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Booker: Norway's "fax democracy"

Posted by Richard Sunday, January 20, 2013


Booker 020-fax.jpg

In the legacy media, perhaps the most serious and comprehensive rebuttal of the "fax democracy" meme comes in the Booker column this week. But then, if it was going to happen, this always was the place it was going to be.

Thus does Booker's sub-head state, "Britain might exercise more influence over the European single market outside the EU than in it", building on the work in this blog, inAutonomous MindWitterings from Witney and Boiling Frog.

Echoing our thoughts, Booker says that it's possibly just as well that David Cameron had to postpone that most-trailed speech in history, on Britain's place in "Europe". It might just have given him time to get rather better briefed on what he proposes to say than the advance leaks of his speech have suggested. 

Since Britain leaving the EU is the last thing Mr Cameron himself wants to see, he hopes to negotiate a new relationship with the EU, centred on our having continued free access to its single market: this is what he hopes to be able to put to the British people in a referendum, when such negotiations are completed in several years’ time (very possibly after he is no longer in office). 

But, as we have all pointed out before, that this shows so little understanding of the rules of the EU that it is no more than multiple wishful thinking. 

Under the EU's treaty rules, there is no way powers, once handed over by a country, can be given back. Such negotiations as Mr Cameron has in mind would require a new treaty, a convention and an intergovernmental conference, which his EU colleagues would never allow. 

This, incidentally, is a de facto situation. Some like to argue de jure, which gets you nowhere. Treaty analysis simply is not amenable to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of literal interpretation. EU Treaties mean what they are intended to mean, not what bits taken out of context mean. 

Anyhow, as we have also asserted many times, the only way Mr Cameron could compel the "colleagues" to negotiate would be by invoking Article 50 of the treaty, which can only be triggered by a country announcing that it wishes to leave – or "decouple" as we prefer to say.

So the only way Mr Cameron could get agreement to the negotiations he wants would be by doing something he insists that he doesn't want to do. 

But another very important point he keeps on getting wrong is his insistence that he wouldn't want the kind of relationship with the EU enjoyed by the Norwegians, because although they have full access to the single market. 

As members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), they only do so at the price of having to obey rules they have no part in shaping: what is dismissively described as "fax democracy". Mr Cameron clearly has not been properly briefed: the Norwegians in fact have more influence on shaping the rules of the single market than Britain does. 

Like many other people, he hasn’t grasped that the vast majority of the single market’s rules are decided by a whole range of international and global bodies even higher than the EU – from the International Labour Organisation, which decides working-time rules, to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which agrees world-wide standards on food safety and plant and animal health. 

On these bodies, Norway is represented in its own right, as an independent country, while Britain is only represented as one of the 28 members of the EU. 

A recent EFTA report shows that more than 90 percent of the laws of the single market include policy areas covered by UN or other global bodies. Norway has more influence in drafting laws originating from these sources than Britain, which often has to accept the "common position" agreed within the EU. 

There are numerous examples of such international "quasi-legislation", where Norway has more than once played a leading role in shaping rules which the EU members then have to obey. 

The EU countries are in fact more subject to "fax democracy" than Norway is. There have even been occasions when Norway has refused to obey rules that touch on its national interest, but which the British have to obey even though they are significantly damaging to us. 

Next week, I will go into all this in greater detail, because the extent to which the EU must act in subordination to these higher bodies is one of the least-understood aspects of the way it works. This is not to say that Britain should necessarily seek the same relationship with the EU as Norway, as a member of EFTA. 

But what it does demonstrate is that if Mr Cameron continues to talk scornfully of Norway being subject to "fax democracy", he and his advisers simply haven't taken on board one of the most important ways in which our globalised world is increasingly being run. 

If he persists in talking like this, concludes Booker, when he finally makes that long-awaited speech, it will be one of the main reasons why, as he wrote two weeks ago, he will fall flat on his face. 

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