Norway loses EU "environmental guarantee" case

Government reported "furious" at Commission refusal against food additive controls

Norway this week joined the expanding group of countries in varying degrees of rebellion against Brussels' strict interpretation of the EU treaty's "environmental guarantee" clause, which in theory permits countries to apply stricter environmental and health standards than allowed under EU directives.

As in the case of Denmark last month, (ENDS Daily 27 October) the Norwegian government, with widespread media backing, is furious at the European Commission's refusal, delivered on Monday, to allow tighter controls on a number of food additives than allowed under EU rules. The substances are nitrate and nitrite preservatives, azo dyes and cyclamates.

Norway's situation is unusual in that it is not an EU member. Under the European Economic Area agreement (EEA), however, the government is obliged to comply with most EU legislation. Ministers are now reported to be considering the unprecedented use of their powers of veto under the EEA agreement. According to the Bergens Tidende newspaper, there is also awareness in the government of "experience of the EU [which] shows that the longer one waits to implement a directive affecting food and health, the greater the possibility of having the directive interpreted along stronger 'Norwegian' lines".

Claiming that Denmark has taken its similar case to the European Court of Justice, the newspaper adds: "One must reckon on two or three years before a final decision. The Norwegians can probably drag their case out for just as long as the Danes." Sweden, which had a similar case rejected about a year ago, "has not taken its case to court but is still using delaying tactics".

Speaking to Norwegian journalists in Luxembourg, foreign minister Knut Vollebæk said: "We have no wish to lay down a veto, only to look after Norwegian interests." Time was on Norway's side, he added, as in his view Brussels was adopting a gradually more restrictive approach to the use of food additives, GMOs and a range of other issues on which Norwegian and EU legislation may come into conflict.

In addition to EU rules on food additives, other potential flashpoints for the Norwegians include directives on GM products and gas. The government says it will set up a commission shortly in preparation for a formal parliamentary decision on whether to reject the food additive directives.

Follow Up:
Foreign Minister's office, +47 22 24 30 00; Bergens Tidende, e-mail: allmeningen@bergens-tidende.no

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