May must find a way round to negotiate a treaty with Norway
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, wants to give Norwegians the same rights as EU citizens after Brexit. The question is only if Britain are allowed to enter into such an treaty with Norway.
The European Union and the United Kingdom stages round two in the formal negotiations on the British breakaway from the European Union this week.
Prior to the talks, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has made important clarifications, including questions concerning Norway. She has confirmed that Britain is leaving the EEA. She has also made it clear that Norwegians in Britain should have the same rights after Brexit as EU citizens.
The problem is that the British technically are not allowed to negotiate with Norway as long as they are still in the EU.
Prohibition in the Treaties
The EU treaties prevent a separate treaty between the UK and Norway.
The EU has made it crystal clear that the British are not allowed to sign any trade agreements with other countries until after they leave the EU. In regard to Norway, it is clear that this prohibition also applies to a possible treaty on the rights of Norwegians in the United Kingdom and British in Norway.
Informal conversations are, however, allowed. And that is a possibility Norway will utilize, confirms Minister for European Affairs, Frank Bakke-Jensen (Conservatives).
– I have taken the initiative to set up a meeting with the British about this in the near future. Our London embassy has had meetings with the pertinent ministries, he says.
Must find a way to circumvent
During the negotiations in Brussels this week, a separate negotiating committee is dwelling on the question of what rights should apply to EU citizens residing in the UK and vice versa.
May says that she expects that the offer offered by the British to the EU will be extended “on a reciprocal basis” to nationals from the four EFTA countries Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
However, the EFTA countries are not parties to the negotiations in Brussels, nor do EU negotiators have the mandate to negotiate on their behalf.
The United Kingdom must therefore find a circumvention that makes it possible to expand the offer to the EFTA countries without breaking the EU rules.
Experts see more ways to the goal. One possibility is that the United Kingdom remains a member of the single market for a transitional period after the country has left the EU. Such a transitional regime can at best ensure the rights of Norwegians and Britons while the UK negotiates with Norway and the rest of EFTA on a separate treaty.
Another possibility is that the EU can allow the United Kingdom power of attorney to negotiate with EFTA, NUPI researcher Christophe Hillion points out.
Hillion believes that it is also arguable that the formal procedure for the signing out of the EEA Agreement should allow the United Kingdom to negotiate agreements that also apply to the three EEA countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Can use the EEA Agreement
At the same time, an EU-UK agreement on citizens’ rights can be incorporated into the EEA Agreement, the NUPI researcher believes.
But such a solution will only ensure British rights in Norway, and not the other way around, since Britain will no longer be a part of the EEA.
– In order to ensure that the United Kingdom is also bound by a regime expanded to apply throughout the EEA, an additional treaty is required where Britain formally commits itself to this, says Hillion to NTB.
© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today