EFTA is a free-trade organisation of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Three of those are members of the EEA, Switzerland has bilateral agreements with the EU, such that all participate in the ESM. Is it possible to join EFTA without joining EEA or making agreements with the EU? Although EFTA is in principle an independent organisation from the EU, EFTA members have access to the ESM so I would expect that the EU might have a say in EFTA membership. How does joining EFTA work in practice?

For example, suppose the United Kingdom leaves the EU without any deal, and then, perhaps after a change of government, decides that the disruption to trade is causing unacceptable economic and societal damage, and decides to urgently join EFTA. What would it take to do so and would it, by itself, restore free trade between the UK and the ESM?

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    Just in case somebody misses the first link for the acronyms? ;)
    – janh
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 12:38
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    @janh I discovered that one can reuse links [eu] and [eu] with at the bottom eu: https://... rather than writing [eu][1] and [eu][1] with at the bottom [1]: https://... and got carried away with wanting to this feature I found after some 7 years on Stack Exchange ;-)
    – gerrit
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 16:39
  • Isn't the urgent part mostly speculation? Any deal seems unlikely to suit every country, which means there will inevitably need to be some negotiation. How long that takes depends on how easily the parties are willing or able to compromise. How long that will take we don't know (too many factors at play, I think).
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 17:39
  • @JJJ Yes, anything relating post-Brexit or post-no-deal-Brexit is mostly speculation, considering that we're 7 months away and nothing is clear yet.
    – gerrit
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 21:05
  • @gerrit it's mostly the urgent part. The rest of the question to me reads like what would it take for a third country to join EFTA to access the ESM? Because it refers to brexit we know a few more things about that third country. Maybe I'm nitpicking a bit too much. ;)
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


All current EFTA members either are EEA members or have extensive bilateral agreements with the EU, which are deemed necessary for the agreement to work. Note how the EU reacted when Switzerland held their recent immigration referendum.

From this precedent, it seems that the EU would be unlikely to accept an end run around the EU rules through the EFTA route.

  • Wasn't there talk about Canada joining (or being an associate of) EFTA? For some reason they did not follow it up.
    – Pat-S
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 14:38

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