(Politico) Norway’s minister for European affairs has expressed reservations about letting the U.K. into the European Free Trade Association, often suggested as one of Britain’s prime alternatives to EU membership.
EFTA is a regional trade grouping that includes Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It is part of the European Economic Area, an economic partnership that allows free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within its members (EFTA plus the EU).
“It’s not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation,” Elisabeth Vik Aspaker told the daily Aftenposten. “It would shift the balance, which is not necessarily in Norway’s interests,” she added.
If the U.K. became a member of the European Free Trade Association it would retain access to the EU’s single market, but at the same time would have to pay a hefty budget contribution to Brussels (possibly just 17 percent less than what it does now) and accept free movement of people.
Among the different options that have being flagged as a possible alternative for a future relationship between the U.K. and the EU, so-called EEA option has gained ground and has been described as the most realistic by several academics and commentators. But there is a problem: a country can join the European Economic Area only as a member of the European Union or a member of EFTA.
If Britain leaves the EU, and Norway is openly expressing doubts about London joining EFTA, there might be little hope left for the U.K.
A lawyer with close knowledge of EFTA and EEA issues, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told POLITICO: “It is technically possible for the U.K. to join EFTA, but it is certainly not the shortcut some people have made it to be. A country can join the European Economic Area as a member of the EU or EFTA, so if the U.K. leaves the EU but wishes to have continued access to the EEA it would first have to apply for EFTA membership and that might take some time.”