A eurosceptic party that could play a key role in forming Norway’s next government wants the country to negotiate alongside Britain to further distance itself from the European Union, its leader was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
Norway is not in the EU, but has to pay into its budget and abide by many of its rules, including on freedom of movement, to gain access to the single market. The Centre Party said it would only join a government that aimed to loosen those ties.
“We must work together with Britain to obtain a better deal. That will of course be a key issue in any negotiations to form a government,” party head Trygve Slagsvold Vedum told financial daily Dagens Naeringsliv.
“Reality has changed after Brexit,” he said, referring to the British decision to withdraw from the EU in a referendum that has sent political shockwaves across Europe.
The Centre Party, popular in rural areas, typically polls around 6-7 per cent nationally and would be crucial for power to switch from the current centre-right coalition to a centre-left one at an election scheduled for September next year.
As part of a leftist coalition government from 2005 to 2013, the Centre Party reluctantly agreed to abide by the European Economic Area (EEA) treaty which tightly integrates Norway into the EU’s rules on goods, services, labour and capital.
But the Brexit vote has emboldened the party to push for changes that will be hard for the larger parties to ignore. Norway’s top opposition Labour Party is a fervent defender of the EEA arrangement however, and is expected to fight to keep it in place even as it seeks to win back power in 2017.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would trigger the process to leave the EU by the end of March, setting a deadline of two years to leave the bloc, a tight schedule that many analysts believe is likely to mean a “hard Brexit”, ending free movement of people, and therefore, possibly, automatic free trade.
Britons in favour of a “soft” Brexit have argued in favour of adopting the Norwegian model and joining the EEA, but May has rejected that, saying her country needs a tailor-made solution.