With this year’s COVID-19 challenges, EFTA’s biannual seminar on the European Economic Area (EEA) on 15 September 2020 needed to be adapted to a videoconference. This format increased the participation from previous EEA seminars, with more than 250 participants from both the public and private sectors following the online transmission from the EFTA Secretariat in Brussels.
In spite of the different format, the seminar was just as interactive as before, as attendees were able to ask questions through chat facilities. The seminar is intended to provide an overall comprehension of the functioning of the EEA to professionals both inside and outside the European Union (EU) with a focus on how the three participating EFTA States – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are integrated into the EU’s Internal Market.
“Today, even if we look back proudly on 25 years of success, the challenges remain. In the past couple of months, the EEA has proven a useful and efficient platform to address the COVID-19 pandemic at a European level. Our countries have worked together with the EU, and continue to do so, in fields such as the provision of medical equipment, the development of vaccines, the economic response to the pandemic, even where the issues at stake are formally outside the scope of the EEA Agreement” said EFTA Secretary-General Henri Gétaz in his opening remarks.
“This shows that the EEA is more than a trade agreement: it is a basis for a solid and comprehensive partnership, and the expression of our shared commitment to address together the issues and challenges of Europe,” he said.
Presentations were given by the EFTA secretariat, the EFTA Surveillance Authority, the EFTA Court as well as the Embassy of Liechtenstein to the EU and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to give the participants a different perspective from the EEA stakeholders.
Divided into three parts, the day started with insightful and thorough presentations on EEA incorporation, by EFTA Deputy Secretary-General Hege Marie Hoff and Brit Helle, Director of EFTA’s Internal Market Division. The functioning of the EEA was explained, its challenges and priorities mentioned by Sabine Monauni, Chair of the EFTA Standing Committee, and Angelina Eichhorst, Managing Director at the EEAS gave the EU perspective on the EEA.
In the afternoon session, Catherine Howdle, Deputy Director in the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), and Ólafur Einarsson, Registrar at the EFTA Court, delivered the second part explaining EEA implementation and how EEA law is enforced and interpreted.
Finally, a state of play of the current EEA challenges was explained in four different presentations. ESA’s President, Bente Angell-Hanssen, explained the extensive COVID-19 response conducted by the organisation since the outbreak. “As we know, crises can also give rise to opportunities. At ESA, we have been able to demonstrate that the organisation is able to deliver on the EEA Agreement, also in pandemic times. Equally important, increased visibility has given ESA an opportunity to enhance knowledge about the Agreement and ESA’s work in the general public in our three countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.” she said.
Andri Lúthersson, EFTA Deputy Secretary-General, gave an overview of the ongoing negotiations between the EEA EFTA States and the UK as it is leaving the EU. The last two sessions gave an overview on two topics high on the EEA agenda: the EU strategy on artificial intelligence and data, and the European Green Deal.
Links to the presentations can be found below:
Welcoming remarks - Henri Gétaz, EFTA Secretary-General
Introduction to the EEA Agreement - Hege Marie Hoff, Deputy Secretary-General, EFTA Secretariat
Functionning of the EEA Agreement and role of the EFTA Secretariat - Brit Helle, Director of IMD, EFTA Secretariat
How EU law becomes EEA law - Finnur Thor Birgisson, Head of Legal, EFTA Secretariat
EEA Publication and Information sources - Kjell Leifsen, Team Coordinator Translation and Publication, EFTA Secretariat
Surveillance: How EEA law is enforced - Catherine Howdle, Deputy Director, Legal and Executive Affairs, ESA
Judicial control: How EEA law is interpreted - Ólafur Einarsson, Registrar, EFTA Court
EEA-related COVID-19 Response - Bente Angell-Hansen, President of the EFTA Surveillance Authority
UK leaving the EEA: State of Play - Andri Lúthersson, Deputy Secretary-General, EFTA Secretariat
EU Strategies for Artificial Intelligence and Data - Trond Helge Baardsen, EFTA Secretariat
European Green Deal: Delivering a Green Shift for the EU economy - Olav Berg, EFTA Secretariat
Photos from the seminar can be found here.
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