Iceland applies for EU membership

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)


Wasting no time acting upon the Althingi vote, Reuters reports Iceland hands in application to join EU.

“The (Icelandic) ambassador to Sweden has met with the secretary of state and has handed in to him the application of accession to the EU,” said Urdur Gunnarsdottir.

Iceland’s formal application letter (pdf) states, “The Government of Iceland has the honour to present hereby, in conformity with Article 49 of the Treaty of European Union, the application of the Republic of Iceland for membership of the European Union.”

Yesterday, Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi, voted to start membership talks with the European Union. The vote was 33-28 with two members abstaining. ForexTV reported the vote was seen as a victory for Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, “who has been pushing for joining the EU and the adoption of the euro as the recession-hit country’s currency.”

Reacting to the yesterday’s vote, Alda Kalda of The Iceland Weather Report blog, wrote:

There is massive controversy over the issue, even within the individual parties, and a part of the problem has been that the two parties in the coalition government…

A number of amendments were put forth about the resolution, that were debated ad nauseum before the actual voting on the main issue began. One was an amendment proposal by the IP that there should be a double referendum – i.e. that there should be a national referendum about whether or not to enter into talks at all and, if that were passed, another on whether the EU agreement should be accepted. Personally I think this was the IP’s attempt to bring down the government – had this proposal been accepted, it would have meant an effective collapse of the coalition, paving the way for the IP to return to power. [Which to many of us is an unthinkable nightmare.] So that was very tense – and the relief palpable [at least Chez YT] when the outcome was announced.

More on this later, perhaps – but the bottom line is that this is a historic day for Iceland and – we hope – an auspicious one.

The Telegraph, reporting on the EU application vote, quoted Bjarni Benediktsson, the leader of the now-minority Independence Party as saying, “There are no credible reasons for Icelanders to give away full control of their natural resources.” (The IP facilitated and presided over Iceland’s economic collapse. The IP-led government was forced to resign and was replaced after a national election.)

When I last wrote about Iceland in January, I concluded talk of EU membership for Iceland was “premature”. No more. The question now becomes when, not if Iceland will join the EU. Icelanders will need to address several obstacles before it becomes EU’s 28th member.

One such issue is the failed Icelandic banks and the country’s economic collapse. The “unpopular Icesave agreement” according to Eirikur Bergmann, professor in political science and director of Centre for European Studies at the Bifrost University in Iceland. In a ‘Comment is free’ piece at The Guardian, he writes:

Most economists now agree that it’s virtually impossible to stabilise Iceland’s tiny currency: the euro is therefore luring Iceland in to the EU at this point. There is, however, a twist to the story: the recently signed agreement with the UK and Holland over the Icesave accounts could still halt Iceland’s EU membership process and even kill off the newly established government if refused by the parliament.

Not since the old treaty of 1262, when Iceland came under Norwegian rule, has an agreement proved so unpopular. Many Icelanders feel that the Icesave agreement has been forced up on them by the powerful UK government, which has used its influences in international institutions such as the IMF to block Iceland from receiving foreign help in this ongoing crisis.

There will be other issues as well. Bloomberg News reports Iceland’s EU Bid May Stumble Over Fish, Farming, Public Opinion.

he Icelandic government’s bid for European Union membership may stumble over agriculture and fisheries and its ability to convince islanders to back entry, political scientist Einar Mar Thordarson said…

“The primary hurdle will be the EU’s fisheries and agricultural policy, which might cause intense debate between Iceland and the bloc,” said Thordarson of the University of Iceland by phone from Reykjavik. “We shouldn’t forget that Icelanders are narrowly divided on membership. It’s not a given that a membership deal will be approved in a referendum.”

I think the EU should insist that Iceland end its whaling. In June, EUbusiness reported that Kristjan Loftsson, the 66-year-old CEO of Hvalur hf, the Icelandic whaling company, thought EU membership will kill whale hunting in Iceland. “Loftsson said Iceland should stay out of the EU, not in the interests of whale hunters but in the interest of the country’s fishing industry as a whole.” Loftsson thinks Icelanders should reject EU membership over whaling and fishing concerns. “I think the Icelandic people are sufficiently well-informed to say ‘No’ to Europe,” Loftsson said.

Bloomberg News quotes a May 2009 poll that found only 39 percent of Icelanders wanted to join the EU while 38.6 were opposed. However, “When asked whether Iceland should begin accession talks, 60 percent said they were in favor while 27 percent were opposed.”

“For the past 10 years, Icelanders have been divided into three groups, 40 percent favor membership, 40 percent oppose membership and 20 percent are undecided,” said Thordarson.

Still despite the obstacles in Iceland’s way there are those in the EU, as I noted in January, that desire a speedy entry to the EU for Iceland. AFP notes “Iceland is already a member of the European Economic Area and as such has applied many of the EU ‘acquis’ or legislation, which should guarantee speedy entry.” The current Icelandic government “hopes to join within three years.”

If Iceland does join the EU, it would leave Norway as the only Nordic member of the EEA outside of the EU. Iceland Review_Online quotes Ingrid Skjoetskift, a Norwegian journalist, who covers EU matters, as predicting that a possible Icelandic membership is unlikely to change Norwegian minds. But, how the EU reconciles Iceland’s whaling and fishing issues with membership may ultimately persuade Norwegians.

“However, I think the discussion will start to evolve more around facts when it is clear what Iceland’s membership agreement will look like. The fishing industry is key. It was the main reason for Norway rejecting membership in the 1972 referendum and had considerable weight in 1994 [when Norway rejected membership for the second time],” Skjoetskift said.

That change may be years away. Now, the Iceland is tasked with negotiating with the EU to find a way to reconcile the differences between them. Iceland is motivated and has to gain the euro and the stability that could come with EU membership. Iceland will need to show to the EU, I think, how it will strengthen and improve the EU. Enlargement, just for the sake of getting bigger, is not reason enough. More members may further handicap the EU politically, I think.

To conclude, I’ll again quote Alda, my favorite Icelandic blogger on Iceland’s EU membership appliation:

Anyway, personally I am very relieved that the EU matter is now out of the way and that we can now get on with membership negotiations. Then, when they’re on the table, we can decide in a referendum whether or not we want to join. [They better not reneg on that promise!] And I must say I’m impressed by the new government for getting a move on and checking this matter off their agenda in such an efficient way.

In another six months time, I wonder how far (and fast) Iceland has progressed toward becoming the newest member of the EU.


Cross-posted from European Tribune.



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  1. I don’t normally post my European-focused essays here, but what the heck… it’s Friday. Anyway, I accidentally front-paged this essay (so no recommend buttom), so if you appreciate this piece, please leave a comment. Thanks.

  2. The small countries are getting the shaft in the EU, while Germany and France are doing fine.

    Norway though is a special case because of the oil, and their intellegent management of it.

  3. Iceland was probably doing better not to join the EU. Now, it seems like it makes no sense to stay out of the bloc.

    The whaling issue is going to continue to loom large, though. I wonder if the EU wants Iceland enough to bend on the issue. I have my doubts. A strong banking industry, though, would change that dynamic dramatically.

  4. Threw their Gov out and marched the streets with pots and pans.

    So the EU is too big to fail, but Iceland is not.

    It is like Walmart, but for nations.

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