Why Isn’t Norway in the European Union?

Although Norway is a prosperous and successful European nation, this country has never joined the European Union.

Although they have considered joining several times, the people’s wishes and the country’s welfare have kept Norway independent of the rest of the EU, with some exceptions. 

Norway isn’t in the European Union and never has been because Norwegians voted against joining the Union twice.

Norway’s part in the European Economic Area and its special terms with the European Union better preserve the Norwegian democratic system, economy, and cultural beliefs.  

Norway has special agreements with the European Union, but the country has never become a full member.

However, Norway’s independence from and cooperation with the EU has kept the country more economically prosperous, politically stable, and in line with the people’s demands. 

Also, see a list of 79 Norwegian Surnames to learn more.

Norway and the European Union Relations 

Norway has always had a close relationship with the EU, but they have never fully integrated as a part of it.

In the 1970s, during the formation of the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU, Norway’s people voted against joining by a slim margin.

Likewise, in 1994, during the organization of the EU, Norway voted “no” again. 

Instead, Norway is part of the European Economic Area, European Free Trade Agreement, and Schengen Area. [1]  

These agreements give Norway several benefits from the EU, including: 

  • Access to a common market with free trade between Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein
  • Access to the EU’s single market, with notable exceptions in fish and agricultural exports
  • People from the EU and other Schengen Area countries can move into and out of Norway freely without a visa.

These agreements establish Norway as a part of the smaller nations that work closely with the EU economically. Still, they do not entangle Norway’s economy and politics within the larger countries of the EU. 

Thus, while Norway is not a formal part of the Union, they are closely allied with EU nations and have a positive relationship with them. 

Reasons Why Norway Is Not in the EU

The reason for Norway’s continued independence from the EU is that it already had a strong economy and a successful political structure before the EEC and EU assembled. [2]

EU Membership Would Have Limited Norway’s Fishing Economy

While the European Union promised excellent terms for free trade between European nations, the Norwegian people saw this economic integration as a potential threat to Norway’s stability. 

In terms of exports, Norway is:

  • The world’s second-largest exporter of natural gas
  • The world’s second-largest exporter of fish

The European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy puts quotas on how much fish and what types of fish a country can export. [3] 

This regulation protects EU countries from overfishing and helps keep the fishing economy stable for all of Europe. 

However, this term of EU membership would have prohibited Norway from preserving its booming fishing economy and limited the exportation of fish. [4] 

So, instead of agreeing to the EU’s terms for fishing, Norway agreed to become an EFTA EEA nation, giving them access to the EU’s single market for all exports other than fishing. 

Under this agreement, Norway could keep its unique national quota for fishing.

Norway’s EU Membership Fees Would Have Been High

Norway’s excellent economy in both fish and natural gas means that the country has a high GNI (gross national income).

GNI is what sets membership fees for participating in the European Union. 

Based on Norway’s GNI, equivalent to 379 billion US dollars, they would have had to pay around 198.5 Billion, or 50% of their GNI, for EU membership. [5] 

While this loss is a drop in the bucket when considering such large amounts of money, that contribution would take away much of Norway’s spending, which predominantly goes to social protection, healthcare, and education. [6]

These expenditures are loved by most Norwegian people, which is another reason they consistently vote against joining the EU. 

Norway’s Social Goals Conflict With EU Values

Aside from politics, Norway’s goals of achieving equitable human rights and environmental sustainability do not align with several of the EU’s practices. 

The European Union is a proponent of the industrialization of underdeveloped nations.

This value of the EU would place EU-owned industries in countries in Asia and Africa to boost everyones’ economies. 

However, Norway’s values highly emphasize environmental sustainability, human rights, and local businesses. 

The country’s focus on community development, social welfare, and elimination of monopolies also conflict with the EU’s goal of global industrialization. 

Thus, Norwegians are hesitant to enter into a complete agreement with the EU as they do not have the same social plans. 

Norway’s Democracy Is Self-Sustaining

The European Union and EEC arose in Europe’s post-WWII fear of political unrest. Nations that suffered most during WWII and needed economic integration and political stability to recover were the first to join. 

However, neutral countries like Norway did not need help reorganizing their political structure and economy. 

Norway has maintained a very successful democratic parliamentary constitutional monarchy since the late 19th century.

Recent polls have established that at least 77% of Norwegians trust their government to make decisions in the people’s interest. [7]

However, affiliation with the EU would likely change that. The EU remains elusive to many citizens in participating countries, and less than half of the people from EU nations participate in elections as a result. [8]

In addition, the EU often influences the goals of participating countries in the common interest of all members. 

For Norway, where people are relatively happy with their direct democracy and political system, joining the EU might lead to instability. 

Why Isn’t Iceland in the EU?

Iceland is not in the EU for similar reasons as Norway, as Iceland is predominantly an exporter of fish, and the EU agreement would limit fishing.

However, Iceland also participates in the EU’s European Economic Area agreement, giving them a single shared market with Norway and Liechtenstein. 

Although Iceland’s government considered joining the EU several times due to inflation and political unrest in the Cod Wars, they have maintained their status as only an EEA nation to preserve their national fishing quotas. 

Like Norway, Iceland is also a Schengen nation, allowing Icelandic people and other Europeans to travel without a visa. 

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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