Erna Solberg: Britain will become new superpower after Brexit
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Favoured to win power alongside other left-leaning groups in an election next month, ending eight years of Conservative rule, Centre aims to alter the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, the cornerstone of EU-Norway relations since 1994. Centre Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum explained: “We believe we’ve handed too much authority to the EU, particularly within the area of energy, and that we should take that back.”
The 42-year-old farmer is trying to broaden his party’s appeal beyond its agrarian base with a promise to decentralise government functions and bring jobs and prosperity to rural parts of Norway, which is not itself a member of the EU.
Centre opposed Norway’s adoption of the EU’s Third Energy Package in 2019 which liberalised markets by barring suppliers from controlling pipelines and power grids and creating the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER).
The party feared the agency, created to improve cooperation between national regulators, could require Norway to build more power lines to Europe and thus increase domestic electricity prices.
Mr Vedum, one of two opposition candidates seeking to replace Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg, added: “This will be a big fight, because low Norwegian electricity prices are a competitive advantage for our industries.”
The government and the Labour Party with which Mr Vedum must cooperate to win power believe such worries are exaggerated and that a push to change Norway’s agreement with the EU could set in motion a process akin to Britain’s departure from the bloc.
Mr Vedum, however, rejected such concerns.
He explained: “These are two completely different things. Norway is not terminating anything.
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“We have agreements in place and we want to see how we can improve those agreements.”
Long opposed to both membership and the EEA agreement, the Centre Party has softened its stance on the latter this year, promising to seek improvements rather than to outright quit.
Mr Vedum said: “Nothing will be jeopardised.
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“But there is constant development in the agreements between Norway and the EU and it can’t just be the EU that’s going to renegotiate with us, we must also be able to seek changes.”
Norwegians have rejected EU membership in 1972 and 1994, and settled instead for an agreement that gives the nation of 5.4 million people access to the bloc’s single market of 450 million consumers in return for adopting many EU rules and regulations.
The Centre Party is a long-term critic of its current arrangement with Brussels.
Speaking in December, Sigbjorn Gjelsvik, the Centre Party’s spokesman on EU relations, said: “We need to discuss the alternatives.
“The deal we have now is a bad one.”
Writing in 2017, Erik O Eriksen of the University of Oslo said: “When one considers the sheer volume of agreements, and the establishment of new EU authorities and agencies to which Norway cedes sovereignty, the implications for national independence and democracy are severe.”
Norway had relinquished sovereignty in a number of areas through regular majority voting, paying roughly the same as EU members (through the EEA financial contributions), and was subject to EU law on the same basis as EU member states, he pointed out.
Mr Eriksen added: “Norway has surrendered sovereignty without receiving anything in return in the form of co-determination that EU membership would have granted.
“The principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ made famous in the American Revolutionary War does not seem to apply to contemporary Norway.”
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