At a global level, environmental issues are determined and co-ordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Climate Change issues are agreed through the aegis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships is dealt with by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which came into being in the wake of the 1912 Titanic disaster and spawned the first international safety of life at sea - SOLAS - convention, still the most important treaty addressing maritime safety.
Rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources, are dealt with by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Aviation the province of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), created in 1944, now comprising 191 members. It claims for its mission, safe, secure and sustainable development of civil aviation through the cooperation of its Member States.
Under the aegis of IACO is the Air Navigation Commission, which considers and recommends, for approval by the ICAO Council, Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS) for the safety and efficiency of international civil aviation.
There is even an International Committee for Weights and Measures (abbreviated CIPM from the French Comité international des poids et mesures
) consists of eighteen persons from Member States of the Metre Convention (Convention du Mètre
) appointed by the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) whose principal task is to ensure world-wide uniformity in units of measurement by direct action or by submitting proposals to the CGPM.
The General Conference on Weights and Measures (French: Conférence générale des poids et mesures
- CGPM) is the senior of the three Inter-governmental organisations established in 1875 under the terms of the Metre Convention (Convention du Mètre
) to represent the interests of member states.
Initially it was only concerned with the kilogram and the metre, but in 1921 the scope of the treaty was extended to accommodate all physical measurements and hence all aspects of the metric system. In 1960 the 11th CGPM approved the Système International d'Unités
, usually known as "SI".
These global organisations are supplemented by regional bodies, such as the 56-member United Nations Economic Commission Europe (UNECE), which for historical reasons includes the United States.
It is responsible, inter alia
, for most of the technical standardisation of transport, including docks, railways and road networks. It also deals with the very detailed technical harmonisation of vehicle construction and safety standards. With UNEP, it administers pollution and climate change issues, and hosts regional agreements.
Another important regional body, often forgotten in the shadow of the EU, is the Council of Europe. Against the EU's 27 members, it has a membership of 47 European countries. Over term, it has agreed 214 treaties including its own founding treaty and, most notably, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).
Then there are huge number of single-issue treaty and non-treaty bodies, which set standards or agreements, or influence the global agenda, from which rules emerge and which are then implemented by signatories directly, or via groups such as the European Union, the latter acting as a law processing factory on behalf of its Member States.
Just one, and a rather arcane example of this type of body is the "Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety" (IFCS). This describes itself as "an alliance of all stakeholders concerned with the sound management of chemicals", claiming to be a global platform where "governments, international, regional and national organisations, industry groups, public interest associations, labour organisations, scientific associations and representatives of civil society meet to build partnerships, provide advice and guidance, and make recommendations". The IFCS thus describes itself as "a facilitator, advocates systemising global actions taken in the interest of global chemical safety".
A more formal but equally arcane body is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, provides a protection system for the intellectual property rights of plant breeders. The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and it was revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. UPOV's mission is "to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society".
Arcane though this might be, after the accession of the EU to the Convention in 2005, it is driving the EU agenda on the intellectual property rights on plants. Norway, incidentally, became a member on 13 September 1993, leading rather than following the EU.
The rules produced by this plethora of international bodies are formalised long before they reach the EU institutions. When they are adopted by the EU and published as formal proposals by the EU Commission, it is invariably too late to make any changes. Any chance of influencing the rules by then has long gone.
Most of such rules are passed by the Council and Parliament without a debate and without a formal vote. In the rare instances where there is a vote by the Council, it is by QMV, where it is difficult to block a measure. Even then, the rules themselves cannot be changed unilaterally by the EU. Where international agreements are involved, votes in Council can only reject or accept proposals.
Yet these are the very rules which have already been agreed at a higher international level, negotiated by individual countries, on an intergovernmental basis, many of which can be vetoed at that level. That is where the influence counts.
Thus, it is important to be involved at this stage, to shape the rules before they become formalised, at a stage when they can be shaped, advanced and even rejected. And it is this arena that Norway is fully involved. Not constrained by the "little Europe" of the 27-country European Union, it is able to operate as a fully-fledged global actor.
Thus, the relationship between Norway as an EEA member and the EU is far from one of a supplicant to a greater power. Norway plays a very active part in the international community, and is heavily involved in the framing of international law, much of which is then adopted by the EU.
While Norway often has freedom of action, as long as we are isolated in the EU – shackled to "little Europe" - we have less control than we would like over the formulation of these "diqules". Whether it is technical standardisation of transport requirements from UNECE, common banking rules from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, international food standards from Codex Alimentarius
, the animal health requirements from OIE - or labour laws from the ILO - we usually defer to the "common position" decided by the EU.
Decoupling from the EU and thus the process of political integration, and re-engaging with the international community, would allow us to restore our status and resume our proper role on the international stage, breaking free from "little Europe" and rejoining the world. That would place us alongside Norway which enjoys that freedom already.
And that is the way to look at leaving the EU. We are breaking free of "little Europe" and rejoining the world.