The Agreement on the European Economic Area – the EEA Agreement – entered into force on 1 January 1994. After enlargement on 1 May 2004, it applies to the 25 countries of the EU plus the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland, which is also an EFTA country, is not part of the EEA.

The EEA Agreement provides a common set of rules for trade and economic relations. In the areas addressed by the EEA Agreement, Norwegian businesses and nationals are entitled to the same treatment as businesses and nationals of EU states in the entire European Economic Area.

The EEA Agreement provides for:

  • Participation in the internal market, with free movement of goods, services, persons and capital. This means that a product approved in one country under the common rules normally has to be accepted in the other 17 countries. Workers and students from other EEA countries are generally entitled to equal treatment with the nationals of the host country, including in the areas of social security and the recognition of occupational qualifications;
  • Harmonisation of rules and requirements to which goods and services are subject for reasons of health, safety and environmental protection and to protect consumer interests;
  • Common rules regulating competition, state aid and public procurement to ensure a level playing field for all enterprises competing in the internal market;
  • Extensive co-operation in other areas of society, most importantly in research, education, environmental protection, consumer policy, cultural affairs, social policy, gender equality, tourism and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The EEA Agreement does not cover the EU’s customs union or its common trade policy with non-member states. Nor are the EEA countries included in the EU’s common agricultural policy or the single market for agricultural products. However, some agreements have been concluded to simplify trade in certain agricultural products. Finally, the EU’s common fisheries policy is not part of the EEA Agreement. All this means that the Agreement does not include a common resource management regime. It does not allow free market access either, though it provides for lower customs duties and better market access for a number of fish products.

The EEA Agreement is constantly evolving. New EU rules governing the internal market must be implemented in Norwegian law as they are adopted. This is done through decisions in the EEA Joint Committee, on which the EFTA countries and the EU Commission are both represented. All new rules that are adopted in the EEA Joint Committee must be incorporated into each country’s legislation.

The EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court are charged with ensuring that the EFTA countries comply with their obligations under the EEA Agreement.

Contributions from the EEA EFTA countries towards economic and social development in the poorer EU countries have been part of the EEA Agreement since it first entered into force. These arrangements were considerably expanded with the enlargement of the EU and EEA on 1 May 2004. Through the two new financial mechanisms, Norway is contributing EUR 226.8 million each year up to 2009 for investment and development projects in the ten new member states and Greece, Spain and Portugal. The mechanisms are based on the principle of beneficiary ownership, which means that the beneficiary states are responsible for proposing, developing and implementing projects. Priority sectors for support under the mechanisms include environmental protection, sustainable development, the cultural heritage, the promotion of education and training, more effective external border controls and strengthening the judiciary, and health and childcare.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs   |   Share on your network   |   print