European Free Trade Association

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European Free Trade Association

EFTA logo

Current members
English name European Free Trade Association
French name Association européenne de libre-échange (AELE)
Organization type Free trade area
Seat of the organs SwitzerlandSwitzerland Geneva (Secretariat) Brussels (Secretariat, Monitoring Authority) Luxembourg (Secretariat, Court of Justice)
Secretary General SwitzerlandSwitzerland Henri Gétaz
Member States

IcelandIceland Iceland Liechtenstein Norway Switzerland

Official and working languages


surface 529,769 km²
population approx. 14 million
Population density approx. 26 inhabitants per km²

4th January 1960


Icelandic krona , Norwegian krone , Swiss francs

Time zone UTC to UTC +1

The European Free Trade Association ( English European Free Trade Association , EFTA , French Association européenne de libre-échange , AELE ) is on 4 January 1960 in the Swedish Stockholm founded International Organization . The corresponding convention entered into force on May 3, 1960. The aim was to promote the growth and prosperity of their member states and to deepen trade and economic cooperation between Western European countries and the world as a whole. At the same time, it should act as a counterweight to the European Communities . According to its agreement (amended in 2001), the EFTA constitutes a free trade area between its members with limited scope without any further political objectives.

Beginning with Denmark and the United Kingdom joining the European Economic Community in 1973, EFTA lost its importance compared to the EEC (and later the EU). Since 1995 only Iceland , Liechtenstein , Norway and Switzerland belong to it . With the exception of Switzerland, these countries form the European Economic Area together with those of the European Union .


EFTA (since 1995)
  • Member States
  • former members
  • The founding members were Denmark , Norway , Austria , Portugal , Sweden , Switzerland and the United Kingdom . This was followed by Finland (associate member in 1961, a full member in 1986), Iceland (1970) and Liechtenstein (1991).

    After Denmark and the United Kingdom (1973), Portugal (1986) as well as Finland, Austria and Sweden (1995) joined the European Community (EC) and thus left the EFTA, this now only includes the "rest of EFTA" four states Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. With the exception of Switzerland, these countries now form the European Economic Area (EEA) together with the member states of the European Union , while the EU and Switzerland regulate their relationship through bilateral agreements .

    In August 2005 the Faroe Islands , which are part of Denmark but not part of the European Union , announced that they wanted to become (again) a member of the EFTA. In 2006, a parliamentary committee gave the order to negotiate. However, as the Faroe Islands, as part of Denmark, are not a sovereign state, they cannot be a party to the EEA. In the opinion of the Danish government, accession of the “Kingdom of Denmark with regard to the Faroe Islands” is out of the question, as Denmark as an EU member is already in the EEA.

    In July 2010, Iceland's accession negotiations with the European Union , which had now been broken off, began , which, if successful, would have led Iceland to leave the EFTA.

    EFTA institutions

    • The EFTA Secretariat in Geneva, Brussels and Luxembourg performs administrative and coordination tasks.
    • The EFTA Surveillance Authority in Brussels monitors compliance with the EEA Agreement by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
    • The EFTA Court of Justice (established in 1994, three judges with a six-year term of office) in Luxembourg exercises judicial control over the EEA Agreement and the states of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

    Secretaries-General of EFTA

    Secretary General Country from to
    Frank Figgures United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom September 1, 1960 October 31, 1965
    John Coulson United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom November 1, 1965 May 5th 1972
    Bengt Rabaeus SwedenSweden Sweden May 6, 1972 November 30, 1975
    Charles Muller SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland January 1, 1976 September 30, 1981
    By Kleppe NorwayNorway Norway 1st December 1981 April 5, 1988
    Georg Reisch AustriaAustria Austria April 16, 1988 August 31, 1994
    Kjartan Jóhannsson IcelandIceland Iceland September 1, 1994 August 31, 2000
    William Rossier SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland September 1, 2000 August 31, 2006
    Kåre Bryn NorwayNorway Norway September 1, 2006 August 31, 2012
    Kristinn F. Árnason IcelandIceland Iceland September 1, 2012 August 31, 2018
    Henri Gétaz SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland 1st September 2018 officiating

    historical development

    The emergence of the EFTA was to be understood as a reaction of the “outer seven” to the establishment of the European Communities (“Inner Six”) and has been closely related to the development of the European Communities into today's EU since its establishment until today. The shrinking process of today's rest of EFTA, due to the accession of most of the former EFTA states to the EU, is obvious.

    Prehistory: Europe after the Second World War

    The Second World War had made the western world realize that political isolation and protectionism made it impossible to rebuild in peaceful coexistence. At the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, in addition to the development of a currency system for the post-war period, the concept of an International Trade Organization (ITO ) was drawn up, which should encompass all countries in the western world. The ITO itself was never implemented, but it formed the basis for the GATT Agreement of 1948, the forerunner of today's WTO .

    Marshall Plan and OEEC

    The United States introduced in 1947 as part of the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program , ERP ) $ 13 billion for reconstruction prepared, with the European countries should be involved in the decision-making process on the use of funds. To this end, the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) was founded in 1948 to coordinate the distribution of US aid and the preparation of European reconstruction plans and to work towards the liberalization of trade and payment flows. In 1961, the OEEC was transformed into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

    When the OEEC was founded, there was an emerging split in Western Europe into two camps: the continental federalists led by France tried to transfer national competences at the European level in order to accelerate the process of unification and to establish the OEEC as a supranational organization. The British and Scandinavian functionalists , on the other hand, rejected any weakening of their own sovereignty and only wanted to allow cooperation between national governments ( intergovernmentalism ). They were largely able to implement their ideas when the OEEC was founded.

    Foundation of the European Communities

    In order to secure lasting peace in Europe, the end of the historical rivalry between France and Germany was considered necessary. According to a plan by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman , Germany , France , Italy and the Benelux countries founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC, Montanunion ) in 1951 , a customs union in the mining sector under the control of a largely sovereign high authority .

    As early as 1955 it was decided to expand the existing cooperation to all areas of industrial production and to supplement it with extensive coordination of agricultural and nuclear policy . With the signing of the Treaty of Rome , the Six created the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community ( EEC ) on January 1, 1958 .

    Further details can be found in the article History of the European Union .

    The creation of EFTA

    Parallel free trade negotiations

    Due to its global interests and its close economic ties to the Commonwealth, Great Britain was not interested in the creation of a closed economic zone and initially stayed away from the establishment of the European Communities, as did Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, which, due to their neutrality, could not enter into such far-reaching political commitments or wanted. However, the plan submitted by Great Britain to create an OEEC-wide free trade area while maintaining national tariffs and its own foreign trade policies failed in December 1958 in the so-called Maudling negotiations .

    By establishing this free trade area, Great Britain wanted to attract members of the European communities in order to weaken their importance, but this did not succeed.

    Instead, negotiations began in 1959 to implement a replacement solution, the creation of a small free trade area of seven countries - Denmark, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. After just six months, these resulted in the Stockholm Convention, the founding document of EFTA, also known as the Convention on the Establishment of the European Free Trade Association . It describes the objectives of EFTA and defines the rights and obligations of the member states.

    The Stockholm Convention was signed on January 4, 1960 and entered into force on May 3, 1960. The first Article 3 tariff reduction provided for in the Treaty took place on July 1, 1960, and by 1970 the tariffs were gradually reduced. The EFTA agreement also applied to Liechtenstein, which was linked to Switzerland by a customs union . From June 1961 Finland was also included in the territorial scope of EFTA through an association agreement .

    EFTA objectives

    From the beginning, EFTA was planned as a temporary organization in order to facilitate rapprochement with the EC by bundling common interests and to achieve the creation of a free market that encompasses all OEEC countries as the primary goal defined in the preamble . In the meantime, a dismantling of the customs barriers should facilitate free trade between the members and promote free world trade within the meaning of the GATT agreement. Article 2 of the Stockholm Convention specifically demands

    Unlike the EC, which viewed economic integration essentially as an intermediate step towards the desired political integration, the EFTA wanted its member states to have full political freedom of action; a key feature for this was the waiver of common external tariffs. Due to considerable structural differences, agriculture and fisheries were also not included; In addition, there was no harmonization of the national tax and social security systems . In contrast to the open-ended EC treaties, the EFTA Agreement also defined the right to withdraw from the association after twelve months' notice . A comparable regulation was only introduced for the European Union with the Treaty of Lisbon .

    In addition to the original EFTA treaty, the contracting parties later concluded further agreements. These include the PIC ( Pharmaceutical Inspection Convention ) agreement of 1970 on cooperation in pharmaceutical law .

    EFTA bodies

    In accordance with the EFTA decision to counteract the creation of supranational powers, the necessary institutions should remain as flexible as possible with a minimum of organizational effort. The EFTA Council was therefore created as the only decision-making body under Article 32 of the Stockholm Convention , which met regularly at ministerial or official level and formed the political leadership of EFTA. The EFTA Council was able to take decisions and monitor their implementation at the same time.

    There is a court comparable to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EFTA Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The EFTA Court of Justice is only competent for those EFTA states that have acceded to the EEA, i.e. not for Switzerland. Hence the term “EFTA Court” is misleading. It was chosen because the establishment of an EEA court, which could also have decided on the interpretation of Community law, was declared inadmissible by the ECJ in an opinion.

    Working groups and committees could be convened to support the council as required. The Consultative Committee , which consisted of leading, politically independent personalities from the economy of all member states and made it easier for the Council to perceive public opinion, had a special position .

    Furthermore, in the official residence of the EFTA Geneva a responsible for the overall coordination of the EFTA activities permanent EFTA Secretariat set up what until the 1990s no more than 150 employees were needed year, while the European Commission in Brussels as early as the 1960s years, more than 5000 employees.

    The development of EFTA until today

    Vereinigtes Königreich Schweden Portugal Finnland Dänemark Island Schweiz Norwegen Liechtenstein Österreich

    1960–1969: EG / EFTA rivalry

    After the founding of the EG and EFTA, there was initially a strong sense of competition and rivalry between the two organizations. In the first decade of its existence, the EFTA was primarily concerned with establishing itself as an alternative integration model and demonstrating its own ability to act. This was done primarily through the dismantling of internal tariffs by December 31, 1966, three years earlier than initially planned.

    However, EFTA's goal of creating a strong negotiating position with the EC was not achieved. Various attempts to bring the EFTA states closer to the EC in 1960/1961 were unsuccessful and were replaced by a bilateral approach. In Great Britain in particular, it was recognized that economic growth in the EC countries was faster than in the EFTA and that political isolation was threatening. In July 1961, Great Britain decided to apply to join the EC. Denmark, Norway and - outside the EFTA - Ireland also joined this application , while the neutral EFTA states Austria, Sweden and Switzerland applied for EC association.

    However, the EC, dominated by France, initially let the accession negotiations fail in January 1963. Only after the French President Charles de Gaulle was replaced by Georges Pompidou was the re-application for membership discussed in 1967. The fundamental decision for the first EC enlargement was taken in December 1969.

    1969–1984: EC expansion and free trade agreement

    Denmark and the United Kingdom left EFTA on January 1, 1973 and joined the EC together with Ireland. In Norway, joining the EC was rejected by referendum . The first EC enlargement marked the beginning of a new section between the EC and EFTA, which can be described as pragmatic bilateralism .

    At the initiative of Great Britain, bilateral free trade agreements were concluded between the EC and the individual EFTA states, including Iceland from 1970. Within four years, up to July 1977, the world's largest free trade zone for commercial and industrial products was established.

    This opened up the EC markets for industrial goods to the neutral EFTA states, while retaining full economic and political freedom of action. In addition to the areas of free trade, the EFTA states also endeavored to cooperate with the EC, including in the areas of environmental protection , research and technology, nuclear energy , fisheries and shipping, and technical standards .

    With the implementation of the Europe-wide free trade area for industrial goods, the contractual objectives were largely achieved for the EFTA; However, it had lost its importance and attractiveness vis-à-vis the EC and threatened to be reduced to a mere administration of free trade.

    1984–1989: EC internal market and Luxembourg process

    Against the background of the removal of the last quantitative restrictions, a joint ministerial meeting of the EC and EFTA took place in Luxembourg in April 1984 . At this first joint ministerial meeting, it was decided to continue the existing cooperation and to establish the so-called Luxembourg process on the basis of a new multilateral dialogue . In this context, the concept of a dynamic European Economic Area (EEA) was mentioned for the first time , which should ensure the expansion of free trade .

    From the point of view of the EC, however, the form of bilateral dialogue with individual EFTA states that had previously been used was no longer suitable because individual negotiations made it more difficult to organize the EC's external relations homogeneously. By excluding sensitive areas such as B. agriculture or the free movement of people, the impression arose in the EC that the EFTA states would obtain economic advantages without corresponding consideration.

    In 1987, the EC - which had been expanded to include Spain and Portugal a year earlier - also decided in the Single European Act to implement a single European market by 1992 . At the EFTA Ministerial Conference in Interlaken in 1987, the EC Commission therefore proclaimed three principles for future relations with EFTA:

    • the priority of one's own integration process over the expansion of external relations,
    • the preservation of internal decision-making autonomy and the defense against external influences on the internal autonomy ,
    • ensuring a balanced distribution of rights and obligations.

    The priority of completing the internal market over developing the EC's external relations meant that the traditional gradual rapprochement with the EC would no longer be successful. For the EFTA states, there was again the risk of marginalization by the EC. Although the EFTA and the EC had become each other's most important economic partners in terms of foreign trade, due to their size the EFTA countries were far more dependent on the EC than the other way around. As non-members, however, they had no right of political participation .

    1989–1995: EEA and second EC north expansion

    In the context of the stalled Luxembourg process, in January 1989 the President of the EC Commission , Jacques Delors , submitted the proposal to put the rapprochement between the EC and EFTA on a new institutional basis. The EFTA states should be integrated as a whole into the common market and integrated into joint decision-making and administrative processes.

    The Delors initiative was received positively by the EFTA states, as it meant for them an opening of the common market on the basis of the four fundamental freedoms without having to participate in common EC policies: excluded from the EEA negotiations that were officially held from 1990 onwards stayed z. B. the common foreign and security policy , the agricultural policy , the transport policy , the tax and financial policy and participation in the planned economic and monetary union .

    Although it was initially difficult for the individual EFTA states to unite the widely differing national interests in a common position, they were fundamentally prepared to fully retain the position of the EC, the existing EC law and the rules of the internal market EEA transfer, accept. However, the acquis communautaire (legal acquis of the EC) was only viewed as a starting point for arriving at individual transitional and special regulations taking into account specific national interests. In particular, appropriate active participation in shaping future EEA law was required.

    With the collapse of the socialist systems in Eastern Europe, however, the international political framework had changed decisively, and the EC was able to emerge even more strongly as a political and economic center of power in Europe. With the end of the East-West conflict, the neutrality policy had lost its dominant character for many EFTA states and the political justification for special treatment of the EFTA states no longer existed. This meant that the EC was only prepared to make a few concessions and could uncompromisingly insist on its own positions.

    This was particularly evident in questions about co-determination and the interpretation of European law. Although the EFTA states had to contribute financially to the financial compensation of structurally weak European regions, they were not allowed to have any real co-determination in the EC-dominated EEA Council of Ministers, Court of Justice and in the joint committee; in particular the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice had vehemently opposed these demands. They also had to accept an automatic takeover of all future acquis without becoming involved in the political process.

    Overall, the EEA opened up great market potential for all participating states and also provided the EFTA states with certain privileges vis-à-vis the Eastern European countries, but from the point of view of the EFTA states the real goal was to maintain equal opportunities between the EC and EFTA states and escaping the threat of marginalization is a failure. The EEA was therefore not a real alternative to EC membership. Since real participation in political decision-making processes in the EC can only be achieved as a full member, they gradually decided to apply for membership. Austria (1989) and Sweden (1991) were followed by Finland, Switzerland and Norway in 1992, as a result of which the EEA negotiations took on the character of early EC accession negotiations.

    Nevertheless, the creation of the EEA was decided on January 1, 1993, parallel to the start of the EC internal market. The EEA Agreement entered into force on January 1, 1994. While the Norwegian population refused to join the EC for the second time in 1994 and Switzerland did not ratify the EEA Agreement either , Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the European Union in January 1995 .

    EFTA since 1995

    Since 1995, the EFTA has only been formed by Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Despite great heterogeneity and widely differing economic and political interests, the EFTA ministers decided at their joint meetings in December 1994 and June 1995 to continue EFTA as a special purpose association and to maintain it as a pillar in the EEA. In accordance with a resolution of 1999, the EFTA Agreement was supplemented by the so-called Vaduz Convention on June 1, 2002 in order to bring it into line with the EEA agreements (or Switzerland's non-participation) and the WTO established in 1995 . The task of the EFTA today is mainly limited to the administration and implementation of the EFTA Convention (EFTA internal trade), the EEA Agreement and the conclusion of free trade agreements with third countries, as they have been increasingly concluded since the 1990s.

    Possible extensions

    Admission of new members had become unlikely after the Slovenian application for membership was rejected in autumn 1995. Nevertheless, certain countries, including Algeria, have expressed interest in joining. A temporarily discussed function as a "waiting room" for Eastern European countries, which could have been introduced to the EU in small steps through EFTA membership associated with EFTA membership, turned out to be too unattractive and was therefore no longer used in political practice tracked.

    In the run-up to a possible Brexit decision, however, there was movement in the expansion options. In Switzerland, an EFTA 2.0 was brought into play by various political circles , which together with Great Britain, which has left the EU, could then form a somewhat stronger weight than before against the EU. Although not originally on the agenda, the main topic at the EFTA ministerial meeting on June 26, 2016 was a possible UK resumption.


    Map of free trade agreements between EFTA and other countries
  • EFTA
  • FTA
  • Negotiations on free trade agreements
  • European Economic Area
  • Declaration on cooperation / dialogue on closer trade and investment relations
  • Negotiations on free trade agreements

    Declaration on cooperation / dialogue on closer trade and investment relations

    See also


    • W. Beyer: EFTA - where from and where? , in: FIW Reports No. 6, 1993.
    • Victoria Curzon Price: The European Free Trade Association . in: Ali M. El-Agraa (Ed.): Economic Integration Worldwide . London: Macmillan, 1997, pp. 175-202. ISBN 0-333-65483-8
    • EFTA (Ed.): EFTA at a crossroads . Geneva: EFTA, 1980.
    • Philippe G. Nell: EFTA in the 1990: The Search for a New Identity . In: Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 28 (1990) pp. 327-358.
    • Richard Senti: EG, EFTA, internal market. Organization, functionality, perspectives . Zurich 2000
    • Hanspeter Tschäni, Ossi Tussvuori (Ed.): Principles and Elements of Free Trade Relations. 40 Years of EFTA Experience . Chur / Zurich 2000
    • EFTA (Ed.): EFTA 1960-2000: 40 Years . Geneva: EFTA, 2000.
    • Roland Maurhofer: The Swiss European Policy from the Marshall Plan to the EFTA 1947 to 1960 . Bern 2001
    • Richard Senti: Free trade instead of free trade agreements? Comments on the planned Swiss-EU agricultural free trade agreement . In: Journal for European Law, pp. 132–141, Zurich 2008
    • Jean-Daniel Gerber : Switzerland's free trade agreement - an alternative to a multilateral solution? . Presentation from December 1, 2008, in: Europe - Visions and Reality, Zurich 2009
    • Mathias Binswanger : Globalization and Agriculture - More prosperity through less free trade . Vienna 2009
    • Burkard Steppacher : The EFTA states, the EEA and Switzerland . In: Werner Weidenfeld and Wolfgang Wessels (eds.): Yearbook of European Integration 2011 . Baden-Baden 2012, pp. 329-332.

    Web links

    Commons : European Free Trade Association  - collection of images, videos and audio files

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ The Faroes aiming for membership in EFTA. The Government of the Faroe Islands, May 8, 2006, accessed June 24, 2016 .
    2. ^ The Faroes and the EU - possibilities and challenges in a future relationship . The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Faroes. S. 53. 2010. Archived from the original on August 23, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2016: “Under its constitutional status the Faroes cannot become an independent Contracting Party to the EEA Agreement due to the fact that the Faroes are not a state . "
    3. ^ State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO: EFTA
    4. European Free Trade Association (English)
    5. Werner Wüthrich: “Bringing the 'European Orchestra' back to life. European integration (part 2). Federal Councilor Hans Schaffner and EFTA », in: Zeit -fragen, No. 3 of January 17, 2012
    6. ^ Note from Secretary General R. Kohli of November 18, 1959: "Visit of the British Ambassador" in Dodi's database of diplomatic documents of Switzerland
    7. e-Dossier: the establishment of EFTA in 1960 in the database Dodis the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland
    8. ^ Note from A. Weitnauer to H. Homberger, R. Kohli, H. Schaffner and FT Wahlen of July 17, 1961: "Visit of US Under-Secretary Ball to Federal Councilor Schaffner" in Dodi's database of Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland
    9. memorandum of FT elections of 22 November 1961: "Conversation with the President de Gaulle from November 17, 1961" in the database Dodis the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland
    10. Vaduz Agreement
    11. Couchepin supports Algeria's accession to EFTA , May 27, 2007
    12. Brexit is… good, bad or expensive? in from June 17, 2016
    13. Swiss expert warns of Brexit: Dear British, do you really want to become the new Switzerland? in on June 22, 2016
    14. ^ Setting the course after Brexit in DIE FREE WELT of June 25, 2016
    15. Brexit and Switzerland: The Union of UnbEUgsamen in from June 26, 2016
    16. Mention of the option of Great Britain being admitted to the EFTA by the Swiss Federal President on the occasion of the weekly radio interview broadcast on Swiss radio on Saturday (shortly before the end). The show is available as a podcast.
    17. Great Britain in EEA 2.0: “The EU should offer more co-determination than in 1992” , interview with Carl Baudenbacher, President of the Efta Court in NZZ on June 27, 2016
    18. Open doors for the British in Efta , report on the EFTA ministerial meeting in Bern on June 27, 2016, in NZZ on June 28, 2016
    19. Stop Palm Oil - The referendum against the free trade agreement with Indonesia has been launched. In:, January 27, 2020, accessed on January 27, 2020.