Other states (like Iceland and Norway) made the choice not to join the EU, but concluded specific agreements with the Union… Is there thus such a thing as specifically Nordic “Eurosceptic” reluctance? If so, on what is it based?
And, in the light of the (geo)political and economic changes of these last years, are there thus some reasons to imagine the nearest end of it? As well as future enlargement of the European Union to Iceland and Norway, these two large countries of the North?
The current situation:
The countries of the Nordic space have all had different behaviours towards the European construction .
Some of them developed an integrationist approach. This is true, for example, of Finland (which held the presidency of the Council of the European Union during the last six-month period of 2006 and remains, today, more integrated and more “Europeanised” than any of the remaining Nordic countries…). Others have not and prefer maintaining a more ambiguous relationship with Europe.
Some of them prudently remained wary of the European construction, going as far as developing behaviours that can be considered more or less Eurosceptic. This is the case of Sweden (which refused the single currency, by referendum, in 2003) or, in a way still more accentuated, of Denmark (which had initially refused the treaty of Maastricht per referendum and which, also, does not form part of the European monetary union).
As for Iceland and in Norway, their position with regard to the European Union remains very particular: these two countries being very close to the Union, without being members.
History of reluctance:
It should be said that the reluctance of the Nordic countries towards European integration does not go back to yesterday. Since the 1960s, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Norway had taken part in the launching of EFTA (i.e. “European Free Trade Association”) , an alternative project to the EEC of the time: a customs zone relating to only certain products and not planning to transform itself into a political project.
With the progressive demonetization of EFTA at the beginning of the 1990s its Member States either joined the rows of the Union (as it was the case for Denmark in January 1973, Finland and Sweden joined in January 1995), or to conclude bilateral agreements with it: within the framework of the EEA (i.e. “European Economic Area”), in the case of Iceland and Norway.
Agreements which make it possible to include the countries signatories in the single market, to extend the principle of free-circulation of people, capital, goods and services to these countries and to associate them with the many Community programmes (in particular as regards education). Moreover, the States in question must adopt the so-called ’acquis communautaire’ for the fields technically covered by the agreement (however, they do not form part of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy, neither economic and monetary Union, neither the common fisheries policy, nor the CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) .
Agreements which make that Norway and Iceland are in fact today very close to the Union without being official members. Not only because 70% to 80% of their exports (and a large part of their imports) are done with the EU. But also because the agreements signed, oblige them to adapt whole parts of the ’acquis communautaire’. Nevertheless, Norwegians refused to join the EU via referendum twice, whereas Iceland has never expressed the wish to do so.
Reasons for the Nordic reluctance:
The reluctance of the Nordic states towards European construction seems to be the result of a true local culture of independence. Thus, old women or young nations (like Denmark and Sweden or, a contrario, Norway and Iceland…), the countries of north developed companies culturally very “individualised” around a strong nationalist rhetoric and from an authentic decentralised practice of local democracy.
And that is all the more sensitive for a country like Norway, which celebrated the centenary of its recovered independence last year: small country certainly, but which − thanks to its many diplomatic initiatives, such as in 1993, the signature of the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords − nevertheless succeeded in taking a lead in the international scene .
For these countries, joining the European project would be equivalent to a loss of sovereignty and a loss of independence in favour of a European structure perceived as largely bureaucratic and centralised. Without speaking about the threats that this would possibly imply for their models of welfare state, the famous Scandinavian “Välfärdsstaten”  .
Moreover, these countries worry about their agriculture, their fishing and fear that their possible future “set in a European tune” is not very expensive in terms of employment, of quality of life and quality of production. This is why they would wish − in the event of the start-up of a possible process of adhesion − to be able to have exemptions similar to those from which their Finnish and Swedish neighbours recently profited .
Then: Norway, in or out?!
In Norway, a European debate had already taken place. At least twice. Indeed, at the beginning of the 1970s and in the middle of the 1990s, four Norwegian governments already tried to promote and obtain the approval of their country to enter the process of European construction. And this, by referendum.
A debate which had then created sensation. And on the occasion of which the Norwegian public opinion then strongly polarized in two antagonistic camps, representing each one approximately half of the population. But, both times (in 1972 and 1994) the Norwegian people refused the EU-entry which was then proposed to them: by referendum and a narrow majority (53,5% in 1972 and 52,3% in 1994).
This is why today, even if the opinions favourable to adhesion seem to gain ground in the Norwegian public opinion, it seems that the Norwegian politicians favourable to EU-entry remain relatively discrete. Such an amount of it seems today clear that after “the failures” chief clerks of 1972 and November 1994, no Norwegian government will launch out from now on more in one third popular consultation if it is not − in advance − really ensured of being able to carry it this time.
On the other hand, in Iceland, the question of a possible adhesion to the European Union did not captivate the public opinion yet. Thus, according to recent opinion polls, in Iceland the undecided ones would account for approximately 38% of the electorate (compared to hardly 5% in Norway). Nevertheless, several indices leave us to think that in Iceland the opinions favourable to an EU-entry gain ground today.
Thus, in 2000, the Prime Minister Davis Oddson, of obedience rather Euroscepticism, had declared that “nothing calls for entry”. And one can consider that this colourful personality (Prime Minister during thirteen years…) had to some extent inhibited the debate. So that none the great Icelandic political parties had formally registered the file of a possible accession of Iceland to the Union on its political diary.
But, since then, Davis Oddson left the place to Halldor Asgrimsson, his former Foreign Minister, who even if it still remains very careful on the question finally proves to be today much more favourable to the prospect of a possible EU-entry of his country.
And this, especially since the recent American decision to withdraw their troops from Iceland (i.e. in total 1200 men who on the basis of a bilateral treaty between the two states − entitled “Agreement of Defence” − ensure the safety of the island). This could therefore lead to a complete redefinition of the Icelandic foreign policy towards a more marked European orientation (even bringing it closer to the Union…).
Nevertheless, in the short run, the political option most realistic in the short and medium term remains the continuation of the participation of these two countries in a process of European integration, without becoming full members.
A situation which is not stripped of disadvantages for the states in question. Since by refusing to join the Union, the two states in fact only have to implement the Community policies and standards, without really being able to influence them. .
A paradoxical situation and a form of marginalisation that could finally appear worse than a possible loss of sovereignty. This is why it could happen that the debate about a possible entry of these two countries to the European Union can soon reappear on the agenda...