Amidst dire threats of three line whips, potential resignations, and cries of “Britain out,” the Tories will get to debate their favourite topic in Westminster next week. Like moths to a flame, Conservative MPs seem unable to keep away from arguments about Europe, an issue which has been a source of huge divisions amongst right wingers for thirty years.
I have little doubt that, somewhere in the debate, we will hear the hoary old question; “Why can’t we be like Norway?” Able to go their own way, not beholden to the Brussels bureaucrats, not subject to all that red tape, surely Norway is the answer?
Well, because it’s not quite as simple as that.
This week in Brussels, I actually had a meeting with representatives of the Norwegian government (Labour by the way, so maybe the Tories don’t want to be exactly like Norway). They weren’t there to offer me political asylum from the austerity measures of our Coalition government, or indeed to discuss the Nobel Peace prize.
They actually wanted my help in changing two pieces of EU legislation; the tobacco products and audio visual directives.
Their specific concerns need not detain us here. But why would Norway – a country outside the EU – be worried about EU law?
Quite simply because, as a member of the European Economic Area, which has favoured trading status with the EU, Norway has to conform to EU laws.
I’ve heard it referred to as “government by fax.”, though I’m sure there is a modern internet based equivalent. It means receiving new laws in government offices in Oslo without the opportunity, or indeed the power, to influence the content of the laws emanating from Brussels. The European Union goes through its lengthy and considered democratic process involving all 27 member states and their European MPs, leading to the eventual consensus agreement. Meanwhile Norway has no say in any of this but has to do what the law says!
So to the Tory MPs who even now are planning their Commons speeches and preparing for their finest hour, a gentle word of advice. By all means argue that we should be like Norway – but at least recognise that it would mean having to put up with what the EU – without any input from the UK – would demand of us, assuming we wanted to trade with them.
And it would mean representatives of the British Government arranging meetings with French, German, Italian or Latvian MEPs to ask for their help. Perhaps not quite what the “Britain Out” fanatics are after!