Arendal (High North News): With Sweden and Finland in NATO, Norway and Iceland will be the only two of the five Nordic NATO countries not to be EU members as well. "This may have consequences for Norway that we have not taken into account," believes Ine Eriksen Søreide, Leader of the Norwegian Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
NATO membership for Finland and soon Sweden will be strategically significant for Norway, which can no longer boast the title "NATO in the Nordic region."
"Instead, we will be a reception area for NATO in the Nordics and further down to the Baltics. That makes Russia look at Norway with a new perspective," says Ine Eriksen Søreide (Conservative), Leader of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Norwegian Storting.
On Monday, she participated in a debate about the Nordic region, NATO, and the EU during the Arendal Week in the south of Norway.
She also believes that it will not be insignificant that Russia's air force and nuclear weapons have their home bases in the north since the two new Nordic additions to the defense alliance increase Norway's strategic position in the relationship with Russia.
"Sweden and Finland joining NATO is only positive, but both countries will have a different political and geographical perspective than Norway. The practical significance this will have for Norway is that we will have the same defense plans," says Søreide.
The cooperation between the EU countries is close.
And that is a good thing.
"That means that everything we have practiced together now can be carried out."
Alone with Iceland
Yet, the Conservative Party politician believes that the Nordics in the EU must be seen in connection with the Nordics in NATO.
And there, Norway is soon to be alone with Iceland. Ine Eriksen Søreide, therefore, believes that Norway must prepare for a new reality, whether one is for or against the union when 23 out of 27 European countries will be members of the EU.
"The cooperation between the EU countries is close. And within the union's foreign and defense policy work, they are careful not to invite third-party countries into the negotiations. The EU will discuss matters concerning Norway in arenas where we are not invited," says Søreide.
Foreign affairs, defense, and security policy is not part of the EEA agreement between Norway and the EU.
"I am not sure if this recognition has reached Norway yet. We do not have a platform within the EU and depend on other countries negotiating agreements for us. The consequences of our outsideness will become more visible," believes Søreide, and paints a gloomy picture of a Norway with nearly no influence in Europe.
What's in it for us?
The Norwegian Defense Commission of 2021 has also pointed out a lack of framework for cooperation between Norway and the EU in this area.
In May, the Liberal Party presented a representative proposal to enter into a framework agreement on foreign affairs, defense, and security policy with the EU based on the Defense Commission's recommendation.
The leader of the Norwegian Defense Commission, Knut Storberget, also participated in the debate and said that Norway tends to look at all development with a "What's in it for us?" attitude.
"When the Defense Commission has been traveling, we have gotten the impression that NATO's Article 5 is a "come and help Norway" clause. And it is," Storberget smirks.
"But when the threat situation changes, it creates a need to think differently on how we organize preparedness at home."
The retiring Director of the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs (NUPI), Ulf Sverdrup, calls the development of NATO a "historic transformation of the Nordic region."
"Russia is critical, but we do not have to deal with that. We must build safe communities for ourselves and the Nordics in NATO is part of that," believes Sverdrup.
Although the panel agrees that Norway is hopelessly lazy in relation to the dramatic changes in Europe, Sverdrup believes that Sweden and Finland's quick turnaround in regard to NATO shows that radical societal change is possible.
The EU is busy with other things than meeting special demands from non-members
"Radical shocks in our surroundings can lead to radical political choices which can change the voter's view of an issue. However, Norway has not had the same political response to the radical shock in Europe," Sverdrup points out.
Steps on the gas
He admits that he is not entirely sure about what the Norwegian people think about the world and their role, but to think that Sweden and Finland will think like Norway, he believes to be the wrong idea.
"Finland and Sweden will step on the gas to create good cooperation with the EU and Europe. Norway has been used to organizing the cooperation with the EU via the EEA agreement and the EU has been accommodating to Norway's wishes for special agreements. However, the EU is busy with other things than meeting special demands from non-members," warns the NUPI director.
The Conservative Party is in favor of EU membership and has been trying to breathe life into the debate due to the major changes which have ripple effects in Norway.
Ine Eriksen Søreide believes that the government must increase people's awareness of the situation and how the unstable situation affects Norway.
Knut Storberget also sees a clear difference between Norway's and the neighboring countries' actions.
"The seriousness has, to a greater extent, permeated other countries. It is terrifying. In Finland and Sweden, we experience a different intensities. Norway quickly calms down. We are experiencing a difference in mentality and intensity compared to the neighboring countries, which have established a different political framework around these issues."
"We need a different mentality to face the security policy dilemmas we see now," concludes Storberget.
For a long time, the government's mantra was that Norway was "NATO in the Nordic region." But what is Norway now that the country must share the space with Sweden and Finland?
Ine Eriksen Søreide believes that Norway's unique experience of being precisely NATO in the Nordic region will be appreciated by the other Nordic NATO countries, even if Norway has "lost" its status as the one.
"It is to us that Finland and Sweden come to learn about how we work with NATO. Sweden knows everything about legislation in the EU but little about how politics works in NATO. We were involved in the start-up of NATO in 1949, and we have expertise with the USA."
And not least, Norway borders Russia and operates an active reservation policy towards the east. Knut Storberget does not believe that neither Finland nor Sweden will have the same reservations toward Russia.
"It will be interesting to see how our reservation policy will work now. It has worked so far, restricting exercises and military presence against Russia. But the moment our neighbor does the opposite of us, we have to talk about it."
Too well off
So why is the matter of the EU so difficult in Norway?
Ine Eriksen Søreide hopes that what is happening in Europe now will influence the political debate.
"It is essential that we debate the EU now and in the future. Three million Norwegians have not yet said their opinion about the EU since the last referendum in 1994. The situation requires a new debate about the EU, and the Conservative Party has tried to get this on the agenda. We must have a new debate about what affects our welfare and safety," Søreide points out.
During the referendum in 1994, 52,2% of the Norwegian population voted against accession. The turnout was 89 percent, which is considered very high.
Ulf Sverdrup believes that the Norwegian people are simply too well off and that we do not care about EU membership. He still hopes that Norway does not get involved in a purely EU debate but rather about what kind of society Norway wants.
"But it is a demanding position not to be involved," concludes the NUPI director.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.