EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee meets in Reykjavik to discuss latest EEA developments

Published 27-08-2021
From left: Co-chairs Christel Schaldemose and Günter Vogt, Christophe Zufferey, EFTA Secretariat.

On 25 August 2021, the EFTA Parliamentary Committee met in Reykjavik jointly with the European Parliament in the format of the EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee (EEA JPC). Members discussed the latest developments in the EEA, ongoing legislative processes at EU level, cooperation in the Arctic and relations with the UK.

The meeting was co-chaired by Günter Vogt, President of the EEA JPC and Chair of the Committee of the Members of Parliament of the EFTA States (MPS) and by Christel Schaldemose, substitute Member  of the European Parliament’s Delegation for the relations with EFTA countries and the EEA (D-EEA).

Representatives of the executive bodies responsible for the management of the EEA Agreement briefed the EEA JPC members about the latest developments in the EEA since the last meeting that took place on 28 April 2021. Mr Aleš Zabukovec, Counsellor at the Slovenian Permanent Representation to the EU, representing the Slovenian Presidency of the Council and subsequently the EU Chair of the EEA Council; Ambassador Lucie Samcová Hall-Allen, Head of the EU Delegation to Iceland, representing the EU Chair of the EEA Joint Committee; and the Norwegian Ambassador Rolf Einar Fife, EFTA Chair of the EEA Joint Committee and representing the EFTA Chair of the EEA Council made a statement and exchanged views with the parliamentarians. Ambassador Fife mentioned that through the EEA cooperation, the EU Digital COVID certificate applied in all 30 EEA countries from 1 July.

“As you know, this is just one example of the excellent EU EEA EFTA cooperation during the pandemic. The two sides have worked together in a vast number of fields, including on the procurement and distribution of vaccines. The Standing and Joint Committees have managed to keep all core business running. The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) and the European Commission have handled the need to align on State aid measures in a seamless manner – all this thanks to efforts and good will on both sides,” Ambassador Fife said.

"One key priority is to include EEA EFTA States in 13 EU Programmes. The Joint committee decision on 24 September is to adopt their participation, to to be applicable on 1st of January. We will need to work more closely than ever before, EU Ambassador Lucie Samcová Hall-Allen said.

Frank J. Büchel, college member of the EFTA Surveillance Authority, described how the EEA Agreement has continued to function well despite 18 months of pandemic and unforeseen challenges.

“At ESA, we have been working hard to protect and promote the EEA Agreement in order to ensure that it works also in pandemic times. We must ensure that it remains credible. We strive to protect the rule of law and fundamental rights, by ensuring the rights of families, by protecting workers, by ensuring that food is safe to eat and that transport is safe and secure. To this end, we also intervene in the ECJ for example to protect the independence of judges in Poland, and now also in direct action cases,” Mr Büchel said .

The Committee also discussed two EEA cooperation areas that will be essential for the future economic recovery of the EEA countries: the EEA EFTA States’ participation in EU framework programmes and the EEA and Norway Grants. Mr Thorstein Bjornsson, Officer at the EFTA Secretariat and Mr Ágúst Ingthorsson, Director at the  Icelandic Centre for Research outlined the opportunities and challenges ahead of the new programming period. Mr Árni Páll Árnason, Deputy Director of the Financial Mechanism Office presented the state of play of implementation of the EEA/Norway Grants in the beneficiary countries and shared his thoughts about the future.

EU and EFTA Parliamentarians then discussed two important EU legislative proposals which will have an impact on the EEA: the Digital Market Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA). Mr Andreas Schwab, Vice-President of the EEA JPC and Ms Christel Schaldemose introduced their draft reports on the proposals that are currently being discussed in the European Parliament.

“We have to focus on the biggest companies, that have the power to leverage from one area to another. We have only limited resources and we have to use these resources carefully. We have to focus on the real problems, and the problems have been the gatekeepers,” Mr. Schwab said. (gatekeepers: digital platforms with a systemic role in the internal market that function as bottlenecks between businesses and consumers for important digital services)

Ms Mette Quinn-Koefoed, Head of the ETS implementation Unit in the Directorate for Climate Action in the European Commission presented the latest Green Deal legislative proposals as part of the Fit-For-55 package presented in July and more particularly the European Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. Mr Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, Icelandic Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources outlined Iceland’s climate and eneryenergy policy.

“The climate crisis is a global crisis, and demands a global response. No individual country can reduce the impact of catastrophic climate change on itself by only domestic action only. The same applies to even a sizeable grouping of countries, like those in the European Economic Area. We need cooperation rather than a blame game. We need rules and actions that are effective and seen as fair. Most people´s lives will improve in a low emission society but it is important to carefully assess potential socio-economic impacts of decisions and actions, including how they might affect employment. The impact of carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) must be analysed, having in mind the principle of Just Transition,” Minister Gudbrandsson said.

“Putting a price on carbon is of key importance. It sends a powerful signal to industry and others to cut emissions and it helps to guide us in cutting emissions where the cost is lowest and action is most effective. We should not have the illusion that the transformation ahead to a low-carbon society will have no cost involved. But we also need to point out that there are many benefits waiting for us in building a greener economy – less pollution, nature protection, new jobs in innovation and exciting clean industries. An effective price on carbon helps to cut the cost and boost the benefits. A price on the carbon footprint in international trade is a logical part of this. The CBAM is a step in that direction, which we should support, and ensure that it will work as intended.”

Following the conclusion in July of a free trade agreement between EEA EFTA States and the United Kingdom, the Committee discussed relations between the EU and EFTA countries with the UK.. Prof. David Phinnemore, Professor of European Politics at the Queen’s University Belfast presented the similarities and divergences of the free trade agreements concluded by both EEA EFTA States and the EU with the UK. Mr Timon Salomonson, Head of UK Division at the European External Action Service (EEAS) and Mr Martin Eyjólfsson, Permanent Secretary of State at Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs also contributed to the discussion.



The EEA JPC used the opportunity to discuss the Arctic policy following the two-year Icelandic chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Mr Ólafur Grímsson, Former President of Iceland and Founder & Chairman of the Arctic Circle Conference and Mr Ambassador Michael Mann, EU’s Ambassador at large for the Arctic/Special envoy for Arctic matters, European External Action Service (EEAS) discussed current challenges and opportunities for the region.

“Some 20 years ago, when I started to put the arctic on the agenda as President of Iceland, very few heads of state would follow. Today this is all different, this is now a fast- moving train and parliamentarians should take the democratic lead. Any country that wants to be a player in the climate change debate, has to contribute to the arctic debate,” Mr Grímsson said.


Photos from the meeting

The EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee is a joint forum composed of members of the national parliaments of the EEA EFTA States and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Its mandate is to contribute – through dialogue and debate – to a better understanding between the EU and the EFTA States in the fields covered by the EEA Agreement.

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