The Norway Plus option made headlines this week as an alternative landing point to the customs union in the Northern Ireland backstop, which is the most contentious arrangement under the Withdrawal Agreement. It would entail UK’s accession to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the European Economic Area (EEA) and remaining within the internal market, plus a customs union arrangement to avoid a hard customs border in Ireland.
The EEA Agreement provides for a dynamic alignment with EU environmental legislation and its Annex XX sets a list of those norms. It includes amongst others EU laws on water, air, chemicals or environmental impact assessments. EEA countries adopt EU laws, though often with some delay, a practice which is called “fax-democracy” in Norway (as laws used to arrive from Brussels by fax). Nature management (which covers the Birds and Habitat Directives, as well as Natura 2000 Network) are not included, but are subject to close co-operation. Annex XX is frequently updated according to new relevant EU legislation developments. Norway is also a member of the European Environment Agency and the European Chemicals Agency (as an observer of the latter). Hence, the level playing field requirements would be higher than those provided by the Northern Ireland backstop set out in the Withdrawal Agreement.