Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 February 2010
As part of their conflict handling repertoire, political systems possess a range of mechanisms to suppress or avoid conflicts. A closer look across Europe would yield a broad tapestry of mechanisms for handling the thorny issue of European integration, with most governments and political systems relying on some version of conflict avoidance. In this picture, one should expect that a country such as Norway, which has rejected EU membership twice, has an active and vocal anti-membership organization, and where polls consistently show a ‘no’ majority, would stand out as the exception, in the sense that there would be no need for the Norwegian political system to take any measures to suppress the issue. But reality is more complex. Since the early 1990s, when Norway entered into the EEA agreement with the EU, Norway’s relationship to the EU has changed dramatically. Norway’s current arrangement with the EU is perhaps best labelled as ‘tight incorporation without formal membership’. This situation is managed through arrangements not to raise the EU membership issue. In this article, I rely on Stephen Holmes’s notion of ‘gag rules’, as a particular means of issue avoidance. This mechanism speaks of how actors seek to remove debate on a controversial issue that does not go away: it is a matter of stymieing debate on the issue but not stopping to deal with it. If anything, the lid on debate on EU membership helps the political system to keep alive an active process of Norwegian adaptation to the EU, with serious implications for Norwegian democracy.