Is joining EFTA a sensible alternative?

by Leon Duveen on 22 October, 2013

EFTA LogoThose who want us to leave the EU often suggest we could re-join EFTA & therefore the EEA (European Economic Area)  as an alternative.  An enterprising colleague from the Lib Dems took it upon himself to check with EFTA to see how easy it would be and what the implications of rejoining were.  Here is the response he got back:

Thank you for your email. Free movement of persons is indeed an integral part of the EEA Agreement. As you will have seen in Annexes 5 and 8 to the EEA Agreement, the EEA EFTA States (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) have incorporated EU legislation on Free Movement of Persons into the EEA Agreement. Most notably Regulation 492/2011on freedom of movement for workers within the Union and Directive 2004/38 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. This means that nationals of the EEA EFTA States have the same right as EU citizens to move, work and reside anywhere in the EU (subject to the relevant EU legislation). Equally, EU citizens have the right to move, work and reside in the EEA EFTA States, although certain sectoral adaptations apply to Liechtenstein due to its small size and special geographic situation.

Nonetheless, please be aware that in order to be a party to the EEA Agreement it is necessary either to be a member of the EU or of EFTA (See Article 128 of the EEA Agreement). If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be neither and therefore it would no longer be a party to the EEA Agreement. The UK was indeed a member of EFTA from 1960 until 1973 but relinquished its membership in order to join the EU (or EEC as it was called at the time). Thus, if the UK left the EU but wanted to remain a party to the EEA Agreement it would first have to apply to re-join EFTA and then apply to become a party to the EEA Agreement as a member of EFTA.

In essence, the issue of EFTA membership is first and foremost a political matter, which would have to be discussed and determined at the highest political and diplomatic levels between all countries involved. As regards further formal requirements for EFTA membership, any new member state would have to apply to become a party to existing EFTA free trade agreements (See Article 56 of the EFTA Convention).

Upon joining EFTA, the terms and conditions of the UK’s participation in the EEA Agreement would also have to be negotiated and agreed by the contracting parties to the Agreement including of course the EU. In this respect it is important to bear in mind that the EU attaches great significance to the free movement of persons as one of the pillars of the internal market and thus the EEA Agreement.

 As you can see, rejoining isn’t as straight forward as some suggest and, even if we did rejoin & were accepted into the EEA, the result would be to have all the same conditions for free trade, including the free movement of people, that the anti-EU brigade dislike so much with one important difference, we would have no say over any changes any more.

Yet again the UKIPers & the like have shown that they really do not understand why we need to be in the EU and that, in today’s complex world, there is really no alternative except to become a small offshore island that no-one cares much about.

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