The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental organisation composed of four member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Established in 1960 by the Stockholm Convention, the EFTA aims to promote free trade and economic integration between its members. Since its founding, relations with the European Economic Community (EEC) (later the European Community (EC)) and the European Union (EU) have been at the heart of the EFTA’s activities. In 1992, three of the EFTA member states (Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) signed the Agreement on the European Economic Area with the EU, which now make up the so-called European Economic Area (EEA).
Since the early 1990s, the EFTA has been actively engaged in trade relations with third countries in and outside of Europe.
The EFTA’s activities in the context of digital issues pertain to electronic communication such as exchange of information via telecommunications and Internet, audiovisual services, and information society, including free movement of information society services as well as data protection.
Digital policy issues
- E-commerce and trade
The EFTA’s Working Group on Electronic Communication, Audiovisual Services, and Information Society (ECASIS) deals with legal provisions pertaining to the digital single market. As per the EEA agreement, EFTA member states (excluding Switzerland) participate in the EU’s internal market and as such have to apply EU rules on electronic communication and information society. Among other things, these rules include acts on radio spectrum management, roaming, privacy protection in electronic networks, and net neutrality. Initiatives regarding information society tackle legal frameworks on the free movement of information society services and apply to a wide range of economic activities that take place online. This includes rules on e-commerce, cross-border data flows, the re-use of public sector information, and cybersecurity, as well as electronic identification and signatures.
- Future of work
The EFTA also tackles the implications of digitalisation on the future of work. In a report and resolution titled ‘Digitalisation and its impact on jobs and skills’ published by the consultative committee of the EEA, it is highlighted that investments in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and new learning methods are important, including apprenticeships and workplace training. Moreover, it underlines the need to examine whether and to what extent workers’ private lives require additional protection in a time of ubiquitous digital mobile communication.
- Privacy and data protection
In the context of data protection, the EFTA’s Expert Group on Data Protection keeps track of EU initiatives in the domain of data protection that has become particularly relevant in the fast-changing digital environment. The Expert Group contributes to the development of EU policies and legislation in the field of data protection through the provision of advice to the European Commission, or by being involved in the work of the Commission’s committees, as per the EEA agreement. The EEA agreement covers EU legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the e-Privacy Directive, and Regulation 611/2013 on notifications of data breaches and is therefore applicable to the previously mentioned three EFTA states.
In addition to trade-related data that provides information (e.g. size of imports/exports/top traded goods) on EFTA member states, an interactive Free Trade Map illustrates EFTA's preferential trade relations with partners worldwide. The organisation also provides a web tool containing visual presentations that explains how EU law becomes EEA law.
Future of meetings
Any reference to online or remote meetings?
- Yes, the EEA Joint Committee met virtually in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?
Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?
- Yes, the EEA Joint Committee adopted a number of decisions and legal acts following the outbreak of COVID-19.