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Norwegians still largely negative to EU membership

Norwegians still largely negative to EU membership

| Text: Line Scheistrøen

It is nearly 30 years since Norwegians voted no to EU membership for the last time – so far. The chances for another referendum are slim.

Norway has had two referendums on EU membership – in 1972 and in 1994. Both resulted in a no majority. In 1994, 52.2 per cent voted against membership and 47.8 per cent voted in favour. 

According to the latest opinion poll, things have not changed much after 30 years. The nos are still in a majority while 16 per cent are on the fence according to a new poll from Opinionen published in February on commission from the online news sites Altinget and ABC Nyheter.

“Opinion polls have consistently confirmed there is a large and solid majority against Norwegian EU membership. There is nothing in the current political discourse that indicates we will have a new EU debate now,” says Einar Frogner.

He is the leader of No to the EU, the Norwegian no movement which is still fighting against Norwegian EU membership and against aligning Norwegian legislation and regulations with the EU.

A strong no

The war in Ukraine did put the EU debate back on the agenda, however. Three weeks after Russia invaded, Norstat performed a poll on behalf of the Vårt Land newspaper. They asked “Do you want Norway to become a member of the EU?”. 53 per cent answered no, and 26 answered yes. There was an increase in the number of undecided. 

“Opposition to EU membership runs deep in Norway, and it has done for a very long time. So despite the fact that the EU is now presenting a united front as the defender of European democracy, the opposition to EU membership has not changed,” Lise Rye, professor of history at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told the Vårt Land daily.

She said the yes-side had not gained ground despite the war in Ukraine because Norwegians see Nato as the guarantor of Norwegian security policy.

Changing attitude to the EU

Social scientists in Bergen have also been keen to find out how the war has influenced Norwegians’ attitude to Norwegian EU membership and to Nato’s role in Eastern Europe.

The University of Bergen conducted a survey asking “How positive or negative are you to Norwegian EU membership”. The results showed a marked increase in positive attitudes to membership, according to an opinion piece by researcher Endre Tvinnereim, published in the Aftenposten newspaper last September.

In 2019, 26 per cent were positive to Norwegian EU membership while 60 per cent were negative. In May-June 2022, after Russia’s invasion, 40 per cent were positive while 47 per cent were negative.  

The fight against ACER

No to the EU currently has around 20,000 members. Last year, the organisation experience a solid increase in membership. The concerted fight against the EU’s ACER energy agency has been credited with some of that increase. No to the EU has also been helped by the fact that people are seriously upset over sky-high energy costs.

Einar Frogner, parliament

No to the EU leader Einar Frogner during a demonstration for national control of energy and politically controlled energy prices in front of the Norwegian parliament on 16 March this year. (Photo: No to the EU) 

The organisation has been busy campaigning against ACER and the European energy union strategy since 2017. It took the Norwegian state to court arguing its decision to link Norway to the EU energy market was illegal. The case will soon be decided by the Supreme Court of Norway. 

Einar Frogner at No to the EU believes that as long as people show no interest in a new fight over EU membership, the debate should focus on how Norway uses its room for manoeuvre as a non-member to safeguard national interest and to be an independent voice on the international stage that can help solve global challenges like climate change. 

“The world is bigger than the EU,” he says.

More members for the European Movement too

The No to the EU’s opposite – the European Movement Norway, also experiences membership growth these days. They now have more than 4,000 members and membership increased by 26.3 per cent last year.  

Heidi Nordby Lunde

Heidi Nordby Lunde heads the European Movement Norway. (Photo: The European Movement)

“When war broke out in Ukraine, we saw an increase in membership and a lot of engagement in the debate about EU membership, but the energy crisis put an end to both,’ says Heidi Nordby Lunde, head of the European Movement Norway.

She acknowledges that the climate for a more involved EU debate in Norway is less than ideal right now.

A desire for more debate

Nordby Lunde is also an MP representing Høyre, the Norwegian Conservative party. They would like a new EU membership debate, as do the Liberals and the Greens. Some in the Labour party would also like to see this. The Centre Party and the Socialist Left are firmly in the no camp. And as long as the Centre Party is part of the governing coalition, the government will not push for a new membership application.

The fact that the Centre Party and the Socialist Left do not want to enter into an EU membership debate is problematic, according to Nordby.

“Norway needs more debate about our links to the European community. It really is in our interest to take part in the European debate,” she says. 

Nordby’s Swedish and Danish colleagues often question Norway’s EU opposition, she says.    

“We have become a bit of a strange country on the fringes of Europe,” says Nordby Lunde.


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