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How the EEA grant gives Norway influence in the EU

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Norway and Iceland have full access to the EU internal market thanks to the EEA agreement. But they have to pay a fee. Between 2004 and 2021, Norway paid a total of 60 billion Norwegian kroner (€5.3bn) for access. The difference is that the country has a say in what the money is used for, which brings both influence and attention. A new report details what has been achieved.

It has gone from being a contribution paid reluctantly by the Norwegians to something people are enthusiastic about, according to the three authors of the report. The Fafo researchers, who produced the report on commission from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quote what a Norwegian diplomat told them:

“We get unfairly good results and visibility for our contribution while Denmark and Sweden disappear inside the EU.”

The EEA agreement came out of the 1994 EU applications from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Austria. In a referendum, Norway voted no to the EU agreement that had been negotiated, while Iceland never got as far as reaching an agreement. That is why the EEA was created, which Lichtenstein also joined. 

Norway is by far the dominant contributor as it provides more than 95 per cent of the three countries’ grants to the EU. 

The grant is meant to benefit the poorest EU nations – the ones with a GDP that is 90 per cent lower than the EU average – and it should be used to reduce social and economic disparities in the EEA area. Norway also aims to strengthen bilateral relations with the recipient countries.

Since the grant is divided between 15 EU countries and across many different projects covering research, welfare, environment, culture and justice, it is difficult to measure its effect. Poland has been the biggest recipient in the latest period, receiving 30 per cent of EEA grants between 2009 and 2014. 

“Yet this was no more than 0.8 per cent of the total contribution from the EU’s funds for development, infrastructure and education for that period,” pointed out Kristin Dalen during a Fafo seminar focusing on the report.

The EEA grant does play a decisive role in one area, however – civil society.  

“In several recipient countries the EEA grant is now the biggest and in some cases only source for the funding of voluntary organisations and civil society activities across areas like the promotion of democracy, human rights and influencing political processes,” writes the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The Fafo researchers say 15 per cent of EEA contributions go to civil society.

“In Period 2 (2009-2014), almost 3,000 projects were carried out by non-governmental organisations. 4,000 organisations reported expanded capacity and more than 4,000 NGOs participated in policy-making processes. Constructive pressure by civil society organisations improved the formulation of 335 new laws and guidelines.”

The EEA grant can also be important for underfunded areas like help for Roma people. Norway also helps finance projects in several countries aimed at creating more humane conditions for prisoners and for improving the rights of the LGBTQ community. 

But the contributors need to balance being seen as providing a welcome addition and being perceived to get too involved, for instance in the cultural sector.

“While some recipient countries mostly want to renovate old castles, Norway focuses in equal measures on living art, projects that address contemporary society and that comments on power and democracy,” write the authors.

The report acknowledges that results in this area have been varied. 

“Projects of the latter kind have proven tricky to achieve in certain countries. The most difficult place has been Hungary, where it has not been possible to reach an agreement on EEA grants at all in the latest period. The country has refused to agree that the grant should be received and administered by an entity that is independent from the government.”


Negotiations on the size of the EEA grant for the coming period are ongoing. The previous period, 2014 to 2021, has been extended until April 2024 because it has taken so long to negotiate – first with the EU and then with recipient countries – what the money should be used for. 

There have been three grant periods so far:

Table 1 

By the end of 2021, only one-third of the grant totalling 2.8 billion euro over seven years had been used. Negotiations with Hungary failed because its government did not accept that an independent body should be allowed to receive the money. Hungary has therefore not been given the 0.2 billion euro it could have had.

15 countries, mainly from former Eastern Europe, are eligible for EEA grants. An organisation dealing with applications and the distribution of funds has been set up in Brussels. It is called the Financial Mechanism Office (FMO) and has 70 staff. The four countries receiving the biggest share of the EEA grant during the 2014 to 2021 period were:

Table 2


* Hungary has not received its share since the government does not accept that an independent organisation should manage the grant.

The report


Fafo report

The report “The Effects of the EEA and Norway Grants 2004-2021, What has Norway Achieved?" was written by Kristin Dalen, Åge A. Tiltnes and Selma S. F. Yssen.


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