EU debate: what do Switzerland and Norway tell us about life outside the EU?

3 April 2014


One bone of contention between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage in yesterday's EU debate was whether or not we'd be better off like Switzerland and Norway; operating outside of the European Union. We've checked three of their claims on the topic from yesterday's exchanges.

"Switzerland and Norway have to pay into the European Union coffers, they have to obey all European Union laws ... no Norwegian or Swiss MEPs or commissioners, they have no passport checks, they have no power whatsoever, all the rules are made by foreigners." 

Nick Clegg

Norway and Switzerland do pay money to the EU; contributing to the EU's operational expenditure and to the administrative costs of the European Commission. 

House of Commons committee concluded in a recent report that both Switzerland and Norway "are in practice obliged to adopt EU legislation over which they have had no effective say," although it is an exaggeration to say that all their rules are made by foreigners.

According to the report, the Norwegian Government commissioned an independent review of Norway's agreements with the EU which reported in 2012 that

"the most problematic aspect of Norway's form of association with the EU is the fact that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules [...] without being a member and without voting rights."

It also cites Professor René Schwok of the University of Geneva saying that in practice, the ability of the EEA's non-EU states to opt out of EU legislation is "politically unusable".

As neither is part of the EU, Norway and Switzerland don't have any MEPs or commissioners representing them there. They're also both part of the Schengen Area, which means that although there are custom requirements in place (as they're not in the EU), there are not usually systematic passport controls at the border.

"Both Norway and Switzerland sell about 75% of their overseas goods to European Union countries."

Nigel Farage

Norway and Switzerland combined did sell 76% of their exports to the EU in 2012. Norway sent 81% of its exports to the EU and Switzerland sent 56% of its exports to the EU.

"Switzerland has more Free Trade Agreements with the big economies of the world than we do as part of the European Union"

Nigel Farage

Switzerland currently has a network of 28 free trade agreements (FTAs) with 38 partners outside the EU. It's in the process of negotiating more.

The EU only lists four completed Free Trade agreements, but has more under negotiations and several other association agreements with 'FTA components'.

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