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How do you see the future for the EEA-EU relationship? 

The European Economic Area-agreement between the EU and Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein has provided a stable framework for inclusion into the internal market for 27 years, and could very well do so for the foreseeable future. All of the parties see the value of continuing the relationship.

What challenges and opportunities are facing the collaboration? 

The full integration into the EUs internal market has always had its challenges. As non-members of the Union we are committed to adopt regulations and policies that are developed by the EU in order to enjoy the full benefits of the single, internal market, but do not participate in decision making processes in the EU. As the EU moves forward towards more integration and cooperation, this might challenge the structure and legitimacy of the cooperation from a democratic point of view.

What are the most important EU areas for the EEA-countries?

Definitely frictionless access to the European single, internal market, but I don’t think there is profound understanding of the fact that this prerequisites the full harmonisation of EU rules and regulations.

But the EU also turns out to be the largest, integrated environmental organization in the world, with the will and the way to develop and implement important standards and policies for a carbon neutral future. I think many in the EEA-countries, whether they support the EU or not, see the EU as key to a sustainable future, both environmentally, economically and socially.

What do you see as the best steps forward in the EEA-EU’s cooperation?

The politically correct answer to that would be not to rock the boat, and keep on developing good relations. But as I believe the best way forward is for Norway to join the EU as a full member in order to sit at the table and participate in decision making processes, I’d rather see us in a process for making the EEA-agreement obsolete.

In what way has Covid-19 influenced the EEA-EU relationship?

It has revitalised the debate on the essential need for international cooperation and long-term relations. Both the response time and the actual response to the corona epidemic highlight weaknesses in both the nation states’ ability to deal with crises locally and the power of international institutions to act when crises arise. The EU has received justified criticism for responding too little and too late when the epidemic hit Europe.

But when the EU gained momentum, it effectively ensured trade corridors through closed national borders, prevented the hoarding of equipment and medicines in some EU countries and coordinated efforts where it was needed most. On an independent basis, Germany began to bring corona patients from Italy, France and the Netherlands for treatment in German hospitals. European solidarity and self-interest are by far synonyms.

Successful international cooperation presupposes strong national states that take responsibility for solving their own challenges, and at the same time contribute to solving borderless, global challenges. These are strong learning points post-Covid-19.