Monday 9 November 2009

Iceland not joining the European Union?

Love’s Labour’s Lost?

Iceland has applied for EU membership and answered the detailed questions posed by the Commission, which is preparing its opinion for the Council on starting membership negotiations.

On the face of it, matters have advanced at lightning speed (according to European Union enlargement standards), but somehow the feeling surrounding the membership application is surreal: The government has applied to become a member and appointed its chief negotiator, but the population of Iceland will probably reject accession, if matters ever advance that far.

Geographically (and mentally?) Iceland is situated between Norway, which has twice rejected a final accession agreement, Greenland, the only territory to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom, where public hostility to and ignorance of European integration reign, and Ireland with its patchy record of referenda.

The latest opinion polls show that Iceland will probably continue as a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA), which guarantees access to the internal market of 30 states, but excludes agriculture and fisheries.

“Fax democracy”

The EEA agreement is in effect since 1994, which explains the antiquated term “fax democracy” for the adoption of the EU’s internal market legislation, without much say over its contents. The EEA countries also contribute to the EU budget.

Paradoxically, defenders of national sovereignty prefer quasi-automatic reception of EU law on the grounds that membership means loss of self-determination. Admittedly, the voting weight of a state with 320,000 inhabitants is limited among (now) 27 member states with a total population of 500,000,000. But smallest states are actually over-represented in the EU institutions and they sit at the tables where the decisions are hammered out. Still, noises about demanding extra representation are ill-boding.

The fishing industry still provides almost 40 per cent of Icelandic export earnings and it employs 8 per cent of the work force, so the common fisheries policy of the European Union is going to be a crucial question during the negotiations. A protectionist population will most probably reject any deal seen as disadvantageous (giving fishing rights to “foreigners”), but one may ask why the European Union should concede membership rights to a country, which sees contributions as a one way street.

Further reading

Here are some suggestions for further reading for those, who want to take a closer look at the Icelandic EU prospects.

Mats Engström: Progress on Enlargement (8 November 2009)

Reykjavik Grapevine, Paul Nikolov: Poll: EU Referendum Would Fail if Voted On Today (6 November 2009)

Jón Frímann Bloggar: Smear campaign against EU in Iceland (8 November 2009)

Vanderbilt Business, Ólafur Arnarson: Iceland meltdown (November 2009)

Iceland Review: Iceland’s EU Negotiation Committee Appointed (5 November 2009)

Iceland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Iceland’s negotiation committee appointed (4 November 2009)

Iceland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Icelandic Government submits answers to a Questionnaire from the European Commission (22 October 2009)

Wikipedia: Accession of Iceland to the European Union

Leigh Phillips on EUobserver: Concern over Iceland EU bid as public support tanks (6 November 2009)

Ralf Grahn

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