Iceland’s accession bid: quo vadis?

, by Mark Seychell

Iceland's accession bid: quo vadis?

The Government of Iceland submitted its application for EU-Membership to the current Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU in a letter dated on 16 July. At the Council meeting on 27 July, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers acknowledged Iceland’s application for membership of the European Union and invited the Commission to submit an opinion on it.

What next indeed for the Icelandic accession bid to the EU? Iceland is currently passing through a similar phase as my country, Malta, did in the run up to EU accession, and the atmosphere coming out from way up there is by and large the same as the atmosphere in Malta between six to seven years ago. The most indicative factor is the eurosceptic fever coming out of the Icelandic public, the same as what happened in Malta in the run up to the referendum. However, the public warmed to the idea of EU membership, especially after the devastating economic meltdown which saw top Icelandic banks collapse in October last year.

One wonders why the public is so sceptic on accession, especially with all that has happened to the Icelandic economy due to the recession.

The latest opinion poll in Iceland produced by Capacent Gallup for the Federation of Icelandic Industries and published on September 15, 2009 shows a majority of Icelanders oppose EU membership. According to the poll some 50.2 percent are against joining while 32.7 percent favour it. In the same poll 43.2 percent said they were not pleased with the EU application while 39.6 percent said they were. Finally people were asked how they would vote if there was a referendum now on EU membership. 61.5 percent said they would vote against joining the EU and 38.5 percent said they would vote in favour. One wonders why the public is so sceptic on accession, especially with all that has happened to the Icelandic economy due to the recession.

In fact, when an Icelandic delegate visited Malta, during the run up to the European Parliament election campaign, he made it clear that the general consensus among the population of Iceland is that had Iceland joined the EU and the Eurozone, the recession would not have hit Iceland as bad as it did. Yet the figures do not lie, and the public remains sceptic. A reason for this is because of the vital Icelandic fishing sector, which will be regulated by the stringent fishing and whaling regulations.

EU membership will be a central theme of the upcoming Icelandic election campaign, the same as it was in Malta, with the social democrats - the senior partner in the coalition interim government with the anti-EU Left Greens - pushing to join the EU and to swap the krona for the single European currency as soon as possible.

The European Commissioner in charge of enlargement, Olli Rehn, has stated that the EU prefers if two countries join at the same time, so it is possible that we could see Iceland’s accession bid to be fast tracked in order for them to enter the Union in parallel with Croatia. It is believed that entry talks with Iceland may begin by February 2010, with the bid going to popular referendum by late 2011 or early 2012...ample time for the Icelandic people to be won over to the idea of EU membership. The earliest Iceland can realistically look to join the EU is sometime in 2013. What is clear, though, is that the powers that be who run this bloc we have all come to know and to love and to hate certainly believe that Iceland could bring more assets than liabilities to the EU.

 Iceland and EU, source: google images

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