This seems an appropriate time to revisit our interview with Anne Tvinnereim from 2013...
Tvinnereim was the Norwegian state secretary for the Ministry of Local Government
and Regional Development, at the age of 15 she was catapulted into politics to
fight the "no" campaign on European Union membership. One way or another,
she has been in politics ever since.
Her portal into the fray was Norway's Centre Party – a political grouping that
could roughly be equated with Britain's Lib-Dems, except that the comparison
doesn't even begin to do it justice.
From its agrarian base in 1920, as a Farmers' Party, it transformed itself into
a true champion of localism, committed to the decentralisation of the state.
From the very first, in 1972, the Centre Party has been opposed to membership
of the European Union. And to fight the 1994 referendum, the entire
"no" campaign was led by Anne Enger Lahnstein, then leader of the
Following the referendum, young Anne Tvinnereim joined the Party's Youth
Organisation's Political Committee and has since climbed through the ranks. She
became a member of the Party's Central Executive Committee in 2000 and leader
of its youth organisation, also becoming a Council member of "No to the
EU" in 2001.
The year 2003 saw Anne as deputy member of the Party's Central Executive
Committee and in 206, she was appointed as political adviser to the Norwegian
Ministry of Transport and Communications, becoming state secretary in 2011.
We met in the penthouse conference room of the stylish offices of the Ministry
of Local Government, overlooking the very spot where Anders Breivik had
detonated his bomb. This provoked a moment of sombre reflection. That he was
one of us, a Norwegian, shocked us all, said Anne, in a pause for reflection.
Down to business, a confident Anne instructed us that she was a politician,
speaking strictly for her Centre Party. She could not give us a professorial
dissertation on the state of Norway and nor could she speak on behalf of the
Norwegian government – her answers would be "partial". And indeed
they were, direct, to the point, reflecting her strongly-held political values.
was the intervention of Norwegian politicians in the British debate EU
membership debate, and especially the frequent interventions of Espen
Barth Eide into the Brexit debate.
Eide, has "limited scope for influence", because "we are not at
the table when decisions are made".
"We are a coalition government", Anne explained. Eide could say such
things in his capacity as a party politician, but that did not mean the Centre
Party agreed with this position. It did not. His comments and the many like
them from EU supporters, had caused much debate in Norway. His was not the
majority position of the people.
Anne hotly disputed the claim that the Norway had no influence over EU law.
"It is true that we are not there when they vote", she said,
"but we do get to influence the position". Explaining the simple
facts of international relations, she told us, "Most of the politics is
done long before it [a new law] gets to the voting stage". The Norwegian
government, Anne said, tries to influence legislation at an early stage, so we
"totally disagree" with Eide's position. "He does not represent
the Norwegian debate".
Asked why Eide should make such statements, Anne explained at length,
clarifying an often confusing position. People like Eide, who support the EU,
she said, haven't given up. There may be no chance of Norway joining in the
near future, but they are looking ahead, perhaps to twenty years, when they
hope that the situation will change.
Not only do they want the EU to succeed, they need the UK to continue with its
membership of the EU. If the UK did leave, it would weaken the Norwegian
europhile position and vastly strengthen the "no" campaign,
especially if Britain joined EFTA. They are protecting their own position.
"Would Norway want Britain in EFTA?", I asked. "After all,
Norway is the biggest, most powerful current member of this trading bloc.
Wouldn't it lose out if a much bigger, more powerful UK joined?"
"Of course not", Anne exclaimed, looking at me as if I had uttered
something about the Pope not being a Catholic. "It would be in the
Norwegian interest to have Britain in EFTA". If one could speak in
capitals, she just did.
Britain would be very welcome on EFTA. In fact, if Britain left the EU and
joined EFTA, "that would be fantastic".
The point was that Norway had joined the EEA, in order to be part of the Single
Market. This had brought many economic advantages. But there were disadvantages
– no one disputed that. And there were concerns about democracy and the
"democratic deficit" in the relationship with the EU.
But Anne and her colleagues did not regard the current EFTA/EEA agreement as
the end state. With Britain alongside, she said, we would be that much more
powerful, and would be able to negotiate a better deal.
She was very conscious that Norway already had a veto and was able to block EU
law, the so called "right to reservation", but she wanted to go
further. She would like to see the EEA agreement changed, so that EU proposals
no not automatically become law.
Would she like a situation where the whole EEA, including EFTA members, decided
on what became law, I asked. "Yes", she said, but it would need
Britain to help get such a change. We need Britain in EFTA.
As to joining the EU, this is not even a question worth entertaining. Anne
Tvinnereim would not hear of it. She was very, very conscious of Norway's heft
on the international stage.
She had had dealings with foreign affairs as Senior Executive Officer in the
WTO Section at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a year in 2005-6
and became First Secretary at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Maputo, from 2007
to 2011. Norway's weight at the United Nations, we would not want to give up
find that Sweden, which as a member of the EU has to vote with the common
position, informally asks Norway to represent a different position because it
no longer has a voice. And to lose our independent voice over the Arctic, she
says, would be a disaster.
And there was the "d" word. Our politicians tell us that leaving the
EU and becoming like Norway would be a "disaster". Anne Tvinnereim
thinks not. For her, joining the EU would be a disaster. Britain leaving, and
joining in EFTA would be "fantastic".
This, we like to feel, is the authentic voice of Norway. Young, fresh, vibrant
and forward-looking, this is a country that knows what it is and where it wants
to be. Outside the EU, it is looking for equal partners.
"We do not need Brussels to tell us what to do", says Anne. And how
could we disagree?
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