The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement is a dynamic agreement. The Agreement’s common rules are continuously updated by adding new EU legislation. This aspect is essential given the large output of EU legislation on the Internal Market. Almost every month, a number of EEA relevant pieces of legislation are incorporated into the EEA Agreement by decisions of the EEA Joint Committee.
Whenever an EEA relevant legal act is amended or a new one adopted by the EU, a corresponding amendment should be made to the relevant Annex of the EEA Agreement. This is essential in maintaining the principle of homogeneity of the EEA. Amendments of the EEA Agreement should ensure that the ensuing text is as close as possible to the adopted legislation on the EU side, with a view to permitting a simultaneous application in the EU and in the EFTA States. The EEA EFTA States can request for consultation on matters of concern. The EEA EFTA States can negotiate adaptations to EU legislation when this is called for by special circumstances and agreed on by both sides. For further information about the adaptation of texts, please see the EFTA Bulletin from June 2019.
The EEA Joint Committee is responsible for the ongoing management of the EEA Agreement. It is a forum in which views are exchanged and decisions are taken by consensus to incorporate legislation adopted by the EU into the EEA Agreement. The Joint Committee is made up of representatives of the EEA EFTA States (Ambassador level in Brussels) and the EU (represented by the European External Action Service). All decisions by the EEA Joint Committee are taken by unanimity. Therefore, a new legal act will not be incorporated into the EEA agreement before each of the three EEA EFTA States (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) as well as the EU agrees that it is EEA relevant and acceptable.
The role of the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament)
Further to a white paper from the Government to the Storting in 2006, a unanimous Storting recommended several action points with a view to strengthening the Storting’s involvement in European policy. The aim was to facilitate the work of the Members of Parliament but also to contribute to the general awareness of European affairs.
While Norwegian foreign policy is essentially the Government’s prerogative, EEA and EU issues also have a sizeable impact on a wide range of national policy areas. The Storting is therefore actively involved in issues related to the EU and EEA, notably in two main ways:
- The European Consultative Committee is an advisory body to the Government on EU and EEA issues.
- EU legal acts that involve amendments in national legislation, have budgetary implications or have a particular importance require the consent of the Storting.
The European Consultative Committee
The European Consultative Committee comprises the 16 members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and the 6 members of the Storting’s Delegation to the EFTA and EEA Parliamentary Committees. Other standing committees are invited to take part in the consultations if the specific items under discussion are of particular relevance to their spheres of responsibility. The Minister of Foreign Affairs represents the Government, with other Government ministers being invited to take part as required. The chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence is also the chair of the European Consultative Committee. The rules concerning the Committee’s scope of activities are laid down in section 17 of the Rules of Procedure of the Storting.
Most EEA legislation is incorporated into Norwegian national legislation by way of regulations which do not require the consent of the Parliament. However, before each meeting of the EEA Joint Committee in Brussels, the Government consults the Parliament in the European Consultative Committee. Before the meeting, the Committee is provided with a list of all new legal acts and a link to a short briefing on them on a designated webpage maintained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Government is responsible for the draft agenda of the Consultative Committee, but Members of Parliament sometimes ask for specific issues to be put on the agenda and may raise ad hoc issues at the meetings. While consultation on the legal acts (which at this stage have already been adopted by the EU) is the formal part of the meeting, the Government also provides briefings to the Consultative Committee on other policy issues. This includes the state of play of legislative proposals by the EU or other current European issues. The purpose of these discussions is to facilitate an early involvement and awareness on issues of particular importance.
The members of the European Consultative Committee will sometimes recommend which line the Government should take on certain issues, but it is up to the Government to make the final decisions or take action on behalf of Norway. Though not bound by the recommendations made by the Committee, the system of parliamentarianism ensures that the Government is accountable to and dependent on the confidence of the Storting. The meetings are held in camera, but complete written minutes from the meetings are made public after the meetings. In exceptional circumstances, sensitive parts of the minutes may be designated as confidential for a year. The administration provides a briefing on the agenda items to the members of the Consultative Committee before the meeting. The agendas, minutes and briefings are available (in Norwegian) at the homepage of the Storting.
Legal acts taken up by the Storting
A few of the legal acts that the European Consultative Committee is consulted on will require the explicit consent of the Storting. This is the case when the legal acts require legislative amendments or new bills, have budgetary implications or otherwise concern matters of particular importance, notably related to the Constitution. In these cases, the Government will present the Storting with a separate proposition (for consent), and in the cases of the legislative amendments, a legislative proposal. Such proposals are handled according to ordinary procedures in Parliament and will be deliberated in the relevant standing committee.
The parliament can give its consent at two stages:
- The Government, after having consulted the European Consultative Committee on the legal act, may agree to incorporate the legal act into the EEA Agreement in the EEA Joint Committee with the condition that the Parliament gives its consent. This is referred to as the Article 103 procedure in the EEA Agreement. Following the agreement in the EEA Joint Committee, the Government has six months to present the Parliament with a proposal for consent.
- The Government may also seek the consent of the Parliament before a decision on incorporation in the EEA Agreement is made in the EEA Joint Committee and thus before the European Consultative Committee is formally consulted.
Other EU and EEA related activities in the Storting
Administrative support activities:
- A Brussels based National Parliament Representative in the European Parliament, who facilitates contact and reports on matters of current interest.
- An EU and EEA team in the administration with staff members from the International Department, the Storting Library and the Research Services Section. The team is dedicated to EU and EEA issues. It provides weekly newsletters, briefings to the agenda items at the meetings of the European Consultative Committee and may also answer ad hoc questions.
- New EEA relevant legislative proposals from the EU are distributed by the EFTA Secretariat in Brussels to the national parliaments of the EEA EFTA countries. The Storting presents these proposals on the website of the Storting and sends out a newsletter when a new proposal is received. The aim here is to raise awareness of issues of particular importance or interest at an early stage.
Please also see this fact sheet from the Storting that includes further details on the number of legislative acts since 1992 and on other aspects of the Storting’s involvement in the EEA Agreement.
Source: EEA Fact Sheet on the EFTA website