ESA at a glance

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) monitors compliance with European Economic Area rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, enabling them to participate in the European internal market

esa_buildingEuropean Economic Area

The European Economic Area (EEA) consists of the Member States of the European Union (EU) and three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It was established by the EEA Agreement, an international agreement which enables the three EFTA states to participate fully in the European internal (or single) market.

The purpose of the EEA Agreement is to guarantee, in all 30 EEA States, the free movement of goods, people, services and capital – “the four freedoms”. As a result of the agreement, EC law on the four freedoms is incorporated into the domestic law of the participating EFTA States. All new relevant EU legislation is also introduced through the EEA Agreement so that it applies throughout the EEA, ensuring uniform application of laws relating to the internal market.

The Agreement seeks to guarantee equal conditions of competition, and equal rights to participate in the internal market for citizens and economic operators in the EEA. It also provides for co-operation across the EEA in other important areas such as research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, tourism and culture. By removing barriers to trade and by opening new opportunities for some 450 million Europeans, the creation of the EEA stimulates economic growth and adds to the international competitiveness of the EEA States.

The successful operation of the EEA Agreement depends upon uniform implementation and application of the common rules in each of the 30 EEA States. A two-pillar system of supervision has been established: EU Member States are supervised by the European Commission; while the participating EFTA States are supervised by ESA.

Role of ESA

ESA ensures that the participating EFTA States Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, respect their obligations under the EEA Agreement.

ESA seeks to protect the rights of individuals and market participants who find their rights infringed by rules or practices of the EFTA States or companies within those states. Such rules or practices may, for example, be discriminatory, impose unnecessary burdens on commercial activity, or constitute unlawful state aid. ESA may in such cases initiate proceedings against the EFTA State at the EFTA Court, seeking a change in the relevant rules or practices.

ESA also enforces restrictions on state aid, assessing its compatibility with the functioning of the internal market, and has the power to order repayment of unlawful state aid.

ESA also ensures that companies operating in the EFTA countries abide by the rules relating to competition. ESA can investigate possible infringements of EEA provisions, either on its own initiative, or on the basis of complaints, and can impose fines on individual undertakings and assess mergers between undertakings where certain thresholds are met.

In monitoring and enforcing the Agreement, ESA has powers that correspond to those of the European Commission. There is close contact and co-operation between the Commission and ESA. The two institutions oversee the application of the same laws in different parts of the EEA.

ESA has been allocated with specific tasks in supervising financial services. ESA has the powers to adopt certain defined decisions that are legally binding on national supervisory authorities and market operators (including credit institutions, insurance companies and investment firms) established in the EFTA States. To ensure consistency within the entire EEA such binding decisions will be adopted on the basis of drafts from the EU European Supervisory Authorities (EBA, EIOPA and ESMA), either on the initiative of ESA or on the initiative of the relevant EU authority.


ESA operates independently of the EFTA States and is based in Brussels. It currently has a staff of 70+ officials, within which 18 nationalities are represented.

ESA is led by a College which consists of three members, each appointed for a period of four years by the three participating EFTA States. Although College members are appointed by the Member States, they undertake their functions independently and free of political direction. All decisions which formally bind ESA are taken by the College, which usually meets once a week.

See the College members as well as the allocation of portfolios

The College is served by four departments that form the staff of ESA: the Internal Market Affairs Directorate, the Competition and State Aid Directorate, the Legal and Executive Affairs Department and the Administration.

Other EEA Institutions

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