Sunday, 17 May 2009

Eurovision: Norway and Iceland – Nordics in EU

The Eurovision Song Contest migrates from oil and gas producing Russia to similarly employed Norway, but let us not draw too many parallels.

The European Economic Area (EEA) did rather well in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. Alexander Rybak of Norway came out on top with Fairytale, and Yohanna from Iceland came second with Is It True?


***

Norway

Today 17 May Norwegians have woken up to National Day (syttende mai), celebrated in an Independence Day atmosphere. Referendums have twice rejected membership in the European Union, and EFTA country Norway is a member of the internal market through the European Economic Area, the largest common market in the world with 500 million inhabitants. Norway participates in the Schengen Agreement on external border control and internal travel, as well as in various issues concerning the area of freedom, security and justice.

Norway is a wealthy and stable democracy, and it belongs to the top of the world in many international rankings.

Despite close cooperation, membership negotiations with the European Union are not part of Norway’s more serious Eurovision in the near future.


***

Iceland

According the Iceland Review Online the new government of Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdadóttir is preparing a parliamentary resolution on launching EU membership talks, and has conducted advance discussions with the opposition parties.


***


The resolution will be presented to the Althingi parliament next week, but it remains to be seen if Sigurdadóttir’s plan to submit a membership application in July will be approved by a parliament where most of the parties have resisted joining the EU.

Like Norway, Iceland is part of the fifteen year old EEA and the Schengen Agreement. Despite the financial disaster, Iceland is a stable democracy (with the world’s oldest parliament), rule of law, as well as Nordic quality governance and public services.

If the difficult issues, such as fishing rights, can be solved, most of the Community legislation (acquis communautaire) could be ticked off at record speed.

If matters advance that far, Icelanders would most probably decide on the membership in a referendum, but it is difficult to predict the outcome.


***


Unenthusiastic Europeans?

People sometimes wonder that people in the Nordic countries inside the European Union are fairly unenthusiastic about the European project, and two still remain on the outside.

Denmark joined only in 1973, together with the United Kingdom and Ireland. Sweden and Finland became EU members even later, in 1995.

Norway and Iceland, as stated above, are still on the outside.

There are other causes, besides relatively short periods of EU membership. Despite high levels of taxation, Nordic citizens are justifiably proud of their economic and technological standards, quality of life, good governance, high quality public services and fairly equal societies.

EU (or continental) standards of governance are not necessarily perceived as improvements. Here the European Union has a lot to do, if it wants to be less of a let-down. On the other hand, only a constant willingness to learn and to improve will keep the Nordics in the top of the world leagues, so a degree of humility is not only becoming, it is a necessity.

The Eurovision of the Nordic EU members’ governments can hardly be described as enthusiastic, but generally as constructive and pragmatic.

Business interests hope for more decisive action by the EU to free world trade, to improve the internal market and to get the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs moving.

Citizens, perhaps grudgingly, gradually acknowledge the need for more Europe with regard to climate change, the environment, energy, development policies and peace missions.


Ralf Grahn