Some eurosceptics would like to see the UK adopt the “Norwegian model“. Oslo takes part in selected EU programmes and enjoys access to the single market, but has no vote over the rules governing that market.
Leaving aside the issue of whether or not that’s sensible, in net terms Norway pays a similar sum per person for its arrangement as the UK does for full membership.
To see why this is so, start with Norway’s gross contribution. In 2016, Norway’s payments in relation to its membership of the European single market and other EU programmes it takes part in will come to about £623 million* or £119 a head, according to an analysis by InFacts of data provided by the country’s embassy in the UK.
Unfortunately, there are no public figures for the money Norway gets back from these programmes, making it impossible to be certain what its net contribution is. However, a generous assumption would be that Norway receives an amount per capita similar to what the UK receives from those parts of Europe’s arrangements in which Norway participates—mainly the EU’s science funding programme. (The UK has been notably successful in winning EU science grants.)
Britain’s receipts from EU programmes that Norway also benefits from (again, using generous assumptions) come to £23 per person**. Subtracting that amount from Norway’s gross contribution, we get an estimated net contribution of £96 per head.
What is the equivalent figure for Britain? As InFacts has previously shown, the UK sent £12.9 billion to the EU last year. After subtracting the money the EU spends in the UK and money that the UK would spend anyway because of its commitment to global development targets, the UK’s net contribution to the EU comes to £96 per capita—by coincidence, exactly the same as our estimate for Norway.
This is not to say that Britain would have to pay the same per head as Norway if we quit the EU and adopted the Norwegian model. After all, the UK’s GDP per person is lower than Norway’s. Perhaps the UK could plead poverty and negotiate a lower contribution to the EU in a post-Brexit arrangement. On the other hand, if the split were acrimonious, things could turn out worse.
* Norway contributes €381 million (£294 million) to EU projects in areas like research; €400 million (£308 million) at the behest of the EU on grants to poorer EU nations; and 262 million Norwegian Krone (£21 million) on the upkeep of the institutions of the European Economic Area. These amounts add up to £623 million. Norway also contributes to Frontex (the border agency), provides humanitarian support for refugees, and seconds experts to the Commission. There are no public estimates of these costs, but including them would show the cost of the “Norway option” to be higher.
**This sum is reached by taking the £1.4 billion the EU gives directly to the private sector in the UK, and the £100 million given to the UK government for things other than the Common Agricultural Policy and regional funds; CAP and regional funds are excluded as Norway does not participate in either. The resulting £1.5 billion is an upper bound estimate since it probably includes some types of project for which Norway is not eligible.