Norwegians Straddle EU Fence as Voting Begins

IF Norwegians vote down European Union membership today as the polls are hinting, the EU's northern border will run right through Arnulf Odegaard's farm.

``Sometimes you have to think of the good of the whole country,'' said Mr. Odegaard, who plans to vote against joining the EU, even though it might mean giving up his rented hay fields in Sweden. He lives on the 930-mile Swedish border.

Austria, Finland, and Sweden have recently voted to join the EU.

Skeptical Norwegians like Odegaard are asking what the EU could offer them as voting began yesterday on membership in the 12-nation bloc. Opposition to membership has been strong.

Critics in Norway say their energy-rich nation, which is a NATO member, can get by fine without the EU bureaucracy. And naysayers have led in virtually all opinion polls, despite recent gains by the ``yes'' side.

Backers of EU membership, such as the government and many businesses, are worried. Unless it joins, Norway would face new duties on exports to Sweden and Finland, key trading partners. Some Norwegian firms threaten to move across the border.

Merchants say their customers would shop in Sweden, where already lower prices could fall even more as Swedes adjust to EU prices. ``The border would become a 1,500-kilometer check-out counter,'' warned Trade Minister Grete Knudsen.

In the town of Leirsjoen, an hour's drive north of Odegaard's farm, people joke that they'll need their passports just to cross the street.

Major calls it close

A REVOLT against Prime Minister John Major within his own party over Britain's ties to Europe appears to have crumbled, but rebels accused him of making the government a laughingstock.

A small core of right-wing Conservative members of Parliament had threatened a showdown with Mr. Major today in a vote on a bill that would boost Britain's payments to the European Union.

But Major threatened to call a general election if they killed the bill and gained the backing of his Cabinet. An amendment to the bill was delayed on Friday by 18 defiant rebels, unlikely to be enough to defeat Major.

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