On 14 September EFTA’s biannual seminar on the European Economic Area (EEA) was held in EFTA House for the first time. As with the previous EEA seminars, COVID-19 posed some challenges. As a consequence, the seminar was a hybrid event. It was simultaneously live streamed and held physically at EFTA House. Approximately 40 attendees followed the seminar in person and close to 200 watched the live stream.
The seminar is intended to provide an overview 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. Participants, both in person and online, were able to ask questions to speakers. A wide range of attendees used the opportunity to pose thoughtful and interesting ones.
Speakers offered a spectrum of experience and perspectives on the EEA Agreement and the workings of EFTA. Several of the speakers are current employees of the EFTA Secretariat itself, while others offered external perspectives.
Secretary-General of EFTA, Henri Gétaz, delivered the opening remarks kicking off the seminar. In his remarks, Gétaz pointed out that, “Membership of EFTA is one of the cornerstones of the foreign trade policy of its Member States. In the current economic and political climate, this work is perhaps more important than ever, as we have seen through the COVID pandemic, as well as safeguarding future relations with the UK.”
Noting the importance of free trade in general, Gétaz added that, “The COVID pandemic has demonstrated the interdependence of our modern societies. We have been reminded that in order to solve global problems, we have to work together. The supply of medical goods to fight the pandemic, to name just one example, is only possible thanks to international cooperation and complex global value chains. Without trade, this would not be possible.”
Following the opening remarks from Gétaz, Deputy Secretary-General Hege Marie Hoff and Deputy Director of the Internal Market Division, Auður Ýr Steinarsdóttir welcomed the attendees and delivered separate remarks on the general outline of the EEA Agreement and the functioning of the agreement.
The Ambassador of Norway to the EU, Rolf Einar Fife, spoke about the priorities for his chairmanship of the EFTA Standing Committee. These included focusing on the core tasks of the committee, coordinating on COVID-19-related measures with the EU, staying on top of new EU policy initiatives, participation in the new EU programming period, and strengthening knowledge of the EEA.
Finally, Angelina Eichhorst, Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service, provided an EU perspective on the EEA. Eichhorst emphasised the importance of the EEA and the achievement the agreement is, “Look at what we do with our immediate family members," I always say to my colleagues who work with partners around the world. "Look at what we accomplish with the 30 Member States of the EEA – How unique it is.”
The seminar was spilt into three parts, where part II explained implementation of EEA legislation. First up was Melpo-Menie Joséphidès, the Director of Legal and Executive Affairs in the EFTA Surveillance Authority, who spoke on enforcement of EEA law. Then Ólafur Einarsson, Registrar at the EFTA Court, explained the role of the Court and how EEA law is interpreted. In the two final talks of part II, Árni Páll Árnason, Deputy Director of the Financial Mechanism Office explained the functioning of the EEA and Norway Grants and Volker Taube, Director of the EFTA Statistical Office, gave an overview of statistics in EFTA EEA cooperation over 30 years.
The final part of the seminar was dedicated to the shaping of EU policy. Trond Helge Baardsen, Officer in the Internal Market Division at the EFTA Secretariat, shared insight into the EU digital agenda. Thorsteinn Björnsson, Officer in the Internal Market Division at the EFTA Secretariat, expanded on the different EU programmes, and Pétur Gunnarsson, Officer to the EFTA Consultative Committee at the EFTA Secretariat, spoke about the EFTA advisory bodies.
The seminar closed on a forceful affirmation of free trade and the importance of the work of EFTA from Tore Myhre of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, “We easily take what the EEA Agreement offers for granted. That is why it is so important to remind ourselves that it is because of the agreement that we enjoy the same rights as the rest of the EU. It is because of the agreement that we can operate on equal grounds with the rest of the EU in the Internal Market.”
Links to the presentations can be found below:
Welcoming remarks - Henri Gétaz, EFTA Secretary-General
Welcome and Introduction to the EEA Agreement - Hege Marie Hoff, Deputy Secretary-General, EFTA Secretariat
Functioning of the EEA Agreement – How EU law becomes EEA law - Auður Ýr Steinarsdóttir, Deputy Director, Internal Market Division, EFTA Secretariat
Surveillance: How EEA law is enforced - Melpo-Menie Joséphidès, Director, Legal and Executive Affairs, EFTA Surveillance Authority
Judicial control: How EEA law is interpreted - Ólafur Einarsson, Registrar, EFTA Court
How EEA & Norway Grants reduce disparities in the EEA - Árni Páll Árnason, Deputy Director, Financial Mechanism Office (EEA & Norway Grants)
EFTA Statistical cooperation with Eurostat for 30 years - Volker Taube, Director of EFTA Statistical Office
EU Digital Agenda - Trond Helge Baardsen, Officer Internal Market Division, EFTA Secretariat
EEA EFTA States’ participation in EU framework programmes - Thorsteinn Björnsson, Officer Internal Market Division, EFTA Secretariat
EFTA Advisory bodies: Parliamentarians, social partners and local/regional representation in the EEA - Pétur Gunnarsson, Officer to the EFTA Consultative Committee, EFTA Secretariat
See more presentations on the EFTA Channel on Youtube.
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