affairs. The Swiss in particular have done well out of bilateral deals with the EU – would their concerns in areas such as banking and farming be listened to as carefully once they were inside the club? How much are the concerns of smaller states taken seriously in the EU today?
Both Norway and Switzerland already gain from their economic association with the European Union, bu...
Both Norway and Switzerland already gain from their economic association with the European Union, but they would realise much greater benefits if they formally joined the organisation. Being imperfectly integrated into the European economy means that consumers pay higher prices for goods and services than citizens of EU countries. Businesses are sheltered from full competition, which can lead to complacency and a loss of global competitiveness. And the nature of their relationships with Brussels means that their economies are inherently fragile – bilateral agreements could be cancelled by either side at any time. This would have little impact on the wider EU-economy, but would devastate much smaller Norway or Switzerland. The risks this involves were brought home in 2008 when Swiss voters had to approve an extension of the freedom of movement under the Schengen agreement to new EU-members Romania and Bulgaria; if the referendum had been rejected, the EU would have cancelled the whole bilateral deal on Schengen. So unless the two countries stay in step with the EU as it moves forward towards integration, they may lose many of the benefits they have already acquired. Given that in recent deals the EU has been relatively generous in the expectation that Switzerland and Norway will be encouraged to join the Union, there is a further risk that future treatment will be much less sympathetic if Brussels recognises that this is not going to happen.
Both countries are among the most prosperous economies in the entire world and have nothing to gain from EU membership. Through their EEA and EFTA memberships, as well as bilateral deals with Brussels, both Norway and Switzerland have access to the Single Market and are fully integrated into the European economy. But by remaining outside the EU itself, neither has to sacrifice key elements of its domestic economy to Brussels in a way countries like the UK do. For cultural and environmental reasons both countries protect and subsidise their small family farms, which would not be possible inside the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Norway’s fishing industry also occupies an important place within the national psyche, and Norwegians are proud that good fisheries management within their 200 mile exclusion zone has left their fish stocks much healthier than those of EU neighbours who have fallen victim to the Common Fisheries Policy. And Swiss banking continues a proud tradition of independent financial expertise that might be lost to London if the country was just another part of the EU.
The European project has been a great political success in first ensuring, and then extending democr...
The European project has been a great political success in first ensuring, and then extending democracy and stability within the European continent. As strong democracies Switzerland and Norway surely belong within the EU family, and should play their part in advancing stability and European values in the future, for example in the Western Balkans. Swiss fears about compromising their neutrality should not be an issue – EU states like Ireland and Austria prize their neutrality too. And for the EU, the entry of both Norway and Switzerland at the same time would help to maintain present balance between NATO members and neutral states.
There is no moral obligation upon either state to join the EU. Both can continue to play a full part in promoting peace and stability outside the organisation. As a NATO member with a firmly internationalist outlook, Norway already makes a big contribution to peacekeeping around the world. Indeed its valuable role as an arbiter in bitter disputes such as the Israel-Palestine and Sri Lanka-Tamil conflicts might be lost if it was merely a small part of a big power bloc. Switzerland too already contributes to building stability in the Balkans, in partnership with EU countries. But its long tradition of neutrality would be clearly compromised by EU membership, especially as a Common Foreign and Security Policy, voiced from Brussels by a High Representative on behalf of all member states, is rapidly becoming a reality.
Both Switzerland and Norway would be warmly welcomed within the EU family and guaranteed a speedy en...
Both Switzerland and Norway would be warmly welcomed within the EU family and guaranteed a speedy entry into the Union. As advanced economies with strong legal and political institutions, they would be easy for the EU to assimilate, especially given their close involvement in the Single Market already. Both would be net contributors to the EU budget, and would strengthen the EU at a time when it is still coping with poorer new members and would-be members in Eastern Europe. And by contributing financially to the EU in this way, Switzerland and Norway will benefit from increasing trade as Eastern and Central European states rapidly gain in prosperity with support from EU regional transfers.
It is clear why the EU would like to welcome the rich Swiss and Norwegians within its embrace, but why would either country want to sign up for a project which would involve their citizens’ taxes being given away to other countries? EU waste and fraud are legendary, so it is easy to understand why voters have consistently rejected giving up their taxes to Brussels. As latecomers they are not in a strong position to bargain over entry terms, and can expect to become major net contributors, especially as their farmers are unlikely to gain much from the Common Agricultural Policy. Estimates of the cost of membership for Switzerland were set between SFr3 billion and SFr8 billion in 2004 – more than its entire defence budget.
Replacing their currencies with the Euro would also benefit both Switzerland and Norway. Over the p...
Replacing their currencies with the Euro would also benefit both Switzerland and Norway. Over the past ten years the Euro has gained in strength and credibility, and is now clearly the world’s second currency after the dollar. The high volatility of sterling shows the danger of trying to maintain your own currency as a national virility symbol, while Iceland shows the risk small countries face when financial trouble strikes. For Switzerland, switching to the Euro would allow it to capitalise on its banking expertise by becoming a true rival to London as Europe’s financial centre. For Norway, the Euro would help the country avoid “Dutch disease” – where a strong oil and gas industry pushes up the currency to the point where other businesses are severely hurt.
Even if EU membership were in the interests of Switzerland and Norway, the requirement that all new members join the Euro provides a strong argument against joining the Union itself. At present, both countries have strong currencies, with the Swiss Franc a major international reserve currency in its own right. Through the Krone and Franc they can control their own monetary policy to suit economic conditions. By contrast, small EU states are at the mercy of the European Central Bank, having to endure interest rates that may be right for Germany or France, but which are too tight or too loose for Ireland or Belgium. This explains why EU countries such as Denmark and the UK have so far refused to join the Euro. Norway and Switzerland may also wonder whether they want to yoke themselves to profligate debtor countries like Italy, Greece, whose falling credit ratings are placing monetary union under strain at present. And neither Norway or Switzerland has the financial problems of Iceland, although the credit crunch has required Switzerland to support its international banks – in ways which EU membership might well have prevented.
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