EU pushes Norway for more cash to cover Romania and Bulgaria
The European Union has asked Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to pay more money if they want to do business in the bloc's two new member states, Bulgaria and Romania, with oil-rich Norway to foot most of the bill.
The three non-EU members, part of the European Economic Area (EEA), pay annual contributions to the EU in return for access to the bloc's internal market allowing Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to sell their goods and services across the union.
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"We have given a generous offer which should be the basis for an agreement now," said Norway's ambassador to the EU and the chief negotiator on the issue, Oda Helen Sletnes, according to the NTB news agency.
But this is not enough for the European Commission. "We have made progress, but we are not there yet," the EU's negotiator Matthias Brinkmann said.
"We still don't see an equal treatment between Romania and Bulgaria and the ten countries which became members in 2004," he pointed out.
Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are currently negotiating with Brussels their access to the lucrative EU market, which was enlarged when Bulgaria and Romania joined the bloc on 1 January 2007.
Brussels wants Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to contribute as much proportionately to the two new member states as they did when the ten new member states joined in 2004, so as to not discriminate against them.
Back then, Norway's annual contribution alone increased ten-fold to €205.8 million.
Brussels had originally asked for an annual increase of €71 million from 1 January 2007 to 30 April 2009, when the whole EEA agreement will be renegotiated.
The EU demand is now down to €65 million but the three EEA members only offered €55 million - of which Norway will pay €53 million - when the parties involved met on Friday (16 February).
Despite the lack of agreement, the negotiations will now continue at expert level to deal with technical questions.
Norway fears it will come under pressure to meet the EU demands when the EEA committee meets on 16 March if the €10 million discrepancy is not solved before then.