EFTA’s priorities and trade relations with third countries
The EFTA Parlamentarians focus on EFTA’s strategic priorities and trade relations with third countries globally. This occurs through a regular exchange of views with EFTA’s trade ministers or high-level officials. They also formulate written opinions that are addressed to the EFTA Council.
EFTA parliamentarians form their opinion by meeting with politicians and high-level officials from international organisations and relevant bodies in the trade policy field. As EFTA’s businesses and companies are highly connected to the European value chains, a close and regular dialogue is also held with high-level representatives from EU institutions and Member States active in elaborating EU trade policy.
Over the 60 years of EFTA’s existence, free trade agreements have evolved tremendously. From reducing customs duties and trade barriers in the early years, free trade agreements have increasingly become more comprehensive by including provisions covering a wide range of policy areas in the fields of environment, sustainable development, labour, social standards or gender issues. This has had implications on the domestic regulatory environment and sparked greater interest from civil society in EFTA countries.
The EFTA Parliamentary Committee has been instrumental in accompanying these trends and influencing EFTA’s trade policy to make it fit to address these developments. The Committee constitutes also a viable link to political life in each EFTA country and thereby contributes to the legitimacy and democratic accountability of EFTA’s free trade policy.
The EFTA Parliamentary Committee undertakes working visits to countries with which EFTA aims at negotiating or modernising a free trade agreement. The objective is to express political support to the EFTA States’ work and to increase the parliamentary dimension of the processes.
The EFTA Parliamentary Committee meets on a regular basis jointly with the EFTA Consultative Committee which comprises high-level representatives from trade unions and employers’ organisations in EFTA countries.
Informal exchanges of views between parliamentarians from the different EFTA countries started in 1963. These meetings were formalised in 1977, when the Committee of Members of Parliament of the EFTA Countries (CMP) was founded by a Decision of the EFTA Council (Decision Nr. 11/77 modified by Decision Nr. 01/2001).
Since 2008, the EFTA Parliamentary Committee has been observer in the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is organised jointly by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the European Parliament.
Relations with the EU and the EEA Agreement
Three EFTA States (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) have established economic and trade cooperation with the EU through the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA). It brings these three EEA EFTA States together with the EU Member States in the EU Internal Market which is underpinned by the free movement of goods, capital, services and persons.
The EEA Agreement establishes an EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee (EEA JPC) composed of an equal number of Members of the European Parliament and of EEA EFTA parliamentarians. It meets twice a year, once in an EEA EFTA State and once in Strasbourg, at the seat of the European Parliament.
The EEA JPC scrutinises EU policy developments and their potential impact on the EEA Agreement. Its mandate is to contribute, through dialogue and debate with EEA executive authorities (composed of representatives from EU institutions and EEA EFTA Member States), to a better understanding between the EU and EFTA in the fields covered by the EEA Agreement. The EEA JPC formulates its opinions in the form of reports and resolutions addressed to both the EEA Council and the EEA Joint Committee.
The EEA JPC is composed on the one side by the EFTA Parliamentary Committee (with Swiss parliamentarians as observers) and on the other by the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with EFTA countries and the EEA (D-EEA).
The EFTA Parliamentary Committee in its EEA EFTA format also holds regular exchanges of views with the EEA EFTA representatives responsible for the good functioning of the EEA Agreement and its institutions. Once a year, on the margins of the biannual EEA Council, they meet with the EEA EFTA Foreign Affairs Ministers to discuss cooperation with the EU and current challenges regarding the EEA implementation. The EEA EFTA parliamentarians also address an Opinion on the budget of the EFTA Surveillance Authority for the following year.
Since 1981, regular meetings between EFTA parliamentarians and Members of the European Parliament have been held. With the entry into force of the EEA Agreement in 1994 and the establishment of the EEA JPC, these relations were institutionalised. This implied the creation of the Committee of Members of Parliament of EFTA States (MPS) which form the EEA EFTA side of the EEA JPC. MPS rules of procedures.
Despite the formal duality of the EFTA Parliamentary Committee (CMP/MPS), the committee functions in practice as one body with Swiss members being observers on EEA matters.