Thursday 28 May 2009

Iceland starts EU membership talks?

Today, 28 May 2009 the government of Iceland is going to put forward a proposal for authority to start negotiations on membership of the European Union.

If the Althingi (Parliament) grants the authority, Iceland is in “pole position” for accession due to its membership in the European Economic Area (EEA). Despite its severe economic crisis, Iceland is a stable democracy. Its Parliament, Althingi, evokes the longest parliamentary tradition in the world. It was established as a legislature and judiciary in 930. Iceland became a member of the Council of Europe in 1950.

Acquis communautaire

The internal market legislation of the European Community (European Union) is already in force. In addition, as an EEA country Iceland participates in a number of other policy areas and EU programmes.

Iceland participates in the Schengen area abolishing internal border controls and improving controls on the external borders, and it is a member of the NATO alliance in common with the mainstream members of the European Union.

In other words, Iceland already fulfils most of the EU membership criteria, although internal political differences and the difficulties concerning fisheries and agriculture should not be underestimated.

We can compare the situation with the EFTA countries Austria, Finland and Sweden. They had negotiated the EEA Agreement, which entered into force at the beginning of 1994. But they went on to upgrade their relationship with the European Union through full membership, which entered into force exactly a year later, in 1995.


Membership application: Yes or no?

Today, 28 May 2009 the new Icelandic government is going to propose that the Althingi (Parliament) grants it powers to apply for membership in the European Union.

Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs offers the following overview in English:

Proposal for a Parliamentary Resolution on Application for Accession to the European Union

(Submitted to the 137th session of Parliament 2009)

The Parliament resolves to empower the Government to submit an application for membership of the European Union and upon the completion of negotiations with the Union to hold a national referendum on a prospective membership agreement.

Comments on the Proposal for a Parliamentary Resolution

The proposal on application for membership of the European Union is submitted in order to give the Icelandic people an opportunity to reject or accept an agreement on accession to the EU once negotiations have been concluded.

The application to the European Union is thus not equivalent to membership, upon which, indeed, it is for the Icelandic nation to take the final decision. In addition, a legislative proposal will be submitted on the holding of national referendums on important matters that the Government or Parliament decides to submit to the nation.

Prior to the start of negotiations, extensive consultations will take place with interest groups on agreement objectives in various sectors, such as fisheries, agriculture and regional issues, in the field of public services, the environment, equal rights and currency matters, and the broadest possible consensus will be sought on the basis for negotiations. The possibility of closer monetary cooperation will be explored in parallel to the negotiations on possible accession in order to support the Icelandic krona. Emphasis is placed on an open and transparent process and regular information sharing with the general public and interest groups.

A Committee of professionals will be appointed by the Government of Iceland to carry out the negotiations with the European Union. The Committee will be supported by a broad-based consultative body representing different interest groups, from which the Committee will seek advice and which the Committee will keep informed on the ongoing progress of negotiations. Iceland as a European nation wishes to take an active part in the development of a democratic Europe built on the foundations of social justice, equality and the respect for human dignity and the environment. Europe is the cornerstone of human rights in the world, and an advocate for stability, sustainable development, justice and prosperity throughout the world.
Parties concerned reserve the right to advocate for or against any final agreement, bearing in mind that possible support is contingent upon various provisos.

Iceland’s vital interests include:

• ensuring the sovereign control of water and energy resources and their utilization.

• ensuring the sovereign control of the fisheries resources, the sustainable utilization of these resources, and a share of straddling stocks and as much representation of national interests in international agreements on fisheries as possible.

• ensuring thriving Icelandic agriculture based on food security and safety.

• ensuring the democratic right to manage public services based on social principles.

• defending the rights of workers and labour.

• achieving a favourable and growth based competitive environment for business in Iceland while at the same time taking account of unique factors owing to specific circumstances.

It is foreseen that Parliament will establish a special European Parliamentary Committee, in which all the political parties will be represented, to consult with the Negotiating Committee to the European Union.


Iceland’s international relations

The (previous) Government of Iceland presented a report on Iceland’s international relations to the Althingi in March 2009. (The link is to an 11 page excerpt available in English.)

Ralf Grahn

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