Tuesday, 21 December 2010

EU view of EFTA and EEA country Iceland (not excluding controversy)

Iceland has been getting a lot of attention in Brussels lately. The EU Commission presented its progress report and conclusions regarding the process of Iceland to become a member of the European Union:

Grahnlaw Suomi Finland: EU enlargement: Iceland (20 December 2010)

The General Affairs Council (GAC) adopted conclusions on enlargement, including Iceland, on 14 December 2010:

Grahnlaw: EU Council on enlargement: Iceland (20 December 2010)

But the same day, the General Affairs Council also adopted conclusions about the relations between the European Union and the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), as described on Grahnblawg (in Swedish): EU-relationerna med Norge (19 December 2010).

Naturally Iceland, an EFTA member and a participant in the European Economic Area (EEA) was dealt with in these GAC conclusions as well:

Council conclusions on EU relations with EFTA countries; 3060th GENERAL AFFAIRS Council meeting Brussels, 14 December 2010


EEA remarks

The Council was satisfied with the contributions from Iceland, Liechtenstein and especially Norway to poorer EU member states (point 2):

The Council appreciates the financial contributions of the EFTA countries to the economic and social cohesion in the European Economic Area (EEA). Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland (the "EEA EFTA States") recently committed themselves to a substantial increase of their continued contributions.

In practice the EEA states pay for access to the internal market, although it differs somewhat from the membership contributions from EU countries.

The Council was happy to note the excellent transposition record of the EEA EFTA states (point 3):

Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are integrated in the internal market through the EEA Agreement of 1994. This Agreement functions properly so long as all Contracting Parties incorporate the full body of the relevant EU acquis relating to the internal market into their national law. The Council welcomes that the EEA countries have demonstrated an excellent record of proper and regular incorporation of the acquis into their own legislation and encourages them to maintain this good record to ensure the continued homogeneity of the internal market.

The GAC remarks about homogenous implementation of EU law and the smooth functioning of the special institutions are directed at all EFTA countries (point 7):

Though EU relations with the EFTA countries were extended over the years to many areas not covered by the internal market, these relations are mainly based on the progressive integration of the EFTA countries' economies into the EU internal market. In view of the need for a level playing field for all economic operators of the parties concerned and the continued development of internal market relevant acquis, the EU and the EFTA States should ensure homogeneity in the implementation of the acquis and the good functioning of the institutions.

Icelandic accession negotiations

Officially, Iceland conducts negotiations to become a member of the European Union, which puts it in a different category from the other EEA states, Liechtenstein and Norway, with the remaining EFTA member, non-EEA Switzerland even farther apart. The GAC stated the position of Iceland (point 5):

The Council welcomes the opening, in July 2010, of accession negotiations with Iceland, which conserves its status as EEA EFTA State while negotiations are ongoing.

Specifically Iceland

The GAC conclusions contained a number of points specifically related to the EU's relationship with Iceland (10-16):

ICELAND

10. The Council welcomes the launching of accession negotiations with Iceland in July 2010, takes note of the findings presented by the Commission on 9 November 2010 to the Council and the European Parliament in its Progress Report on Iceland and refers to the Council conclusions on enlargement - Iceland - to be adopted by the General Affairs Council on 14 December 2010.

11. The opening of an EU delegation in Reykjavik in 2010 will contribute to the rapprochement of Iceland and the EU in this dynamic phase of relations.

12. The Council appreciates the solidarity shown by the Icelandic people when committing to renew their contribution to the reduction of social and economic disparities in the EEA for the period 2009-2014.

13. While accession negotiations are ongoing, the EEA Agreement remains the key contractual basis for EU-Iceland relations. In the past two years, Iceland continued to be an active and constructive partner in that framework as well as in the Schengen area, with a good record of implementation of the evolving EU acquis. The Council encourages Iceland to maintain the same good record also in the future.

14. The Council welcomes the good cooperation with Iceland in many areas of common interest, in particular on environmental and energy issues, as well as in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy, with Iceland frequently supporting EU declarations and voting together with the EU in the UN. The Council is looking forward to further strengthening cooperation with Iceland on issues such as Arctic policy, the Northern Dimension, fisheries, renewable energy and climate change.

15. Regarding fisheries, the Council continues to call for a constructive approach of all Coastal States (EU, Norway, Faeroe Islands and Iceland) on the joint management of mackerel fisheries, and encourages Iceland to resume negotiations on this issue, in particular as regards a reasonable long term sustainable quota sharing arrangement, taking into account the track records of all relevant actors.

16. The Council welcomes Iceland's continued commitment to move toward economic stabilization and to address all issues deriving from the 2008 banking collapse. In this context, the Council recalls the need for Iceland to address existing obligations, such as those identified by the EFTA Surveillance Authority under the EEA Agreement, as well as weaknesses in the area of financial services, identified in the Opinion of the Commission on Iceland's application for EU-membership.

”Mackerel War”

As we saw, the last two points referred to controversial issues. In point 15 the GAC called for the resumption of negotiations in the ”Mackerel War”. Se for instance:

FISHupdate.com: Iceland and Faroes set to announce new mackerel quotas (20 December 2010)

FISHupdate.com: Lochhead comments on Iceland's 'irresponsible' mackerel quota action (20 December 2010)

BBC Scotland: Scottish fishermen condemn Iceland mackerel quota move (18 December 2010)

Fishnewseu.com: Iceland warns that Norway and EU will overfish mackerel next year (20 December 2010)

Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, press release: Decision on Iceland's Share in Mackerel Fisheries in 2011 (20 December 2010)


Icesave / Landsbanki

The catastrophic fallout from the Icelandic banking collapse has haunted the people of Iceland and its government, but also relations with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (point 16). See for instance:

Reuters: Iceland finance minister presents new Icesave bill to parliament (16 December 2010)

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir in Iceland Review Online: Icesave: Not my headache (ESA) (17 December 2010)

Bloomberg: Grimsson Says He'll Decide by February on Icesave Referendum (20 December 2010)



Ralf Grahn



P.S. In the blog post Not losing sight of the basics, Mathew Lowry calls on the EU institutions to do some serious work on Europa and other websites to serve a huge array of audiences. Read the discussion as well.