I’ve been to Sweden 3 times since we moved to Oslo. It’s less than 2 hours drive and it is, of course, very easy to access from Norway. You just drive down the road basically. There were what I would call easy-going check points at the border, with some people in uniforms standing there chatting and keeping an eye on things. We weren’t stopped. It felt like the policy of “any friend of my friend is my friend too”, if you know what I mean. If you were already in Norway, then you can move with freedom in and out of Sweden also. Unless of course the boot of your car is scraping off the road as you drive off. Then, they might check what exactly you are transporting across the border and for what purpose. You are after all moving in and out of the European Union, Norway is out, Sweden is in.
Given the strengthening campaign in the UK to exit the European Union, I’ve been reading with interest the arguments for leaving. I spent over 10 great years in London, I take an interest and it seems I am not the only one. I opened the online edition of Aftenposten* last Monday, which is the main mainstream national newspaper in Norway and I found an article about none other than Boris Johnson, the current mayor of London who controversially proclaimed last week that he wants out of Europe. The article heading was “48 bilder som viser hvorfor det er så lett å elske denne mannen” or “48 pictures showing why it’s so easy to love this man”. Yep, Boris Johnson in 48 different poses, it was exhausting!
Britain leaving the EU would be a game changer of course. I have read articles in the press and comments on social media about Norway being the shining example of how life could be for Britain if it were beyond the claws of Brussels.
On the surface, the painted picture is rosy – wealthy, money jingling in every pocket and loads hidden under the bed and in the hut in the mountains as well for a rainy day, healthy-looking sporty people and often with winter tans, loads of fish, good TV ( have you seen Occupied, it’s brilliant!) and they are absurdly happy. The U.N.^ has said 12 years in a row that Norway is the best place to live. Myself, I am wondering when they will get to the point where they don’t even bother checking it out anymore, every year there must be a dialogue like this amongst some important U.N. people somewhere… Oh you can’t be serious, Norway? Not again. Why do we even bother?! Alright then, just call up last year’s report and press Reprint…
What’s interesting is that Norway is not a member of the EU but instead a member of the European Economic Area or EEA. With 2 referendums and 2 near misses, where the majority Norwegian vote was just enough to keep Norway out of the full lovefest of the EU, Norway became a member of the European Economic Area. I picture Norway sitting on the fence of the EU, with one leg in and one leg out. It has the benefit of being able to swivel around depending on the area of legislation.
Free movement of goods, two legs in, the whole hog, absolutely. Free movement of people, yep, legs still in, we like this one. What about agriculture and fisheries policies ? Hopping back out on this one, no thanks, we like our own meat, fish, eggs, milk, no help needed. Free movement of services and capital? Hmm, hang on a minute, we’ll jump in again for this one, it could be useful. And let’s see, defence, justice and home affairs? Well, we were a founding member of NATO, I think we are alright on this one too, we have a fair idea how to rule our own and keep the peace, thanks all the same. And by the way, we have no need at all for that Euro either, we like our Norwegian krone,
Living here as a regular person, the impact of EU membership, or not, is most evident to me in the supermarket and what I can buy. I buy what comes from up the road here in Norway where possible because that’s what’s in the shops. The fresh fish is of course local. The meat is local where possible. The yoghurts are for the most part Norwegian, coming from the local food giant, Tine. The milk and mainstream sliced cheese are mainly norsk. I was reminded of the difference the first time I went to the big supermarket across the border in Sweden. I was stunned by the freezers full of Irish and British beef. The feast of products in front of my eyes showed beyond doubt that I was in an open market within Europe.
So with no Common Agricultural policy to adhere to, Norwegian farmers can manage their farms as they want and they have a captive home market. I think there may be government subsidies and guaranteed pricing to help them along too in fairness but that is all controlled here, in Norway. If you try to import milk into Norway, God help you, it will cost you so much in import tariff that you will turn your little milk truck around at the border and drive away at speed.
For me, I can see and taste the seasons in the food I buy and eat. There is no taste of mass production or 100 days in refrigeration. What I can buy changes throughout the year. Apples are not great at the moment, the Norwegian apples from last season are gone and the imported ones look a bit in need of a hug most of the time. We still get strawberries and blueberries at this time of the year but they are out of season and only for hiding in your havregryn or porridge in the morning. If you are brave enough to go for the norsk winter standard of porridge in the first place, that is.
As for Britain or any other country moving out of the EU and ending up like Norway, it is of course a complicated topic. But one small significant point and possibility that comes with a bit more home rule, when you look at the carrots and salmon on my dinner plate today, the chances are that they are a lot less well travelled here than on my plate in London.
^ United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). For the 2015 report, http://report.hdr.undp.org/