Logo of the "No to EU"-movement


We are not against Europe.
We are against Norwegian membership
in the European Union

Lecture by Professor Kristen Nygaard,
president of the Norwegian People's Movement "Nei til EU"
(No to EU)


(This lecture was first presented at the conference "Europa: Fluch oder Segen?", arranged in Munich 16. and 17. January 1995, by Lebensmittel Zeitung. Since then, much has happened. Norway has a government from the No-parties, but the parliament majority still is from the Yes-parties. The economic development in Norway has since the referendum been very positive, and completely contrary to the predictions of the Yes-supporters.)

On 28. November 1994 the Norwegian people in a referendum voted "No" to membership in the European Union. 52.2% voted "No", 48.8% voted "Yes". (1.513 million No-votes, 1.386 million Yes-votes.) The voter turnout at the polls was the highest in Norwegian history, 88.8%.

Norway has voted against EC-membership in a referendum once before, in 1972. At that time the percentages were 53.6% No-votes, 46.7% Yes-votes.

The No-victory this time was safer than the percentages seem to indicate: For several months the opinion polls showed between 49% and 46% No-votes ("Yes" and "Undecided" being the other categories), with no appreciable decline during the final weeks and days before the referendum. The Yes-side could only win if the No-vote was reduced below 45%, this assuming more than 90% participation in the referendum, or if the participation was even lower than the usual ca. 75% in the constituencies with an expected high No-vote. In fact, the No-side succeeded in achieving a historical record in "their" constituencies, many places exceeding 90%.

A large number of "explanations" have been offered by Norwegian EU-protagonists in the media, also in Germany, mainly focusing upon the unpleasant stupidity, xenophobia, isolationism etc. of the No-voters. That the No-voters perhaps also are decent people, seems to be an idea that never has occurred to these EU-supporters. For this reason I was happy to receive and accept the invitation to lecture at this conference as the national leader of the organised No-campaign and president of "No to EU", which today by far is the largest and most effective political organisation in Norway.

"No to EU" has 145.000 individual members (in a country with 4 million inhabitants), with county chapters in all 19 counties in Norway, and with more than 440 local chapters in Norway's 450 municipal (kommune) units. "No to EU" is a cross-party organisation, co-operating closely with the No-parties in the parliament (Centre Party, Christian Democrats, Socialists, the No-supporters among the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Left-wing Socialists). It also worked together with the farmers' and fishermen's organisations, the environmentalists, and the political youth organisations (except those of the Conservatives and the right-wing "Progressive Party"). The organisation has from the very outset taken a strong anti-racist stand.

The vote showed Yes-majority mainly in and close to the capital Oslo in the south of Norway. The districts in the West and North of Norway were massively against. Opinion polls before the referendum showed high No-percentages among women, youth, old people and trade union members, and of course also among farmers and fishermen. Contrary to the Yes-supporters beliefs, opinion polls showed increased factual knowledge about EU by increasing geographical distance from the capital, Oslo. Also, a tendency to decreasing knowledge by increasing educational background was observed.


Norwegians were against EU because we were in favour of something else, because there are important challenges to face. Our No implies a Yes to something better.

We got our country, Norway, far to the North, facing the North Atlantic. Not many envied us. It was cold, gales were blowing, only 3% of the land area could be cultivated. The winters were hard, but the summers beautiful, and we stayed. We found natural resources and learned how to use them. A society developed, suited to our living conditions. Ecology is not only about birds and fish, air and water. We had to create an ecology including both society and nature in order to survive.

After the last world war we made a choice different from most other countries. We decided that Norway should not deteriorate into a few densely populated areas around the large cities. Norway should exist as an interplay between vital local societies scattered all over the country.

We did not reach all our goals, but we do have the local societies, thriving because we build upon both competition and co-operation. Because we know that only the interaction between fisheries and agriculture and industry provide the basis for trade and the development of an infrastructure in terms of housing, transportation networks and public services.

We know that if the farmers are in serious trouble, difficulties result for the grocers and the mechanical job shop. The local society must have enough inhabitants to support schools and a post office. We know that a local factory cannot exist in a social vacuum.

We have not succeeded by cultivating the celebrated "four freedoms" of the EU: Free movement of capital, goods, services and labour. We have succeeded because we have regarded our work as links in co-operation patterns, not only a brutal fight in order to grab the largest money bin.

It has been important for us to safeguard our right to Norwegian resources. Norway is a small country. Around the turn of the last century mighty neighbours, from England, Germany and France, were on the point of buying up the exploitation rights to our natural resources, waterfalls, forests, ores etc., the base for our industrial expansion in this century. We stopped that by introducing our "concession laws", providing us with the right to give preference to Norwegian interests. We have not excluded foreign capital. On the contrary, but it has had to accept conditions for it mode of operation. And we have been able to build a Norwegian-owned industry and business, most recently in the petroleum sector since 1970. Norway did not develop into a "banana republic". As you will know a banana republic is not primarily characterised by bananas and a president, but by an economy controlled and exploited by foreign interests.

We also have provided legal means for people to control the resources in other ways. It is not that many decades since local "merchant kings" along the coast dictated fish prices and thus the living conditions for ordinary fishermen. The " raw fish sales and distribution law" put an end to that. But now our government are in the process of dismounting the law in order to "harmonise" Norway to the spirit of the "four freedoms", and we may once more get new "merchant kings", this time in terms of even more powerful foreign corporations.

Our agricultural policy provide funds to farmers, through a complex set of rules developed over the decades, very different from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The aims are not production oriented, but settlement oriented. This implies e.g. incentives to grain production on the largest farms in the best agricultural areas, in order to leave market opportunities for milk production on smaller farms and farms in the valleys and mountain areas. We want the farming land to be in use. The adaptation of the EU Common Agricultural Policy to Norway would have resulted in a drastic decline (estimated to between 65 and 75%) in the farmer population, and very serious difficulties in our food industry.

The Norwegian food industry is mainly based upon Norwegian raw material. It employs 35.000 people (remember that Norway only has 4 millions inhabitants!). EU membership was estimated to have resulted in a loss of between 10.000 and 20.000 work places in that industry. Much of it is located in the districts, and decline in farming population and employment in the food industry would have created domino effects of collapse locally.

We have quite strong environmental rules, particularly regarding additives to food - "food cosmetics", and very strong veterinary regulations. All these would have to be built down if we joined the EU. (Norway is, e.g., the country in Europe with the smallest frequency of salmonella.)

We wanted to use the land. We also wanted to use all hands.

After the war, we even stated in our constitution, in 110, that every citizen has right to work. Every time the EU-protagonists want us into the union, they threaten us with the spectre of unemployment if we do not give in. But, after 1972, it was the EC that got the large unemployment. In Norway unemployment only started to increase in the late 1980s, when the yuppie economy reigned and then was followed by our increasing adherence to the EU economic policy, in which extreme emphasis upon price stability is much more important than full employment. Even so, we have conducted a more active employment policy, resulting in an unemployment rate of about 5% as compared with about 10.7% average in the EU (according to Eurostat).

This time the employers renewed their threats, but they were not believed. Instead the high unemployment rates and the right-oriented policies proposed to remedy the situation by the EU, were regarded as a more realistic threat. After Norway voted No, most of the EU-supporters' doomsday prophecies have turned out to be untrue, and people laugh: The interest rates have gone down, not up. The stock market has gone up, not down. The EEA treaty is in good shape, not collapsing, as stated almost as a certainty. And the numerous companies that stated that they would leave the country if Norway said No, now tell us that they have no imminent plans for such moves.

We have tried to create justice and equality. Not only as an abstract human right, not relying upon the principle of every one's right to become rich. In our social security system you are not dependent upon your career in working life (not "the Bismarck Model"). You have the rights because you belong in our society (the "Universal Model"). And we have decided that everyone have to contribute sufficiently much to our public welfare expenditures.

In the EU the number of people that are "poor" according to the Eurostat definition is ca. 52 million, or about 16%. (Percentage of people living in families having an annual income less than half the national average annual family income.) This figure has been increasing over the last couple of decades. In Norway the corresponding percentage is about 7%. Norwegians are very egalitarian in their political ideology, and this also is reflected in the actual income distribution. (Norway never developed a feudal system in the Middle Ages, never had a real nobility, and has been strongly influenced by the values of a rural society with almost no serfs.)

We have created a democracy in which we do not only elect representatives to send to far away power centres to decide for us. We have, by laws of local democracy dating back to 1837, left much of the power behind in the local societies (municipal units named "kommune") where people live. In our country we know what it means to be governed from outside. We have had four hundred years of union with Denmark and ninety with Sweden. In addition we were occupied by the Nazis for five years. We know that we do best when we govern ourselves, and when we voluntarily co-operate with others on an equal basis.

All these aspects of our society are in danger if we adopt the societal system and principles embedded in the Maastricht and Rome treaties. The member states of the EU are now all democracies, but the union they have created is not.

If we joined the EU, all the EU laws, regulations and court rulings, the "acquis communautaire", would have had preference before decisions in the Norwegian parliament, all Norwegian laws and even our constitution. This is a massive loss of sovereignty and independence. In addition the laws applying in the EU are discussed and voted in the Union Council, the only law generating institution in the Western world discussing and voting on laws in secrecy. We are not allowed to know how our representatives argued and how they voted. The Council has stated, in a letter to the EU Court, that this is necessary in order to arrive at compromises, making it possible for representatives in the Council to avoid being made responsible at home.

I have listed the most important EU-relevant aspects of the Norwegian society. They relate to very fundamental characteristics of our society, characteristics of which we pride ourselves, and which we want to be strongly present in Norway also in the years to come. The majority of the Norwegian voters felt, on November 28, that we were better off in our efforts to preserve these aspects of Norway by co-operating with the EU rather than becoming a member state in the union.

We do have much to defend, but even more important: we have to face an uncertain and challenging future in the coming decades. Our response to these challenges will determine the fate of our children. Will we leave to them a human, a civilised society?

We all know that we are facing a future which will necessitate drastic changes in the societal production and consumption structures. We cannot continue at this or higher levels of pollution. We cannot deplete or resources at the present rates. And we cannot allow the gap between rich and poor locally, and particularly between the rich and poor nations, to increase further On the contrary, it must be bridged.

We all know this, even if we at present do little to remedy the situation. This challenge confronts every nation. It necessitates a radically increased willingness to act in solidarity with the poor, and in order to create a sustainable development internationally. But it also will demand that each country must try to create a more sustainable development within its own borders, based upon the local situation, using the resources there in a sustainable way.

We feel that Norway will be in a better position to develop a better and more sustainable development in the long run if we stay outside the union.

For these reasons we must keep our scattered settlement pattern, with an infrastructure covering and linking together all populated areas in the country. We cannot "turn on and off" the local societies at will. A population returning to depopulated districts after a couple of decades will meet a deteriorated infrastructure, and will suffer from the loss of very important "tacit knowledge" accumulated about the use of the land and resources during centuries of uninterrupted use and transfer of knowledge.

We will keep better control of our own natural resources outside the union. Inside we have few means in securing national ownership. Transfer to sustainable economy will require important structural changes in the use of resources, difficult to achieve if large corporations outside Norway are the owners.

We feel we outside the union will have a better chance of protecting the social solidarity that is the basis of our welfare state. Within the union there is, as a part of the general economic policy embedded in the Maastricht treaty, a definite preference for decreased public expenditures and increased privatisation - also in the welfare sector. We also fear that that policy will produce unemployment in Norway at levels approaching EU-levels. Wide-spread and long term unemployment will in its turn weaken the solidarity and create increased social inequality and injustice.

And we will have a stronger independent voice in international fora. Today Norway is playing a role by its very smallness, independence and good earlier record in its relation with under-developed countries. As a member of the union we have to talk with one voice, the same as the other EU-states.


The Norwegian No-vote came from a very broad coalition, in which farmers, workers, fishermen, environmentalists, very many women, very many young people were active. The ideological and practical basis is outlined in this lecture. The current parliament has a majority of EU-supporters, but not large enough to vote us into the Union. The current government tries to rule and restructure Norway more or less as if the people had voted "Yes". In fact, it is the EU bureaucrats and politicians that have to remind the Norwegian government of the outcome of the referendum and that Norway is not in the union.

This state of affair is expected to continue as long as the present Prime Minister is in political control. She, and other EU-supporters, now repeatedly have signalled that a new referendum may come before the turn of this century. Your chancellor Helmut Kohl has expressed the hope for a Yes-vote in a new referendum soon. This may be is a pleasant and welcome statement for our Prime Minister. It does show more respect for her than for Norway (if Norway politically is regarded as the set of opinions expressed by its voters' democratic decisions).

In the long run I believe that the No-voters through their political activity are going to have a strong impact and change the future of Norway.


On 28. November 1994, Norwegian voters made their most important decision this century: They voted "No"to Norwegian membership in the European Union.