Statement at the EEA Council Meeting

1 January marked the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the EEA Agreement. The Agreement fulfils its main objective, to include all EU and EEA EFTA countries in the internal market, with the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. It has provided predictability and a level playing field for business, economic operators and citizens across the EEA. The conclusion is clear: The EEA Agreement has worked well and continues to do so.  

 

The EEA Agreement has proven to be a robust agreement. It has managed to adapt to developments in the EU, including various treaty changes and enlargements. But the Agreement cannot be taken for granted. It needs continuous maintenance and follow-up; through sound and competent management, political engagement and priority by all parties. This is our joint responsibility. 

(Backlog)
In a regulatory cooperation and framework of this magnitude, there will of course always be some challenges. The number of outstanding legal acts to be incorporated into the EEA Agreement remains too high. Further, when incorporating certain legal acts, adaptations may be needed to comply with constitutional restraints in EEA/EFTA-states and with the basic principles of the Agreement. 

Due to the very nature of the EEA Agreement, where legislation is first adopted on the EU side, before it is processed on the EFTA side, there will always be a number of outstanding legal acts. There has been a so-called backlog since the outset of the EEA cooperation in the mid 1990´s. This is in principle nothing new – but the size of the backlog has somewhat changed over time.

Recently, we have seen some positive signs. We expect that packages such as on Plant Protection Products, Emissions for Passenger Cars, Organic Production and the Road Package, can be incorporated into the Agreement in the near future. There are indications that the backlog will be reduced substantially by summer. Let me also add that I am pleased that we have now found a solution regarding the Regulation on Novel Foods and Novel Foods Ingredients that soon will be invcorporated. 

Further, more than half of the outstanding acts have been initially cleared on the EFTA side, and are now either being processed on the EU side or in a “ping-pong” stage between the two parties. This illustrates the fact that reducing the backlog is a joint task. 

On the EFTA side, new measures to reduce the backlog have recently been adopted. Firstly, we will introduce a new standard procedure to allow legal acts to be dealt with at an earlier stage. Secondly, a new and simplified procedure will be established for acts that do not raise any horizontal challenges, or require any adaptations or changes to national statutory legislation on the EEA EFTA side. 

In parallel with these EFTA efforts, we are developing various national measures within the EFTA states. We are confident that the sum of these measures will substantially reduce the number of outstanding legal acts in the medium- and long term.  

(European Supervisory Authorities)
Let me make a few remarks on some issues of high priority: 

A top priority on the agenda is the participation of the EFTA states in the European Financial Supervisory Authorities. On this issue, one must keep in mind the distinction between being a member of the EU and taking part in the internal market as an EFTA state. The EEA Agreement has a special legal system, which is not the same as in EU treaties. Sometimes it is necessary to make adaptations when incorporating new legal acts into the Agreement. This has nothing to do with giving the EFTA states special treatment – on the contrary: It is to enable our participation and make sure that such participation fits into the legal order of the EEA Agreement and our constitutions. For this to happen, we must underscore that the basic tenets of the EEA Agreement must be understood and accepted. 

The EFTA states do not often speak of “red lines”, but on this matter some of us have a “red line”, which is the following: The authority to make decisions directly applicable to economic operators within the EFTA states must remain with national authorities in the EFTA states. 

We are confident that keeping the authority at the national level in the EFTA states, will not hamper the legal homogeneity of the market. The homogeneity for Financial Services will be ensured by introducing adequate guarantees that the national authorities will make the necessary decisions towards the Economic Operators. 

We have a constructive dialogue with Commission Services on this matter. The EFTA side has made great efforts to work out proposals that take into account the concerns on both sides. We handed over a revised proposal in late March to this effect. The new proposal is based on the two pillar-structure, using instruments that are already well-established in the EEA Agreement. 

We hope the EU side will be prepared to discuss this proposal as soon as possible. It is a joint responsibility to ensure that an acceptable solution is soon found. 

The present situation has left us with an increasing number of secondary legal acts which cannot be incorporated into the EEA Agreement. This represents a significant part of the overall backlog. This situation is detrimental to the functioning of the internal market, and creates restrictions on market access in newly regulated markets. 

Let me put my Norwegian hat on and give you one example of what is at stake: The markets in the Nordic-Baltic region are highly integrated. In Norway, some of the largest banks and insurance companies are subsidiaries or branches of other Nordic financial institutions. Also, several Norwegian banks and insurance companies are established in other Nordic and Baltic countries. Nordic financial institutions have benefitted from the freedom to provide services in the internal market. In relatively small economies, such integration may represent very important value-added, as it adds diversity to consumers, trade and industry. It is to our mutual advantage to safeguard these benefits.  

(3. energy market package – ACER)
The energy sector is of great importance for the whole economy and for stimulating economic growth across borders. Energy is a key area in the EEA Agreement, which all parties clearly benefit from. Thus, we give high priority to the incorporation of the Third Energy Package into the EEA Agreement. This will contribute to the completion of the internal market on energy. 

At the same time these acts do raise some challenges that need to be solved, especially linked to our participation in ACER and the competence to impose fines. We are ready to continue the constructive dialogue we have with the EU side on this matter and other matters relating to the energy markets in the EEA EFTA States. The aim should be to incorporate the package in the EEA Agreement as soon as possible once these issues have been resolved. 

(Telecommunication package – BEREC)
The field of electronic communication is another important business area, a crucial part of the EEA Agreement and an area subject to extensive regulatory activity.

Full participation, but without the right to vote, in BEREC is necessary to safeguard the interests of our companies in a highly integrated market, and will be in accordance with our participation in other EU agencies. To this effect, we urge the EU to amend the relevant provisions on BEREC.  

(EEA relevance)
Lately, there have been some discussions regarding EEA relevance of certain legal acts. In order to decide upon the EEA relevance of an EU act, the scope of the Agreement must be determined. This assessment is of a legal nature, not a political one. 

Since the EEA Agreement is an international treaty, the scope must be interpreted according to international treaty law and must be based on an interpretation of the Agreement with protocols, the preamble and declarations from the negotiations. Longstanding practice from the parties may also be of relevance. The scope of the EEA Agreement and the EU are different, and the case law of the ECJ may not be relevant in determining the scope of the EEA Agreement. 

Important to keep in mind that the EU and EEA EFTA side usually agree on the assessment of EEA relevance. It is only on a very limited number of acts that we have diverging views on EEA relevance. 

(Participation in EU programmes)
The EFTA states will participate in a broad range of the new EU programmes for the 2014-2020 period. The programmes are an important element of our cooperation, linking EU states and EFTA states together in networks, building knowledge and providing valuable contributions to policy discussions. 

Through constructive and efficient cooperation between the EU and the EFTA side, it now seems that we will be able participate from the very beginning of the new programme period. Our participation in Horizon 2020 will be adopted in the Joint Committee this Friday. This is most welcome, and will be an advantage for all parties. 

(EEA enlargement with Croatia)
I am pleased to welcome Croatia as the 31st member of the EEA, following the signing of its EEA accession agreement on 11th April. 

This provides new prospects for Croatia and the EEA EFTA States alike. Croatian products will have the same access to our markets as those from the other EU Member States. Croatian nationals will now have the possibilities to study, travel or work across the EEA in accordance with the provisions of the EEA accession agreement. Its accession to the EEA also means that Croatia will be able to benefit from the EEA Financial Mechanism. 

(Financial contributions and market access for fish after 2014)  

[Exempt from public disclosure] 

On behalf of Norway 

Let me put my Norwegian hat on:  

(Priority areas)
EU-Norwegian cooperation is comprehensive and diverse. We will continue to be a constructive partner, contributing to good solutions to common tasks and challenges.

The government published last month its Work Programme for EU/EEA Affairs. Among the core objectives are:

  • a) Promoting cooperation in areas such as financial services, climate and energy, telecommunications, research and education.
  • b) Facilitating efficient transportation, both within rail, aviation and maritime.
  • c) Ensuring decent work and combatting social dumping in connection with labour migration.
  • d) Close cooperation within the field of justice and home affairs and foreign and security policy, are also among the priorities.

(Differentiated Social Security Contribution)

The Norwegian government has followed the ongoing modernisation of the state aid rules closely, and supports the revision process.

Due to the low population density in most parts of Norway, regional policy is of particular importance to us. Regional guidelines should be general and cover all businesses in a specific region. Exceptions in horizontal schemes should be avoided. Such exceptions increase the administrative burden for recipients and the granting authorities, and may put economic operators in a difficult situation.

Perhaps Norway´s most effective regional state aid measure is the socalled “Regionally Differentiated Social Security Contribution Scheme”, a horizontal measure of reduced contribution for employees in areas of low population density. The definition of the exempted sectors, and whether exempted sectors should apply to horizontal measures, are therefore of great importance to Norway. We have requested the Commission to interpret the guidelines in a way which makes is possible to grant horizontal regional aid schemes to all sectors of the economy. This is an issue of high political priority.

(Trade in agriculture goods)
As I stated in the EEA Council last November, the government needs support from the Parliament to change the decision by the former government that led to increased duty on certain cheeses and meat products into Norway. The government maintains its position that the decision should be reversed, but there is currently no majority in Parliament. This government will not launch further protectionist measures of this nature.

We have started our preparation for the upcoming negotiations under Article 19 in the EEA Agreement concerning trade in agriculture goods and expect to have our mandate ready soon.

(Protocol 3)
When it comes to processed agricultural products (PAP´s), there has been a steady increase over the years in EU exports to Norway. Our import from EU more than doubled between 2003 and 2013. Our export of PAP’s to the EU is only 12% of EU’s export to Norway.

The latest joint review of Protocol 3 to the EEA Agreement was carried out by the Commission and the EEA/EFTA states in May 2013. The review concluded that Protocol 3 functioned according to its objectives. This is in our view still the case. There should therefore be no need to initiate a new review process under the Protocol. 

(Closing remarks – on behalf of the EEA EFTA States) 

Let me conclude by saying that I am confident that we together will be able to address the outstanding issues, as we have done in the past. By all parties being pragmatic and showing the necessary flexibility, satisfactory solutions for all parties should be within reach. 

I would like to thank the outgoing Chair, the Greek Presidency, for its positive and constructive cooperation during its term, especially in facilitating our participation in informal ministerial meetings and political dialogues, as well as in the preparation of this meeting. We look forward to working with Italy during its Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of this year. 

Other Business. TTIP 

Statement by the EEA EFTA Chair, Minister Vidar Helgesen: 

The EEA EFTA States welcome the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the United States on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. A successful outcome of the negotiations would lead to growth and jobs in the EU and the US and would breathe new life into much needed transatlantic relationship on the global scene. It may also be beneficial for the European Economic Area. Through the EEA Agreement, the EEA EFTA countries are likely to be directly affected by the outcome of TTIP in particular in two main areas.

Firstly, an agreement on a TTIP would mean that goods originating in the US would benefit from increased market access to the EU’s Internal Market. Since the EEA EFTA States are an integrated part of the Internal Market, this would mean that in some sectors, including public procurement, this might have a substantial impact on us. 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the TTIP is expected to lead to the elimination and reduction of unnecessary regulations, and to increased cooperation on future regulations and standards. This could result in changes in EU laws and regulations, which, in turn, would need to be incorporated into the EEA Agreement. This effect would be felt in all areas covered by the Agreement, including industrial goods and services, such as finance and insurance.

The TTIP might lead to a system where the EU and the US jointly monitor and develop new common standards and regulations. This may, for example, entail setting up a common system between the EU and the US for consultation on new rules and regulations. This again could have a direct impact on the ability of the EEA EFTA States to contribute to the shaping of relevant EU legislation through the EEA Agreement. 

The EEA Agreement, of course, could not have specifically foreseen a development such as the TTIP. Protocol 12 to the EEA Agreement on Mutual Recognition Agreements, however, provides at least some guidance with regard to cooperation and information exchange between the EU and the EEA EFTA States in this field. 

As we have pointed out on prior occasions, the EEA EFTA States are convinced that a dialogue and exchange of information with regard to TTIP are essential. We therefore propose using Protocol 12 as a model to establish cooperation for the EEA-relevant aspects of the TTIP negotiations. The existing structures under the EEA Agreement are an ideal setting for such a dialogue. A trade policy dialogue between EFTA at four and the US was launched last November, with another session scheduled to take place next month. EFTA has also requested a similar dialogue with the European Commission, but has not yet received a response.

As the EU and the US go into their fifth negotiation round next week, it is becoming increasingly important for us to be kept informed and have the opportunity to provide input. The EEA Agreement created “a homogenous European Economic Area”, based on equal conditions for businesses. It is important that this homogeneity and equal treatment are maintained – also after the conclusion of the TTIP. We would therefore reiterate our request to launch, as soon as possible, an informal dialogue on these matters with the European Commission, making use of the existing structures of the EEA Agreement.

 

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