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Views on Europe | The Views from Europe Edition

Ola Elvestuen

Britain, you don’t want to be in Norway’s shoes

Dear people of Britain,

On June 23rd you will vote on whether or not your country should remain in the EU. Leading up to the referendum, you will hear politicians and pundits claiming that Britain will do well on the outside. “Just look to Norway,” some of them will say. But let me assure you: You do not want to be in our shoes.

As outsiders, Norwegian legislators are practically forced to implement the laws made in Brussels, even though we have no say in how those laws should be formulated. Instead, we stand idly on the side line as the EU shapes the future, our future, waiting in docility to adopt whatever might be decided above our heads. I therefore speak from experience when I urge you: Do not leave the European Union. The Union needs you, just as you need the Union.

The UK makes the EU better. That has been the case since the union was established in the aftermath of the Second World War. The EU might be far from perfect, but the deal Prime Minister Cameron has made, shows that compromises can be made, and that Britain’s voice is heard, loud and clear, in Brussels as in the rest of Europe. Please don’t give that up just to become another Norway. You will regret it if you step into our shoes.

Eurosceptic foreigners often congratulate Norway on having stayed out of what they see as a messy, undemocratic and elitist EU. But these politicians have never seen what life is like on outside. Norway has no representation in the European Parliament, no representation in the European Commission and no representation in the Council of the EU. We do not have a vote, even when the issues directly concern our future. We are left to bargain with our closest EU allies, or linger in the lobby as representatives brush through on their way to a meeting. We spend significant amounts of time and effort standing in that lobby with interest groups of all kinds, hoping that someone with a voice and a vote will speak on our behalf in the room where decisions are actually made.

I would hate for the UK representatives to join Norway out in the cold. 80 percent of our new laws are made in Brussels, but we do not have a vote there. Once the rest of Europe has passed a bill, we cannot do much to change them, except to negotiate for an exception or delayed implementation.

Whether it’s refugees, banking crises, the capital markets union, the digital single market or the transatlantic free trade deal, the EU is where decisions are made in Europe. Norway tries to keep up, we yearn to have our voice heard early on in the process, but the truth is we have little to no say when the EU for example concludes a free trade agreement with the U.S. The deal between our two largest trading partners will fundamentally change Norway. We have little say as to what the agreement will look like, but we hope for the best. As an EU member you can help shape the agreement, and make sure it protects British jobs and products. We cannot.

Yes, European politics is messy. The truth of the matter is that politics is messy anywhere in an interlinked world. EU politics is messy because 28 member states make decisions together. However, if we want to solve an economic crisis, we need to solve it across the board. If we want to handle the refugee crisis in a constructive fashion, we need to do it together.

The crises of the future know no borders, so neither should our answers to them. Britain has gotten a fair deal from the EU, and as a member state you have tremendous leverage over the Union. Don’t step out and leave it to the other European great powers, the Germans, the French, the Poles, to make the decisions that will shape your future, as well as ours. Britain is better than that.

My hope is that Norway and the UK will not be sitting in the same cold lobby outside of the meeting room after your referendum. You deserve to stay in the EU, and the EU will be better off if you decide to stay. Trust me, as a legislator who knows what it’s like to be on the outside: You do not want to be in our shoes.



Ola Elvestuen MP

Ola represents Oslo in the Norwegian Parliament and has led the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and the Environment since 2013. Elvestuen has a long track-record in politics, showing a special commitment to environmental and transport issues. Elvestuen became the deputy leader of the Norwegian Liberal Party, Venstre, in 2008.

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