Leaders from government and academia came together for a seminar held in Geneva on 10 November to mark the 50th anniversary of EFTA in 2010 as well as the 15th anniversary of the entry into force of the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) earlier this year. They paid tribute to EFTA’s contribution to the prosperity of its citizens as well as to the post-war economic and political integration of Europe.
“The present tasks of EFTA are in many ways fundamentally different from the first decades of the organisation’s existence when liberalisation of trade between the EFTA States was the prime objective”, Mr Kåre Bryn, Secretary-General of EFTA said in his opening statement. “It is a paradox that, while EFTA’s membership has been drastically reduced, its activities have expanded both in terms of geography and substance”. Regarding the future of EFTA he concluded that, for the foreseeable future, it is business as usual.
Under the theme “EFTA 1960-2010 – Partners in Progress”, speakers focused on the development of EFTA in the wider European context and on the implications of EFTA and EEA membership on the Member States.
“At today’s anniversary celebration, we have good reasons to look back with satisfaction and pride” stated Ms Aurelia Frick, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein and Chairperson of the EFTA Council. She said that for her country, the EEA was the ideal solution for its relations with the European Union. Ms Elisabeth Walaas, State Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Norway, noted that the EEA Agreement had proved to be a robust arrangement. She expressed confidence that the challenges that lay ahead for the EEA would be successfully met. Mr Jean-Daniel Gerber, State Secretary for Economic Affairs of Switzerland, highlighted the successful expansion of EFTA’s free trade network, noting that changes in the global landscape would certainly impact EFTA’s activities and approaches.
Five academic researchers presented their work at the seminar. Professors Gudmundur Jonsson, University of Iceland, Helge Pharo, University of Oslo and Rene Schwok, University of Geneva, looked back at Europe in the fifties and political discussions in their countries at the time of their entry into EFTA and the effects on trade and economic growth. Professor Richard Griffiths of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands reviewed the EFTA history in the broader context of European developments, praising EFTA as a successful model of integration. Dr Ulf Sverdrup, University of Oslo, focussed on Norwegian experiences from the EEA Agreement and its present role in his country’s relations with the EU.
Ambassadors Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson of Iceland, Eivinn Berg of Norway and Franz Blankart of Switzerland, who led their countries’ negotiations for the EEA in the early nineties, enriched the discussions with personal analyses and accounts of EFTA history as well as of the organisation’s prospects going forward.
The event’s moderator, Mr Ernst Walch, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, said that the seminar marked the anniversaries of two important agreements. “The reason for the success of EFTA and the EEA are pragmatism and substance over form”, Mr Walch concluded.
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