May 22, 2018 / 1:49 PM / a year ago

Brexit exposes 'wishful thinking' of Norway's EEA foes - foreign minister

FILE PHOTO: Norway's Defence Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide waits to sign european military cooperation agreements at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

OSLO (Reuters) - Opponents of Norway’s close ties to the European Union are wrong to assume a more beneficial relationship could be found, as shown by Britain’s troubled negotiations to leave the bloc, the Norwegian foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Along with fellow EU outsiders Iceland and Lichtenstein, Norway is a member of the union’s common market for goods, services, capital and labour via the European Economic Area Agreement, and must grant reciprocal access in return.

“The agreement secures a unique access to European markets for Norwegian companies and workers. As a nation of just 5 million people, we get access to a domestic market of around 500 million people,” Ine Eriksen Soereide told Norway’s parliament.

“This also gives households access to a greater selection of goods and services at lower prices. These are benefits that no other free trade agreement can give.”

Eurosceptics in Norway, including the Centre Party with support of around 10 percent in polls, have argued that the country should follow Britain’s move away from the EU, however, charting a more independent course.

Opinion polls show that while most Norwegians oppose full EU membership, they back the 1994 EEA agreement, even though it forces them to adopt many EU rules on trade and commerce without a say in their making.

While the government is happy to debate the issue, it will not “put in play” the agreement at the heart of Norway’s EU relations, Eriksen Soereide told parliament.

“Some have said that by leaving the EEA, we can negotiate a tailored agreement where we can choose the things we want and scrap what we don’t like. Britain’s attempt at finding the best possible relation with the EU, outside of the union, have shown that it’s not that simple,” she said.

“It’s wishful thinking to believe that we can keep the EEA agreement while negotiating an alternative, and then decide which of the two we want when we see the outcome of the negotiations,” she added.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik

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