The Norwegian Parliament and international treaties
1. The Government is responsible for negotiating international treaties and trade agreements on behalf of Norway. The Parliament has both a formal and a more informal role in international treaties, as put out in the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament. It is the role of Parliament to supervise the Government and to review international treaties and agreements that are concluded, and sometimes give its consent before they can be considered binding. The Parliament also has a more informal role before and during the process of negotiation, with consultation procedures between the Government and the Parliament established for that purpose.
2. In most cases, the lead Committee for the review and consideration of international treaties and agreements is the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. The Committee will submit its recommendation to Parliament (in plenary) for debate and adoption.
3. In some cases, other Standing Committees might serve as lead Committees. One example is the Standing Commtitee on Business and Industry, which is the lead Committee for the consideration of bilateral trade agreements. Other Committees might consider other international treaties, depending on their content. It is the Parliament in plenary that decides which Committee should handle the consideration of a given international treaty or agreement. However, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence will always be consulted, also when it is not the lead Committee.
4. Pursuant to Article 75(g) of the Constitution, the Parliament is to have communicated to it the treaties which the Government has concluded with foreign powers on behalf of Norway. And more importantly, pursuant to Article 26(2) of the Constitution, treaties on matters of special importance, and, in all cases, treaties whose implementation, according to the Constitution, necessitates a new law or a decision by the Parliament (typically a budget decision), are not binding until the Parliament has given its consent thereto. In practice, this latter provision provides that most treaties of significance must have the explicit consent of the Parliament, either before they are entered into, or after. In the latter case, the Government must conclude a treaty on condition that consent is given by the Parliament.
5. The Government can choose to present its positions on any given international negotiation in the Parliament’s extended Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. This would typically be on important or sensitive issues, or on issues where the Government needs to know where the majority in Parliament stands, at any given time. This is especially important when Norway, as is the case today, has a minority government, or when positions are especially sensitive. The extended Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence consists of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence as well as the party group leaders (currently nine) and the President of the Parliament. It holds confidential consultations, with minutes only being released after 30 years.
6. A particular consultation procedure has been established with respect to Norway’s relations with the EU. The Government’s consultations with the Parliament on matters regarding the EEA Agreement, including proposals regarding new or amended acts in a field within the scope of the EEA Agreement, and matters regarding coterminous agreements with the EU, take place with the European Consultative Committee. The European Consultative Committee consists of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and the members of the Norwegian delegation to the EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee. The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence or its chair may also decide that one or more of the other committees shall take part in specific consultations. The European Consultative Committee may also be used for consultations with the Parliament in other trade policy matters and negotiations. In such matters, the Standing Committee on Business and Industry is also invited.
7. Some of the Parliament’s inter-parliamentary delegations will also follow international negotiations within their field of work especially closely. One such example is the above mentioned Norwegian delegation to the EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee, which also takes part in the EFTA Parliamentary Committee. The delegation will debate and scrutinise ongoing EFTA trade negotiations with parliamentary colleagues from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland in joint meetings with the EFTA trade ministers twice a year.
8. Other than the above, Members of Parliament are free to ask the Government oral and written questions about international treaties and negotiations at any time, or take initiative to so-called “interpellations” directed at the Government (more in-depth questions and debates) in the plenary.
9. In our opinion, the system described above facilitates the receipt by the Parliament of the information it needs for effective scrutiny. In particular, the consultative committees mentioned above, provide for a forum for confidential discussions and sharing of information. This applies above all to the Enlarged Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, which has a long tradition of being a confidential consultative body for the Government in sensitive international matters.
10. Also in our opinion, in general, the system described above works according to its intended purpose. Most treaties which are put to the Parliament for its consent, are usually not controversial or subject to extensive debate, in part because of the early consultation procedures. There are however a number of examples of extensive debate in the Parliament over a treaty put to it by the Government, and in some cases disagreement (denial of consent).
11. For further information about the handling of the EEA Agreement in the Norwegian Parliament, we would like to refer you to the attached input to the House of Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee’s inquiry into Post-Brexit Scrutiny of EU Law and Policy last summer.
2 June 2020