Euroscepticism, Norway

Why are Norwegians Eurosceptic? For the exact opposite reasons that Britons are Eurosceptic

JCMS has a new article which tries to explain the persistent Euroscepticism in Norway. According to Marianne Skinner, neither economic interest nor identity politics can account for the strong Euroscepticism of the Norwegian people. Instead, the author argues that it is a concern for (1) post-materialist values, (2) a particular political culture, and (3) emphasis on rural society that determine the lack of desire of ordinary Norwegians to join the EU*.

I had always assumed that Norwegian Euroscepticism has a lot to do with the facts that Norway has natural gas and a dislike for the common European fisheries policy. So the interpretation offered by Marianne Skinner is rather intriguing. Let’s unpack the arguments a little bit. The focus on the ideal of rural society is quite peculiar (and as far as I know uniquely Norwegian/Icelandic). I can easily see why idealization of the peasants and the countryside doesn’t sit very well with European integration, so it seems plausible that if one values strongly rural society, he/she would dislike the EU. Political culture in this case refers mostly to emphasis on participatory democracy, anti-bureaucracy, centralization and technocracy feelings, and pride in national independence. Now, pride in (hard-won) national independence and history are definitely not uniquely Norwegian – just ask the Irish, or the Bulgarians – so I am not convinced  that they are incompatible with support for European integration. But the emphasis on participatory democracy seems rather relevant. Finally, post-materialism values imply that ones cares strongly about the environment, equality, solidarity, quality of life and has anti-war sentiments. But in Norway, the EU is associated with liberal economic philosophy, prioritization of economic growth above all else, increased consumption, discriminatory trade policies with the rest of the world, etc**. In short, in Norway ‘opposition to the EU is a question of morality’ (p.432).  Quite interesting!

Now contrast this Norwegian brand of Euroscepticism with the one prevalent in the UK (and in England, in particular). The public and elite (political parties) level Euroscepticism in the UK is fueled by feelings that the EU regulates too much and not too little, that it is not supporting the market and economic growth enough, and that its economic philosophy is not too liberal but too dirigiste. Norway and England are Eurosceptic for the exact opposite reasons! At least this seems to be the conclusion when the regulation/economic policy dimension of Euroscepticism is in focus; both countries share a negativity towards the EU’s democratic process.

*Note that the article is based on analysis of letters to the editor, commentaries and other journalistic materials published in one Norwegian newspaper (1960-1994) rather than a survey of peoples’ attitudes. So it is best described as a study of the Norwegian Eurosceptic public discourse rather than Norwegian Euroscepticism as such.

** This seems a bit paradoxical to me: Norwegians value ‘normal people’s ability to … choose where they live’ but dislike European integration which leads to ‘extreme mobility and economic migration’ (p.433). So you can choose where you live as long as you don’t move?!