Norway and the EU - by LI Norway member Denise Sutton
I live in Norway, a country that is not in the EU, and which has no plans to join. It is, however, part of the wider economic area which means that there is free trade between Norway and the EU member states, and free movement of people. In addition, Norway is a part of the Schengen agreement (While it remains in force - the migrant crisis could cause the temporary or permanent suspension of Schengen and this is a perfectly reasonable reaction to the current situation.).
Norway is different to the UK, and unique in the world due to the existence of the oil fund. When Norway became wealthy through North Sea Oil a decision was taken to invest the money on behalf of all Citizens of Norway, for a prosperous and sustainable future. Norway remains a country where income tax, corporation tax and VAT are all quite high (although not so high that they are a disincentive either to labour or enterprise) whilst the welfare system takes care of the unemployed, those too sick to work and those caring for sick relatives, paying a level of benefits that enable people to afford the 'necessities of life' and remain in their homes. At the same time, the government spend no more than 4% of the value of the oil fund each year on the welfare budget, infrastructure projects etc. Although the Norwegian economy is suffering as a result of the reduction in the price of oil no-one is being left homeless or starving on the street - there are no austerity measures in place here.
Norway makes its 'arm's length' relationship with the EU work because it shares many of the same values as the EU. It wants all of its citizens (of whom there are fewer than 6 million, in a country of approximately the same land mass as the UK) to be well-educated, to have safe warm housing, a decent road system and a reliable and integrated public transport system. It wants women to be active and equal in the workplace and therefore there is excellent provision for childcare and maternity and paternity leave. It follows EU Directives with regard to working hours, health and safety and in many other respects. Even if it were not a part of the Wider Economic Area I suspect little of this would change. Norwegians work hard, and expect to be well treated and fairly rewarded for the work that they do. In addition, most employees in Norway today enjoy the protection of a trade union, and industrial action is still not unheard of.
Finally, I would like to say a word about businesses in Norway. The corporation tax system in Norway is not riddled with the loopholes found in other systems one could mention; there is, I believe, no or very little scope for avoidance of tax by sending profits to countries with a more generous tax regime. Amazon has no foothold here. A business operating in Norway will undoubtedly charge more for its services than it would in other countries, but the right businesses providing high quality goods and services can succeed here. No Norwegian government to date has been accused of being in the pockets of the bankers, global corporations or of corrupt regimes in other lands.
So, in summary Norway cannot be compared to the United Kingdom; the people of both lands are culturally very similar, and the relationship between the two lands is very good. But, the difference in the sheer size of the population of the UK compared to that in Norway and the resources that each land has available (and is prepared to use) for the benefit of its citizens is simply too great. Better to find out what the 'no' campaigners actually mean when they talk about 'obstructions to doing business' and 'red tape' as they could well be talking about rights and protections you enjoy today!