The Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) entered into force on 1 January 1994. It brings together all the 27 Member States of the EU and three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (Switzerland is a member of EFTA but not of the EEA). Together these 30 countries form a common internal market. At the core of the EEA are the so-called four freedoms, i.e. the free movement of goods, capital, persons and services.
To ensure "a level playing field" on the internal market, the EEA also covers legislation in the area of competition policy and state aid. New EU legislation relevant to the EEA Agreement is incorporated into the Agreement and transposed into national legislation in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. All new relevant EU legislation is therefore introduced through the EEA Agreement so that it applies throughout the EEA, ensuring a uniform application of laws relating to the internal market.
In addition, the Agreement includes close cooperation in areas such as research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, enterprise, tourism and culture. Such cooperation takes place through the participation of the three EEA EFTA countries in a number of EU Programmes and Agencies, albeit with no voting rights.
The EEA Agreement does not cover:
- Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies (although the Agreement contains provisions on various aspects of trade in agricultural and fish products);
- Customs Union;
- Common Trade Policy;
- Economic and Monetary Union (EMU);
- Common Foreign and Security Policy;
- Justice and Home Affairs (even though the EFTA countries are part of the Schengen area).
The EEA Joint Committee is the main forum of cooperation and exchange of views between the EU Member States and the EEA EFTA states and that is where formal decisions are taken regarding incorporation of EU legislation into the EEA Agreement. Decisions in the Committee are taken by consensus. After a decision has been reached, the relevant legislation is transposed into national law in the three EEA EFTA states.
The EEA Agreement does not grant the EEA EFTA state formal access to the decision-making process within the EU institutions, even not when it concerns legislation relevant to the EEA. However, the three EEA EFTA countries can participate in decision-shaping in European Commission committees in the early stages of preparing a legislative proposal.
The EFTA Surveillance Agency (ESA) monitors whether the three EEA/EFTA states respect their obligations under the EEA Agreement. In monitoring as well as enforcing the Agrement, ESA has powers corresponding to those of the European Commission. ESA has the authority to investigate possible infringements of EEA provisions in the three EEA/EFTA countries, either on its own intiative or on the basis of complaints, and can impose fines on individual undertakings and initiate proceedings against an EEA EFTA state at the EFTA Court.Back to Political and economic relations