Thursday, 19 March 2015

EU exit: irrational fear of the Norway Model

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Latest in the long (and tedious) line of naysayer to warn Britain "of serious consequences for economic and security policy if it leaves the European Union" is Vidar Helgesen, Norway's minister for Europe.

He has been given a platform by the Observer , taking the opportunity also to tell us that his country has often found it difficult to shape economic rules that affected Norway – often cited by Eurosceptics as a shining example of how a nation can thrive outside the EU – while not being a member.

This is a sideways dig at the "Norway Model", but it must say something for this option that the Europhile tendency that it is so keen to discourage its adoption, taking virtually every opportunity to spread the message of how bad they think it is.

Not content with the usual frighteners, though, Helgesen adds a reference to a time of "burning security crisis not seen since the cold war". Most key meetings, he claims, are now being convened at EU level, rather than within Nato, and it was vital that the UK was there to shape decisions.

The man is on his way to talk to the pro-EU campaigning group, British Influence, with a speech entitled: "The European Union: why one who has not joined thinks that WE should not leave".

Largely as a result of its oil resources, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, with a higher per-capita income than the vast majority of its member states.

As a result, we are told, "British Eurosceptics" often say the Norwegian experience is evidence of how a country outside the EU, but enjoying the benefits of the single market through membership of the EEA, can prosper without having to commit itself to full membership.

This, however, is classic straw-man territory. But then, the only way the Europhiles can win an argument is to distort it first, beyond all recognition.

In Flexcit, we recognise that the Norway Modelis an imperfect instrument, advocating it only as a halfway house – a ready-made template to ease our way out of the European Union. This is but stage one of a three-part process, with the benefits of withdrawal accruing mainly in the third stage.

Such is the narrowness of his vision, though, that Helgesen complains EEA membership often creating "frustrations and difficulties", which means that "Norwegian ministers and officials spent a lot of time – sometimes without success – trying to find out what was going on in EU meetings that would affect their country directly".

"We [Norway] are fully integrated into the EU single market as members of the EEA", he says, "but what we don't have is the right to vote on those regulations that are incorporated into our law when they are made by the council of ministers".

But with qualified majority voting applying to the Council of Ministers, and Britain holding 29 out of the 352 votes, it can cast only eight percent of the vote. Yet, a qualified majority is 252 votes - 73.9 percent.

In the European Parliament, the situation is little better. There are 73 UK MEPs, and these represent a mere 9.7 percent of the 751 elected MEPs. Given the party splits, this level of representation is notional. UK MEPs rarely vote together as a single bloc. Even if they did, they could never muster the 376 votes needed for a majority.

Thus, the idea that Norway is gravely disadvantaged by not having a vote is sheer fantasy. Any relationship with the EU – in or out – is going to be fraught.

It is, therefore, of little consequence that Helgesen reports that, on occasion, Brussels has sprung surprises that the Norwegians could not predict. The same kind of frustrations, he says, could well face the UK – as if they do not already, and continuously so.

Here, what is so fascinating about these Europhiles is how little they know of the construct they so adore – much less of the way the world works, and the Norwegian part in it.

Referring to our membership of the Union, he says: "You would not have all those Brits staffing the commission where the decisions are made", then adding: "Britain being on the outside would obviously not have that amount of people on the inside. You would find it more difficult, as a result, to affect the regulations".

That, of course, is not how regulations are affected, and this is not even how the game is played – as the Norwegians themselves well know, with their role in Codex standing as a major example of how regulation is framed.

It takes Anne Tvinnereim, former Norwegian State Secretary – whom we interviewed when we went to Norway – to present the honest position. "We do get to influence the position", she told us. "Most of the politics is done long before it [a new law] gets to the voting stage".

Nevertheless, Helgesen says: "It is up to the British to make the decision [as to whether they leave the EU], but I would not think that if the Norwegian model were applied, that this would be ideal". This, though, is nothing more than a statement of the obvious. There is no such thing as an "ideal" in practical politics – only sensible compromises that take us towards a desired goal.

And clearly, such rationality is beyond Peter Wilding, British Influence's director, to whom Helgesen is coming to talk. "Eurosceptics who peddle the myth that Norway is the best [model] for a non-EU Britain are deceiving the British public", Wilding says. "They say leaving leads to more democracy and security. This is nonsense".

So yet again a Europhile resorts to the straw man argument. Nowhere in Flexcit and nowhere generally do we see it argued that the Norway Model, per se leads either to more democracy or security. That is not the point. It is merely a means to an end.

Before we leave it there, however, we have to observe that the other side of the Norwegian divide is suffering from the same misconceptions.

This we see with Heming Olaussen, former director of the Norwegian "No Campaign", who – as the recent Bannerman fest - also warns us against the EEA option (as do most of the other participants).

When, however, these people have the depth of knowledge that we have acquired, though dint of solid hard work, they might be worth listening to. As it stands, it is remarkable how so many can stand up to parade their ignorance, and still believe they have anything to offer.

What tells us more than anything, though – far more than their words – is the frequency and intensity with which so many parties seek to condemn the "Norway Model", alongside their determination to ignore Flexcit. This tells us that we are on the right track. It wouldn't scare them so much if we weren't.

EU regulation: incompetence on every side

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The Norway Model

I have to say that I'm getting a little tired of the sheer silliness for the Open Europe children, and of their feline dishonesty – to say nothing of the gullibility of the media. And splattered over the Guardian is an example of media gullibility, with the headline, "EU exit: 'Norway model' would leave UK with 94% of current costs – thinktank", presented as if it was something new, special or even accurate.

The source is a trivial piece of work, picked over by the drooling City Am, which seeks to tell us that the Norway model is a bad idea, because: "94 percent of the cost associated with the most burdensome EU rules would remain in place but the cost would be even harder to cut, since Norway has no formal voting powers over EU rules".

The point, of course, is that if these drivellers had actually bothered to read Flexcit (and were able to understand it), they would see that our exit plan – adopting the Norway Model as the first part – is economically neutral. The actual regulatory costs would be 100 percent of those borne under EU membership, as we remain in the EEA and repatriate the entire EU acquis.

As to the absence of formal voting on the part of Norway, we are seeing Open Europe creep away from their claim that "Britain would still be subject to EU regulations on employment and financial services but with no formal ability to shape them", and their alternative, that Britain would have "no formal political influence" over the Single Market rules.

Nevertheless, we see OE continue to ignore regional and global regulation, and the way EFTA/EEA members have greater influence over it than EU members. And while its thoroughly dishonest stance has been fully aired on this blog, it this type of propaganda is an indication of what we are going to have to deal with in any referendum campaign.

The current effort includes OE listing the "top hundred" of supposedly the "most costly EU-derived regulations in force in the UK", in their attempt to talk up the costs of the "Norway Model". But, unless OE researchers are truly ignorant, then we really are dealing with wilful propaganda, malicious in intent, the aim being nothing else but to deceive.

Dipping into their "top hundred" list illustrates the point. For instance, we see old favourites such as the Motor Vehicles (EC Type Approval) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 implementing Directives 2007/34/EC, 2007/35/EC and 2007/37/EC, plus Regulations (EC) No 706/2007 and 715/2007, with the OE claiming that the annual recurring cost of £1.3 billion a year is wholly attributable to the EU.

Yet, as readers on this blog will already know, the directives and regulations are part of the vehicle type-approval package which implements UNECE regulations – regulations which would remain in force even if we had completely withdrawn from the EU. Furthermore, within the EEA, we would have a vote on new regulations, through the World Forum on the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations, in Geneva.

Then OE have listed the CRD IV package the cost again attributed to the EU. However, we find the European Banking Authority telling us that the package implements the Basel III agreement. Although OE attributes its recurring £4.6 billion cost to "EU regulation", it is attributable almost entirely to international "quasi-legislation".

Another item on the OE list is the UK Renewable Energy Strategy which, although implementing Directive 2009/28/EC, is also mandated by the Climate Change Act. Both Directive and Act are variously implementing the Kyoto and subsequent international agreements. To attribute the £4.7 billion cost to "EU regulation" is wholly misleading – the polite way of saying "a lie". OE is peddling lies.

Even where we see the genuine application of EU law, as in the Genetically Modified Food (England) Regulations 2004, and two other Regulations, to attribute the cost to the EU is also misleading. Outside the EU, we would almost certainly have identical legislation, with exactly the same costs.

I am not going to trouble you with further examples from the OE list, but the point is made that significant costs attributed to the EU do not stem from EU initiatives. We would carry them whether we were in or out of the EU, "Norway Model" notwithstanding.

But, if the OE argument is false, and repeatedly so, so too is much of the propaganda from the "other side". That criticism applies especially to Ukip, Business for Britain and many others in the anti-EU movement- all of those which, to a greater or lesser extent assert that there would be immediate savings in regulatory costs arising from leaving the EU.

The trouble is that EU regulation, and how much money we may or may not save from leaving the EU, constitute the type of "biff-bam" arguments that the media love to report. But the two sides getting bogged down in such arcane details is precisely the wholesale turn-off for the general public that we need to avoid. If we are going to make any progress, the economic issues should be neutralised and "parked", not endlessly chewed over by a bunch of hyperactive think-tank wonks and ill-briefed politicians.

What we are seeing, therefore, is incompetent campaigning from both sides – although the need to overcome the status quo effect imposes greater demands on the "out" campaign. Equal incompetence means we lose. Either way, though, the anti-EU movement is being poorly served. And if we can't even trash the OE nonsense, we deserve everything we get.