Publications

The European Economic Area revisited

19 March 2012
Graham Avery (Senior Adviser to EPC on EU enlargement policy)


The European Economic Area (EEA) is the EU’s closest relationship with neighbouring countries. Membership of the EEA gives members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – access to the Single Market by transposing EU laws into their own legal order. Meanwhile Switzerland, EFTA’s other member, has bilateral agreements with the EU to similar effect.

Although these arrangements have worked well for nearly 20 years, questions are now being asked. Access to the Single Market for non-EU members comes at a price, both budgetary and in terms of a ‘democratic deficit’. In Norway, a recent report has triggered public debate about the EEA for the first time. Iceland is negotiating for full membership of the EU. The agreements with Switzerland have encountered difficulties. So the EU’s Council of Ministers plans to review the EEA and related agreements by the end of this year. Meanwhile, those in Britain who want the UK to leave the EU consider the EEA as a model.

The European Economic Area revisited