The EFTA Surveillance Authority at a glance
The EFTA Surveillance Authority monitors compliance with European Economic Area rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, enabling them to participate in the European internal market
European 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 31 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 500 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 31 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 the EFTA Surveillance Authority.
Role of the EFTA Surveillance Authority
The EFTA Surveillance Authority ensures that the participating EFTA States Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, respect their obligations under the EEA Agreement.
The Authority 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. The Authority may in such cases initiate proceedings against the EFTA State at the EFTA Court, seeking a change in the relevant rules or practices.
The Authority 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.
The Authority also ensures that companies operating in the EFTA countries abide by the rules relating to competition. The Authority 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, the Authority has powers that correspond to those of the European Commission. There is close contact and co-operation between the Commission and the Authority. The two institutions oversee the application of the same laws in different parts of the EEA.
The EFTA Surveillance Authority 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.
The Authority operates independently of the EFTA States and is based in Brussels. It currently has a staff of 70 officials, within which 16 nationalities are represented.
The Authority 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 the Authority are taken by the College, which usually meets once a week.
The College is served by four departments that form the staff of the Authority: the Internal Market Affairs Directorate, the Competition and State Aid Directorate, the Legal and Executive Affairs Department and the Administration.