EEA-EFTA membership is not “all the EU rules with no say”

During the Brexit referendum campaign, one of the key arguments put forward by the Remain camp about the possibility of EEA membership, was that it meant “all the rules of the EU without any say”, ergo why bother voting Leave.

Now, because the Leave campaign was divided on what it actually wanted, and still is, other than to leave the EU, not once was this argument actually tackled and held up for the sheer and utter bullshit that it actually is.

In fact, even now, as people argue about Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and soon Article 127 of the EEA Agreement, no one is bothering to call the claim that EEA membership means having to adhere to all rules with no say as factually wrong. So I will.

Members of the European Economic Area who are not members of the European Union are not some lapdog subservient states that have no power over policy. It is simply not true, so let’s deal with the argument in its two constituent parts.

Do EEA members have to implement all EU law? No.

Between 2000 and 2013 there were a total of 52,183 pieces of EU law passed that EU members were legally obliged to incorporate into their body of law. Of those 52,183 laws passed, just 4,724 were incorporated into the EEA agreement and therefore implemented by non-EU members in the EEA.

For anyone not already doing the maths, that represents 9.05% of EU law. And if we really want to engage in a UK style editorial assessment that is 6.9 bits of law per week compared to 77.1 as an EU member state.

There was a slight increase in the numbers between 2010 and 2013, where the EU passed 14,117 laws which resulted in just 1,605 directives and regulations being incorporated into the EEA agreement. That’s 11.37%.

So it’s clear, being in the EEA does not mean you are subject to all EU law. Far from it, you are excluded from and not subject too between 88% and 90% of EU law.

Now on to the argument that being in the EEA means no say over the laws that you do find yourself subject too. Again, not true.

The EEA agreement makes it the case that structures exist for consultations for all EEA-EFTA members on the development of all future EU laws that might become EEA law because they cover areas of that agreement.

Crucially, there is also a common decision-making process on these laws. That process requires there be agreement between the EU and EEA-EFTA states on the adoption of any EEA law, and even more crucially, every single EEA-EFTA has the right to veto the inclusion of new legislation.

Yes you heard that right. Veto. Don’t believe me? See the Government of Norway’s own website under the handy title “The right of veto”.

According to the principle of unanimity applied in the EEA Joint Committee, all the EFTA states must agree in order for new EU legislation to be integrated into the EEA Agreement and for it to apply to cooperation between the EFTA states and the EU. If one EFTA state opposes integration, this also affects the other EFTA states in that the rules will not apply to them either, neither in the individual states nor between the EFTA states themselves nor in their relations with the EU. This possibility that each EFTA state has to object to new rules that lie within the scope of the EEA Agreement becoming applicable to the EFTA pillar is often referred to as these parties’ right of veto.

EEA-EFTA membership means that the UK takes back control.

In fact, compared to EU membership, the EEA is ridiculously limited in scope. Members are:

  1. Free to make whatever trade deals they like and speak independently in the WTO.
  2. Not subject to the Common Agricultural Policy or Fisheries Policy.
  3. Not in the Euro or required to be.
  4. Subject to no tax harmonisation or rules period.
  5. Independent on matters on security and foreign policy matters.
  6. Able to veto any rules on the Single Market.

Ahhh but I hear you say, what about “Free Movement”! Being in the EEA means being in the Single Market and that means free movement! Yes it does, but with a key difference in regard to the rules and classes of citizenship.

Across the EU/EEA-EFTA members there are three distinct classes of citizenship. You have citizens that are EU members, you have citizens who are just EEA-EFTA members, and then you have citizens that are non-EEA-EFTA members.

In the case of EU members, the rules are clear. Free movement means that anyone can move anywhere to work in the Single Market and they cannot be discriminated against in the country they reside that is not their country of origin in the Union.

What that means in practice is that on matters like welfare etc, you are not allowed to have different rules for indigenous citizens over migrant citizens. This is why, in the case of the UK, it has had such a problem on this matter, it’s welfare system, unlike that of say France and Germany’s is based on pure universalism. As such it has been effectively trapped into that position.

Interestingly though, for other countries, the rules were drawn up such that the status quo at the time of entering, if discrimination against migrants existed was allowed to continue. This is why the welfare question is not such a big deal elsewhere because those systems have scope for change anyway where as the UK doesn’t.

However, in the EEA it is different. Not being a member of the EU but being in the EEA means that you still have to have free movement but you can also change the rules on the matter of the welfare system, and you can have rules that remove the so-called “right to reside” from those that are not working because you are no longer bound by the rules on discrimination of EU citizens.

Let’s not beat around the bush here, immigration itself wasn’t really the issue in the UK even if it was played up that way. The reality is that immigration coupled with the UK’s inability to act on things like welfare made it become a problem. Had the UK been able to make the necessary changes to its systems then the downward pressure on the public finances would have been alleviated, and the argument about immigration would’ve been lanced.

EEA-EFTA membership means the UK takes back control.

Note: This is not an argument for being in the EEA-EFTA over so-called “hard Brexit”. It’s merely a positive observation of the facts rather than the contrived bullshit that Leave and Remain continue to peddle.