Richard North, 16/05/2018  

Not content with the ignorance-driven confusion driving discussions about the EEA, we now have the likes of Brexit Central (aka "Ultra" Central) resorting to the lie direct.

In this endeavour, they rely on Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson, an Icelandic citizen who calls himself a historian, to assert that being in the EEA through membership of Efta is an "arrangement" which was "originally designed by Brussels to prepare countries for becoming part of the EU".

Guðmundsson thus claims that The EEA Agreement was "in fact the predecessor to the pre-accession program which Brussels later mainly designed for countries in Eastern and Southern Europe". He further claims that "the EU floated the idea in the 90s to use the EEA Agreement not only to prepare EFTA/EEA countries for joining the bloc but those countries as well". But, according to Guðmundsson, this was rejected by the Efta countries.

What is seriously disconcerting about the way that these claims are presented is that Guðmundsson does not trouble us with anything like evidence, even though the medium of online publishing provides ample opportunities to reference supporting material through the use of hyperlinks.

However, resort to real evidence adequately demonstrates that what became the EEA originated from an initiative taken by the Efta member states. The starting point is generally taken to be the summit in Vienna of 13 May 1977, where the members expressed a need to develop trade and economic co-operation with then EC on a "pragmatic and practical basis". The text of the communiqué can be read here (from p.51), with the key paragraph 4 starting at the bottom of page 53. 

This much was set out in an admirable paper published in 1993 by the Directorate General for Research in the European Parliament, with Niels Kristoffersen as the lead author. The document, as with many others, is easily accessible on the internet and an excellent starting point for any serious student of the EEA, not least because it references and thereby identifies what are clearly the key documents relating to the establishment of this organisation.

The Vienna Summit communiqué, almost by itself is sufficient to demonstrate that the EEA was an Efta initiative, but the more one reads, the clearer this becomes. But from the European Parliament report (more than adequately referenced to primary sources), we learn that, following the Summit, there was a series of bilateral talks between the EC and each of the then Efta countries, through which cooperation was extended in many fields not directly within the scope of free trade agreements (FTAs) already in existence.

However, although several arrangements were concluded, "the EC and the Efta countries were not fully satisfied with the way in which cooperation was unfolding". During celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the FTAs, this led to a joint declaration the EC Council, the European Commission and the Efta Council that there was between them the political will for strengthening the cooperation between the parties.

This culminated in the Luxembourg Declaration of 1984, the text of which is available on the Efta website. It is not exactly difficult to find.

The declaration arose from a meeting at ministerial level between the EC and its Member States and the Efta states, held on Monday 9 April 1984 at the Kirchberg European Centre, Luxembourg (pictured). Stressing the very special importance the participants attached to relations between the Community and the EFTA countries, Ministers sought to "lay down orientations to continue, deepen and extend cooperation within the framework of, and beyond the Free Trade Agreements".

While the Commission responded positively in May 1985, it had reservations on what was to become the core issue, noting that: "Community integration and the Community's independent powers of decision must under no circumstances be affected".

Nowhere in the documentation, therefore, does one get any sense that the then EC is coercing the Efta states to join, or that the ground is being prepared for them to join the then EC. The publication of the Commission's response, in COM(85) 206 final, not only confirms that what was to become the EEA was an Efta initiative, but it also shows a cautious Commission, hedging the enthusiasm with a series of caveats.

Not least of these, the Commission stated that: "It will only be possible to progress towards achievement of a wider European market if the costs and benefits involved are shared equally". It then declared: "Measures taken in parallel must involve real reciprocity".

A month later, however, the Commission published its White Paper on the completion of the internal market. And it was this that set the tone for the subsequent talks for it was this, more than anything else, which had Efta states worried about marginalisation and trade diversion effects from a more developed EC market.

Despite this, progress was not rapid, again indicative of a certain of caution on the part of the Commission. Even the establishment of a High Level Group. To negotiate and manage further cooperation, by 1988 the Efta states were expressing "disappointment" at the incomplete progress, with the observation that the EC has become "more and more sceptical about bilateral cooperation with the Efta states".

The breakthrough, however, was not long in coming when, on 17 January 1989, Commission President Jacques Delors gave what was described as a "visionary speech " to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Referring to "our close Efta friends", he suggested "a new, more structured partnership with common decision-making and administrative institutions to make our activities more effective and to highlight the political dimension of our cooperation in the economic, social, financial and cultural spheres".

Then, "not forgetting the others who are knocking at our door", he referred to Mikhail Gorbachev's notion of a "common European house", which had been articulated as early as 1987. As an alternative, Delors offered a "European village", in which he saw a house called the "European Community". "We are its sole architects; we are the keepers of its keys", he said, "but we are prepared to open its doors to talk with our neighbours".

This was exactly what the Efta states wanted to hear. On 14-15 March 1989, they responded with the "Oslo Declaration", declaring their readiness "to explore together with the EC ways and means to achieve a more structured partnership".

What then intervened in a series of meeting was the cataclysmic and unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 – to be followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the newly liberated Soviet satellites of central and eastern Europe in flux, their relationship with the EU yet to be defined, Delors changed the shape of his original offer to the Efta states, removing the prospect of joint decision-making.

My personal view is that the EES structure was so attractive that the former Soviet satellites would find this more attractive than full membership of what was to become the European Union. And Delors, with his eye on his own legacy, wanted the "big bang" – the largest of the successive enlargements in the history of the Community.

This untested theory begs a very logical question. Why, if Delors had in mind the EEA as institution "to prepare countries for becoming part of the EU" did he not bring in the former satellites at this stage, rather than submit the EU to the most traumatic enlargement it has ever experienced? In my view, had he done so, they might never have joined the EU, the alternative – as it clearly was – providing those former satellites with everything they needed.

Either way, the point is that the development of the EEA is extremely well-documented, with most of the primary sources easily accessible on the internet. There is no need to make unsupported assertions and, on an issue so important, there is no excuse for it.

Any dispassionate review of that evidence could only allow the conclusion that Guðmundsson, in asserting that the EEA is a pre-accession "ante-room", is wholly wrong. Yet this man calls himself a "historian". He has no business commenting on the history of the EEA without knowing that history.

Nevertheless, a gentle interpretation of Guðmundsson's efforts might allow for the conclusion that he is simply mistaken in his assertion. But this is also a man who has written a lengthy report on why "the EEA is not the way" for the UK, in which he devotes 1,500 words to the thesis that the EEA was "designed as a waiting room for EU accession".

Yet, in this lengthy treatise (about the same length as this piece), not once does he refer to or rely on any of the primary sources to which I refer. His main official reference is to a neutral European Parliament briefing note which provides no support for his thesis.

One could be charitable and suggest that the work (and its "mistaken" conclusion") is simply the fruit of shoddy scholarship. But Mr Guðmundsson only seems write for outlets with a particular agenda, and his work always supports that agenda.

In such circumstances, shoddy work lends support to the lie. And, if one takes the Jesuit concept of the lie, as encompassing the act, default or omission, one can only conclude that Mr Guðmundsson is a liar. And that is the way the "Ultras" seem to work – by perpetrating the lie, and repeating it at every opportunity, they make their case. 

We should have none of it.

comments powered by Disqus

Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Buy Now

Log in

Sign THA
Think Defence

The Many, Not the Few