The EEA agreement brings together the 28 EU member states and the three EEA EFTA states Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in the internal market governed by the same basic rules. It guarantees the EU Single Market's four freedoms, as well as non-discrimination and equal rules of competition throughout the EEA area.
The EEA Agreement also covers cooperation in areas such as research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, tourism and culture. The three EEA EFTA states are entitled to participation in a number of EU programmes and agencies and may second national experts to the Commission.
What 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
- Common Foreign and Security Policy
- Justice and Home Affairs (the EFTA countries are, however, part of the Schengen area)
- Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)
The four freedoms
The principle of free movement of goods ensures that products originating in an EEA state may circulate freely within the internal market. Customs duties and quantitative restrictions on trade in such products are prohibited within the EEA.
Through the free movement of persons, all EEA nationals have the right to work in any other EEA state. Students, pensioners and people not in paid employment also have the right to reside in another EEA state.
Under the EEA Agreement, individuals and companies enjoy freedom of establishment and the right to provide services across the EEA on equal terms.
The free movement of capital enables cross-border investment by residents and companies in the EEA, without discrimination on grounds of nationality, place of residence or place of establishment. Citizens and companies have the right to transfer money between EEA states, and to open bank accounts, invest in shares and funds, and borrow money in other EEA states.
Same rules and conditions
A central principle of the EEA Agreement is homogeneity, which means that the same rules and conditions of competition apply to all economic operators within the EEA. To maintain homogeneity, the EEA Agreement is continuously updated and amended to ensure that the legislation of the EEA EFTA states is in line with EU Single Market legislation.
The EEA institutions and bodies
Substantive decisions relating to the EEA Agreement are a joint venture between the EEA EFTA states and the EU. Common bodies, such as the EEA Council and the EEA Joint Committee, have been established to administer the EEA Agreement.
Because the EEA EFTA states are not members of the EU, they are constitutionally not able to accept direct decisions by the European Commission or the Court of Justice of the European Union. Separate EEA EFTA bodies that correspond to these EU bodies have therefore been set up. This is known as the two-pillar structure.
The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) plays a similar surveillance role to that of the European Commission. The Authority ensures that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein respect their obligations under the EEA Agreement, and it also ensures that companies in these countries abide by the common rules of competition. The Authority can investigate possible infringements of EEA provisions, either on its own initiative, or on the basis of complaints. There is close contact and cooperation between the Commission and the Authority.
The EFTA Court corresponds to the Court of Justice of the European Union in matters relating to the EEA EFTA states. The EFTA Court deals with infringement actions brought by the EFTA Surveillance Authority against an EEA EFTA state and handles disputes between two or more EEA EFTA states.
Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do not have formal access to the EU decision-making process, but are able to give input during the preparatory phase, when the Commission draws up proposals for new legislation that is to be incorporated into the EEA Agreement. This includes the right to participate in expert groups and Commission committees. The EEA EFTA States also have the right to submit EEA EFTA comments on upcoming legislation.