The EEA: Challenges and future scenarios
Importantly, the EFTA states have also generally found the changes brought about by the EEA Agreement to be beneﬁcial. Indeed, it has not always been the EU putting pressure on the EFTA states to adopt legislation. In some cases the EFTA states have been eager to incorporate acts as it has allowed them to participate in various EU initiatives. A report from the Icelandic Minister of Foreign Aﬀairs noted that the EEA Agreement was a cornerstone of Icelandic foreign policy, that it had made Icelandic companies competitive on the internal market, opened up opportunities for Icelandic workers and students and set the basis for ﬂourishing operations in the area of research and development. The report also expressed the view that Iceland was well prepared for its membership negotiations with the EU due to its close cooperation with the Union through the EEA and that Iceland enjoyed goodwill and there was an understanding of its strong position as a European partner because of the Agreement (Skarphedinsson 2010: 4). The Norwegian review also indicated that the EEA Agreement had many
advantages for Norway and that on the whole it had safeguarded Norwegian interests and values. Although oil and gas activities have played a large role in Norway’s economic success over the past 20 years, the report noted that ‘the EEA Agreement had provided a stable and relatively predictable framework for almost all aspects of Norway’s economic relations with the EU member states, which together constitute Norway’s most important economic partner by far’. According to the review, the EEA Agreement has also played a part in the general modernization of Norway’s economy and employment and working conditions, while at the same time allowing the Norwegian social model to be preserved and further developed (EEA Review Committee 2012: 7). A report on Liechtenstein’s experience of the EEA stated that, overall,
Liechtenstein’s economy had greatly beneﬁted from EEA membership. The report further noted that the government had concluded that Liechtenstein had successfully maintained, if not improved, its location attractiveness because of the EEA. Furthermore, due to its small size, access to the EU’s internal market, diversiﬁcation and internationalization were essential conditions for Liechtenstein’s prosperity (Frommelt and Gstohl 2011: 17). In sum, the EEA Agreement appears to work reasonably well and, for the
most part, the contracting parties have found it to be advantageous. Indeed, in the words of Maresceau, the EEA constitutes ‘a real intellectual masterpiece of legal thinking on integration’ (Hillion 2011: 10). This undeniably leads to optimism about its future role. A question thus arises as to whether it is, in fact, a viable long-term alternative rather than a mere stepping-stone towards EU membership as originally foreseen. If this is true, is it also a relevant model for other associated states? However, before addressing these questions, it is important to note that, despite the aforementioned praise of the EEA, there are several factors which may give some cause for concern regarding the overall long-term viability of the Agreement. Most notably, the issue of the democratic deﬁcit inherent in the EEA, as well as challenges which have emerged in relation to the evolution of the EU and Iceland’s
candidacy for EU membership. These will be explored in the following section, before speculation about the EEA’s future.