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Norway’s EU membership and related issues

An interview with Prof. Trond Nordby at the University of Oslo


 G.O.: Is the European Union a fiasco? If so, what went wrong?

NORDBY: There are different opinions about whether or not it has been a fiasco. I myself am against the European Union, but I don’t deny that EU has had a stabilising effect in certain areas of Europe.

On the other hand it is obvious that the EU has difficulties on several levels. One of the current problems is related to admitting new member states. For strategic reasons the strong powers want to include Turkey in the EU. At the same time internal opposition is strong. 

Another problem is related to the attempt to have the new constitution “the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, 2004”, ratified by all member states. The process was stopped for awhile in 2004 when France and Netherlands said “no”. Possibly most surprising was resistance particularly among Dutch voters. This result reflected a simmering anxiety that integration had gone too far without «the people» having been consulted at an earlier stage. Also, there is a sense that the EU has been advanced primarily by the elite. 

According to a survey done by Le Figaro, 25% of the French voters believe that the constitution was too market- liberal, and that market-liberalism was beginning to suppress the social dimension. The treaty (particularly part III) confirms that EU exists as “the empire of unlimited competition”, to use Bourdieu’s words. Among  the French opposition,  a similar percentage believed that the constitution was a threat to French identity. Just under of 20% (of French voters) confirmed the vague alternative that the project is not good for France. Another large group is anxious about the planned expansions, especially with respect to Turkey. It appears that the resistance was mixed with some cheap nationalism. 

Further, there were reports about resistance within the former Soviet states, a resistance that increases as people see that EU is not flowing with milk and honey, at least not for the average people. They discover that an increase in a BNP does not need to lead to an increased prosperity for the masses. I hope and believe that the American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein has right when he rights that neo-liberalism is in decline in large parts of the world. Now more than ever we need cooperation across national borders. For my part, I am putting my faith in organisations such as the World Social Forum. 

G.O.: Are ideas behind the EU- project just an attempt to establish a power alternative to USA? 

NORDBY: There are several motives for a project that has existed for 50 years. One of the central motives has been creating, beside the Asian block, an economic balance to the USA. Today the resistance is also growing at the level of leaders, to the USA‘s use of military power around the world. 

A more convincing explanation is the fact that capitalism promotes increasingly bigger units. To use a picturesque explanation, we are facing a giant-omani which includes everything from capital collections and production units to meet the need of the new market. The biggest possible EU can help insure all of this. The danger is that power blocks are starting to fight, as many think that dinosaurs did. 

The EU does contribute to building infrastructure and insuring peace, stability and juridical order in member states. Investors are placing the necessary capital in war areas. In this way the EU’s peace projects are a form for legitimating of economic needs. 

In addition can low cost countries like Poland and Latvia insure the flow of the cheap labour.  In this way the “cheap labour” leads to “social dumping”. In this context the service directive works to push down salaries in the “rich” countries with traditionally strong syndicates. At the same time capital owners gain bigger profit. The result is increased differences – with bigger social tensions. 

Finally, strategic considerations need to be stressed. The Soviet Union is gone. Russia, however, represents a threat. At the same time Russia is interesting as a market, trade partner and as deliverer of gas. Turkey is tempting as a market and “bridge” to countries that lie further south, and are exposed to USA military flirtation. Only Iraq has enormous oil resources. The EU was divided when the USA was attacked Iraq. For example England, at least officially, supported the invasion. Germany was on the other side. In the next round, the opposition in almost all of the countries was prepared for participation in “reconstruction” of the country. I am very suspicious about whether the motive was to insure the lucrative contract for their domestic companies. 

G.O.: The number of Norwegians who are against Norwegian membership in the EU is increasing. Should we be worried about this development? 

NORDBY: Let me first specify the premise for your question. Following the referenda in the Netherlands and France, the opposition to EU membership was pretty stable in Norway. Within this long- term tendency, we saw monthly swings – in both directions. In 2004 I thought that the lead that opposition to the EU held would soon disappear. This pessimism also was connected to the hegemony the supporters have in most of the media, and the enthusiasm with which the EU is viewed around our universities. 

1972 the division was less one-sided, but over the years the division between the elite and the “people” has become sharper. I am actually impressed with how well the people are able to resist the pressure. Resistance is especially strong in the rural areas, something that probably has a lot to do with centralisation they had to fight against for a long time on the national level. 

You ask me if this is something we should worry about! Of course not! I am by no means a nationalist. Further, I want a society with broad popular participation. Democratic participation is a value in itself. Facing the possibility of an EU membership, the old saying that it is a longer way to Brussels then it is to Oslo, still applies. A state should not be so large that the voters cannot see the consequences of their own votes, and they have to be able to see what kind of decisions have been taken and what the consequences of those decisions are. In contrast, elites are enjoying the jetset milieu. People who are in charge of money bags will only gain possibilities to earn even bigger golden profits. 

G.O.: Which political motives do we have for keeping ourselves out? 

NORDBY: Again here we are talking about several combined motives. As a common starting point we can conclude that consciousness about being rich with oil money makes it easier to remain outside of the EU. At least all those who like to dance around a «golden calf» think so. This is in contrast to our poor “cousins” who for a long time saw prospects for rapid move to economic prosperity.
Here I list the most important explanations: 

    Another element is the national identification (the feeling of community). This identification, which must not be confused with nationalism, is still strong in Norway, even though for a long time there has bee a conscious effort towards “national de-consturction”. Because the nation is divided in two, and it is divided in a way that does not follow the same line of division apparent in  the EU, this label is still difficult to use, because many EU- sympathisers have as strong national identification as the opponents.  

Most of the EU opponents are likely interested in defending their own income base: agriculture and fish – exactly as in 1972. This is legitimate 

  When we are thinking about the cultural clashes within the national context , the traditional diverse cultures have been weakened since the Second World War. A group of Christian extremists still read the Bible and see EU as the  anti-Christ, but they are not so numerous. Others are nationalists who believe that Norway should be preseved for Norwegians, and that Norwegian culture should be kept behind dark shades. They also aren’t numerous. There are clear indicators that these two counter-cultures have subsided. Election researcher Henry Valen has shown that as a consequence of education and urbanisation, there has been a stabilisation at a relatively low level in the 1980s. 

      I have pointed out a region that I called a “Moped belt” – because we here often meet simple people on mopeds. According to Henry Valen the same region is characterised by low centrality and high unemployment and strong EU resentment in 1972. I add: a flat social structure – without experience with the historical opposition between the Workers Class and Farmers Party. Look at for example Østerdalen in contrast to Hedmark regions. We can see the same type EU opposition from the south-eastern part of Østfold, further north and in forest areas along the Sweedish border, and down again to Sigdal. Often, the mopedists have backpacks full of Bayer bottles. We see the same pattern down south, in particular in Aust-Agder. Here religious tracts are substituted for the beer bottles.

   Further we are facing somewhat same fear of change which we met under the wave of industrialisation before the First World War. Or maybe we should rather speak of the fear of the unknown. Maybe there is a basic measure of the lives of the single individuals. Norwegians should be simple people – as they always have been. In that case – if for no other reason – can this be an ideological base for Per Olaf Lundteigen’s message about “a different country”.

       Another influential group was, in the same way as in 1972, engaged in democracy and distance to where the decisions are made. The same group stressed that democracy functions best in small units (this is my own platform). Probably those who belonged to the “moped belt” found a lot in this democratic argumentation. We are familiar with elements from the democratic movement until the 1905. Until 1905 there was a tight symbiosis between nationalism and the demand for more democracy in. At that time the honourable words “people’s rule” and “nation” had a permanent position. The wish for “peoples rule” remains strong in Norwegian politics. 

G.O:  More precisely, how do you think that EU violates the democratic traditions in Norway? 

NORDBY: I won’t beat my breast and claim that our democracy is so unique that we cannot cooperate with anyone. Quite the contrary, today we are facing problems, connected to environmental questions for example, that can only be solved through cooperation across national borders – except that I can see that the EU, where the basic value is economy growth, is likely to damper the crazy profit chase. I 1984 I met an Eastern-German couple and their daughter at a camping place in DDR. They told me how they can watch TV-programs broadcast from the rich Western neighbours, and how they dreamt how their daughter can get over there, get a job at a hotel – so that she could get a tip in Western currency. What they dream about today, I do not know. 

Norway has experiences with liberalism, and we had straight after 1905 a reckoning with it. In the first round we had concession laws. Norway was quick to build democracy. In our days all those who use democractic arguments against the EU, have to feel threatened when they read the article I-6 in the draft for the EU constitution. Here the following is agreed: “ The Constitution  and the laws which are enacted by the Unions institutions in execution of the tasks they were given, have precedence before the laws of the member states.” By looking closer at the draft for the constitution we find that EU – legislation has been given the so called “sole responsibility” for the competition rules, monetary policy for the EU countries, customs, commercial policy and protecting the ocean resources. 

National parliaments will be, at best, investigative authorities. ‘Further, EU laws get “precedence” as soon as the Union finds it useful to pass laws in the area (called “shared responsibility), within security, environment, agriculture, energy and social politics. Primarily it is within the third area that one can talk about supporting, coordinating or additional responsibility”, where member states within a limited framework, can pass laws for industry, education, tourism and culture. 

For my part I have no doubts. The democracy we have inherited has too much inherent value to simply cast it overboard– just so that we could earn even more money. To break all cooperation with the EU is of course a completely unrealistic thought We nonetheless have to be able to go out of the undemocratic EEC agreement and negotiate our way to a new agreement – something we lived with nicely for many years.





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