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Icelandic EU accession bid
Status Applied for membership
Website [1]
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EU Iceland
PPP GDP ($bl.) 14.712.000 12.664
Area (km²) 4,324,782 103,001
Population 497,198,740 319,756
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Iceland

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
Iceland



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Iceland applied to join the European Union on 16 July 2009.[1] The application was accepted by the European Council on 27 July and referred to the Commission to analyse Iceland's preparedness for negotiations.[2] Iceland's government has a target date of 2012 for joining the bloc, which will be subject to a referendum in Iceland.[1]

As part of the European Economic Area, Iceland is already a member of the EU's single market. It is also a member of the Schengen Area which removes border controls between member states.

Contents

Background

Iceland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), along with Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In 1994, Iceland and its EFTA partners—except for Switzerland, which rejected the Agreement in a referendum—signed the EEA-Agreement with the EU, which was designed to allow the EFTA countries to participate in the European single market without having to join the EU. The EFTA Secretariat in Brussels reported in 2005 that Iceland had adopted approximately 6.5% of EU regulations as a result of signing the EEA agreement.[3]

From 1995 to 2007 the government coalition of the conservative Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) and the liberal Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn), opposed joining the EU, while the opposition Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) supported membership negotiations.

Former Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson predicted on 8 February 2006 that the country would join the EU by 2015. He added that the decisive factor would be the future and the size of the Eurozone, especially whether Denmark, Sweden and the UK would have adopted the euro or not.[4] His prediction received some criticism, not the least from people within his own government.[5]

Another former Prime Minister, Geir H. Haarde, has on a number of occasions stated his opposition to EU membership, both as Foreign Minister under Halldór Ásgrímsson and after taking office as Prime Minister. In response to Halldór Ásgrímsson's earlier prediction, Haarde said, "I don't share that point of view. Our policy is not to join in the foreseeable future. We are not even exploring membership." In a speech at a conference at the University of Iceland on 31 March 2006, Geir Haarde repeated what he had said on a number of occasions—that no special Icelandic interests demanded membership of the EU. In the same speech he further explained in detail why it would not be in the interest of Iceland to adopt the euro.[6]

Following the 2007 election, the Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance formed a new coalition with a policy of not applying for membership, but setting up a special committee to monitor the development within the EU and suggest ways to respond to that.[7]

Due to Iceland's limited currency, the government has explored the possibility of adopting the euro without joining the European Union. The EU, however, says that Iceland cannot join the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) without becoming a full member state despite Turkey and Israel having been offered "Privileged Partnership" in the past which in theory Iceland could also request. Several small European countries—each geographically located within other countries which have adopted the euro—have been allowed to adopt the euro without joining the EU: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. Montenegro and Kosovo use the euro unilaterally without a formal agreement or endorsement from the ECB, because they used the German mark before the euro's introduction.

Effect of 2008 financial crisis

At a meeting with members of his party on 17 May 2008, Geir Haarde said he believed the cost of joining the EU in his opinion simply outweighed the benefits and therefore he was not in favour of membership.[8] However, in October 2008, during talks to repatriate a portion of Iceland's foreign invested pension funds—Iceland having been particularly hard hit by the liquidity crisis of September 2008—the unions demanded that Iceland apply for EU membership in return for wage restraint.[9]

On 30 October 2008, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, minister of education said that "Iceland has to define its long-term national interests and part of that is a revision of the currency regime, including a possible EU application" and that application for membership needed to be discussed “in weeks rather than months”.[10]

Two weeks later, on 17 November 2008, the Independence Party announced it would hold its party congress in January 2009 instead of autumn 2009, to reconsider the possibility of applying for EU membership; the Progressive Party also announced it would hold its party congress in January, after two anti-EU MPs (including the party leader) resigned and were replaced by MPs more positive towards EU application.[11]

The Progressive Party accepted at its congress to support application for EU membership but with very strict conditions including one demanding full authority for Iceland over its fishing grounds and other national resources.[12] When the government headed by the Independence Party dissolved in January the party decided to postpone its congress until March. The congress eventually decided an unchanged opposition to EU membership but also claimed that if the issue were opened by others both an application and a initial accession treaty with the EU should be put to a referendum.[13]

On 30 January 2009, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated he thought Iceland could join at the same time as Croatia, which is expected to join in 2011. He stated that Iceland would have to apply soon, and a referendum is expected to be announced by the new centre-left government, though the whole process could be much faster than previous enlargements, largely because, as a member of the EEA, Iceland has already implemented about two-thirds of EU law.[14] The two-thirds claim has, however, been challenged by the Icelandic movement opposed to EU membership, since it contradicts the research done by the EFTA secretariat.[15]

2009 elections change political parties' policy on EU

Iceland's finance minister, Steingrimur Sigfusson, ahead of the country's first elections since its banking system collapsed in 2008, stated that "any decision for Iceland to join the European Union and the single currency must be taken by its people, not one political party", on the subject that the issue of EU membership was the greatest threat to a stable coalition.[16]

The 2009 elections, which followed the Icelandic financial crisis, saw the Progressive Party switch to supporting EU membership but the Independence Party called for a referendum prior to the start of negotiations.[17][18][19] The Social Democratic Alliance made joining the EU a key issue in their campaign.[20]

After the win of the pro-EU Social Democratic Alliance in the 2009 election Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir spoke of an immediate application to the European Union and adoption of the euro within four years as a way to deal with the country's debt.[21]

In late April 2009, it was announced that the United Kingdom, a member state of the European Union with whom Iceland has had a long history of fishing and territorial water disputes, supported Iceland joining the EU.[22]

2009 Parliamentary debate

In early May 2009, it was leaked that the matter of applying for EU membership would likely be left to the parliament, where the Alliance, the Progressive Party and the Citizens' Movement alone already had enough seats to approve the application.[23] Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the leader of the Progressive Party, strongly objected to the idea that his party would aid the government in this matter, however.[24] The anti-EU Left-Green coalition partner accepted that in spring 2010, the minister for foreign affairs would present to the parliament a bill on talks with the EU.[25]

On 10 May 2009, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir announced the government intended to move towards membership more quickly than previously expected. She announced a bill would be introduced before the parliament on 15 May 2009, authorizing the opening of accession talks with the EU. She also stated she was confident the legislation would pass, saying that she had secured a parliamentary majority on the issue, despite the official opposition to talks from one of her coalition partners. She went on to say she expected an official application would be submitted no later than July 2009. This would seem to leave Iceland on course to join the EU along with Croatia in 2011, as predicted by EU Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn. The government has stated the issue will be put to a vote once an accession agreement has been negotiated.[26]

The motion to file an application for membership was officially introduced in parliament on 25 May 2009.[27][28] Voting was to have been held on 13 July, but was postponed until 16 July.[29][30][31] First, a proposal by the Independence Party to hold a referendum on the membership application as well was defeated with 32 to 30 and one abstention, then the Social Democratic Alliance's proposal to apply for membership immediately was approved with 33 to 28 votes and 2 abstentions.[32]

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Political parties' stances towards membership application

Group Party Position Main argument as stated on party websites
Government    Social Democratic Alliance Yes "We want to apply for an EU-membership and start negotiations. We will seek a national unity in this matter and use the national referendum as the highest court."[33]
   Left-Green Movement No "EU-membership would diminish the independence of Iceland even more than the EEA Agreement does and jeopardise Iceland's control over its resources."[34]
Opposition    Independence Party No "The Independence Party holds that Iceland’s interests are best secured by remaining outside of the EU while conducting a close healthy relationship with it based on the contract for the European Economic Area"[35]
   Progressive Party Yes "..if personal and business rights were protected, especially in regard to fishing and agriculture; and if the accession talks were open and democratic."[36]
   Citizens' Movement Yes [37]
No seats in the parliament    Liberal Party No EU stance was decided in a party members' poll in January 2009.[38]


Public opinion

Various polls have been taken on public opinion regarding starting accession negotiations, joining the EU and adopting the euro, thus joining the eurozone.

Date Poller Question Yes No Unsure
August 2005 Capacent-Gallup for The Federation of Icelandic Industries[39] Start negotiations 55% 37% 8%
Join 43% 37% 20%
Adopt Euro 37% 54% 9%
February 2006 Fréttablaðið [40] Join 34% 42% 24%
September 2007 Capacent-Gallup [41] Start negotiations 59% 26% 15%
Join 48% 34% 18%
Adopt Euro 53% 37% 10%
February 2008 Fréttablaðið [42] Join 55.1% 44.9% -
More reasons than last year 54.7% 7.3% 38.1%
24 November 2008 Fréttablaðið [43] Application 60% 40% -
January 2009 [44] Join 38% 38% 24%
[45] Application 40% 60% -
March 2009 [46] Start negotiations 64% 28% 8%
5 May 2009 Capacent Gallup [47] Start negotiations 61% 27% 12%
Join 39% 39% 22%
30 July 2009 Fréttablaðið [48] Start negotiations 51% 36% 13%
4 August 2009 Capacent Gallup [49] Join 34.7% 48.5% 16.9%
15 September 2009 Capacent Gallup [50] Join 32.7% 50.2% 17%
5 November 2009 Bifröst University Research Institute[51][52] Join 29.0% 54% 17%
Start negotiations 50.5% 42.5% 7%

An opinion poll in Iceland published on September 15, 2009 shows a majority of Icelanders oppose EU membership (See the Public opinion chapter).[50] Another poll for the Icelandic news portal Pressan was published on October 24 showed 55 percent of Icelanders in favour of a future monetary policy outside the EU and only 24 percent in favour of adopting the euro by joining the EU.[53]

Application for membership

To become a member a country must first apply, and then the country must be recognised as a candidate country. For that to happen the country must fulfill the first of the Copenhagen criteria: the candidate country must be a politically stable democracy that respects human rights. Then a negotiation will take place which will consider the country's fulfillment of economic criteria, the country's degree of adoption of EU legislation, and whether there shall be any exceptions.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has claimed that negotiations on an accession treaty would take less than a year, because Iceland has already adopted two-thirds of EU legislation[54] in relation to the EEA.[55] He has on other occasions claimed that the negotiations could take up to four years.[56] The EFTA Secretariat in Brussels, however, reported in 2005 that Iceland had adopted approximately 6.5% of EU regulations as a result of signing the EEA agreement.[57]

On 30 January 2009 Rehn commented that Iceland could enter the European Union promptly in 2011 at the same time as Croatia, saying Iceland is an old democracy but also that it should not get special treatment. Fishing quotas and Icelandic whaling are expected to possibly be the toughest questions in negotiations if they take place.[58]

On 16 July 2009 the Althing voted in favour of accession talks with the EU (the vote resulted in 33 votes in favour, 28 against, and 2 MPs abstained).[59] The head of the parliamentary committee on EU affairs, Árni Þór Sigurðsson, has stated that Iceland will not be ready to join the EU any earlier than 2013.[60] However, the government stated it planned to finish negotiations by the end of 2010.[61]

On 17 July 2009 the application for Icelandic membership to the EU was handed over to the government of Sweden, which then held the presidency of the Council of the European Union, by the ambassador of Iceland in Stockholm.[62] The application was handed over again by the Icelandic foreign minister to the Swedish one, through a ceremony in Stockholm on 23 July 2009.[63]

The letter of application was dated on 16 July 2009.[64] The application was acknowledged by the Council of the European Union on 27 July 2009.[65]

Membership process and progress

Sweden, then holder of the EU presidency, announced that it would prioritize Iceland's EU accession process.[66] On July 24, the Lithuanian Parliament unanimously approved and gave full support for Iceland’s membership application to join the European Union.[67] Later on July 27, Malta also announced that it supports Iceland's EU bid.[68]

In September 2009, the Spanish foreign minister visited Iceland to discuss the Icelandic application and the membership progress. Spain is the EU chairman in January-June 2010. On September 8, the EU commission sent a list of 2,500 questions to Iceland about its fulfilment of convergence criteria and adoption of EU law. Iceland returned answers to them on October 22, 2009.[69] On November 2, Iceland selected a chief negotiator for the coming membership negotiations with the EU: Stefan Haukur Johannesson, Iceland's Ambassador in Belgium.

In January 2010 the Icesave dispute became an issue. United Kingdom and Netherlands wants Iceland to pay the cost of bankruptcy for some Icelandic banks. If Iceland doesn't pay, obstacles for membership will be laid by United Kingdom and Netherlands. If Iceland does pay (with borrowed money), it will have a very large debt to pay which also will make it difficult to adopt the euro (because of convergence criteria), a main reason for Iceland to join the EU.

See also

References

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  2. ^ EU ministers put Iceland on road to accession, EUObserver, 27 July 2009
  3. ^ "Iceland only adopting 6,5 percent of EU laws through the EEA agreement". 5 September 2005. http://eunews.blogspot.com/2005/05/iceland-only-adopting-65-percent-of-eu.html. Retrieved 29 November 2008.  
  4. ^ Rettman, Andrew (9 February 2006). Iceland in EU by 2015, prime minister says. EU Observer.
  5. ^ Prime Minister Ásgrímsson as good as alone in his predictions. EU related news from Iceland, February 14, 2006
  6. ^ Slashing the rumours: Iceland is far from adopting the euro. Team. 2 May 2007
  7. ^ Iceland Mulls EU Membership, DW-World, 2007-05-24
  8. ^ Geir: Ég vil ekki ganga í ESB. Mbl.is 2008-05-17 (Icelandic)
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  11. ^ Independence Party to Form New Policy on EU. Iceland Review. 17 November 2008
  12. ^ [Framsókn vill sækja um ESB-aðild með skilyrðum http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2009/01/16/framsokn_vill_saekja_um_esb_2/] Morgunblaðið 16 January 2009
  13. ^ [Ályktun um Evrópumál http://www.xd.is/?action=landsfundur_2009_nanar&id=1007]
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  15. ^ Has Iceland really adopted two-thirds of EU legislation? Euobserver.com 29 July 2009
  16. ^ Johnson, Miles (24 April 2009). Iceland minister warns on EU. Financial Times.
  17. ^ Progressives support Iceland EU entry. Ice News. January 17, 2009
  18. ^ Iceland Progressives vote to back EU accession talks. Forbes. 16 January 2009
  19. ^ Iceland's biggest party wants two EU referendums, EUBusiness, 2009-03-28
  20. ^ Icelandic parties clarify EU positions ahead of snap polls, EUBusiness, 31 March 2009
  21. ^ Totaro, Paola (2009-04-27). "Iceland may join EU after left-wing victory". The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/world/iceland-may-join-eu-after-leftwing-victory-20090426-ajbg.html. Retrieved 2009-04-26.  
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  28. ^ "EU accession bill reaches Iceland parliament | IceNews - Daily News". Icenews.is. 2009-05-26. http://www.icenews.is/index.php/2009/05/26/eu-accession-bill-reached-iceland-parliament/. Retrieved 2009-07-22.  
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  34. ^ "Sjálfstæð utanríkisstefna, félagsleg alþjóðahyggja" (in Icelandic). Left-Green Movement. 2007. http://www.vg.is/stefna/utanrikisstefna. Retrieved 28 November 2008. "Aðild að ESB myndi skerða fullveldi Íslands enn frekar en orðið er með EES-samningnum og tefla í tvísýnu yfirráðum Íslendinga yfir auðlindum sínum."  
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  39. ^ Meirihluti hlynntur aðild að ESB, Samtök iðnaðarins, 01.09.2005 (Icelandic)
  40. ^ Iceland cool on EU membership, EU Observer, 02.22.2006
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  42. ^ Majority of Icelanders Wants to Join EU IcelandReview, 02.26.2008
  43. ^ Minnkandi áhugi á ESB-aðild
  44. ^ http://www.si.is/media/althjodlegt-samstarf/esb-almenningur-panelkonnun-2009-01.pdf
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  47. ^ Mikill meirihluti vill viðræður RÚV, 5.06.2009
  48. ^ Majority for EU application
  49. ^ Most Icelanders opposed to EU membership
  50. ^ a b Fleiri andvígir en hlynntir ESB-aðild
  51. ^ 29% vilja ganga í ESB
  52. ^ Könnun: ESB yrði kolfellt í kosningum
  53. ^ Majority of Icelanders don't want the euro or the EU
  54. ^ Iceland could 'quickly' join the EU if requested: Commissioner
  55. ^ "Iceland’s European Committee in Brussels". Iceland Review. 23 September 2008. http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=21123&ew_0_a_id=312509. Retrieved 29 November 2008.  
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  57. ^ "6,5% af ESB-gerðum tekin inn í EES-samninginn síðasta áratug". Morgunblaðið. 9 May 2005. http://www.mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2005/05/09/6_5_prosent_af_esb_gerdum_tekin_inn_i_ees_samningin/. Retrieved 10 December 2008.  
  58. ^ "EU lupaa Islannille nopean jäsenyyden ilman erikoiskohtelua". Helsingin Sanomat. 30 January 2009. http://www.hs.fi/ulkomaat/artikkeli/EU+lupaa+Islannille+nopean+j%C3%A4senyyden+ilman+erikoiskohtelua/1135243145000. Retrieved 30 January 2009.  
  59. ^ "Iceland's parliament votes in favour of EU talks". Euractiv.com. 17 July 2009. http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/iceland-parliament-votes-favour-eu-talks/article-184202#. Retrieved 17 July 2009.  
  60. ^ "Europe | Iceland moves towards joining EU". BBC News. 2009-07-16. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8153139.stm. Retrieved 2009-07-22.  
  61. ^ "Iceland says ready to complete EU talks by 2011 | EU - European Information on Enlargement & Neighbours". EurActiv.com. 2009-07-16. http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/iceland-ready-complete-eu-talks-2011/article-184242. Retrieved 2009-07-22.  
  62. ^ "Application sent to Stockholm for Iceland to join the EU | IceNews - Daily News". Icenews.is. 2009-07-17. http://www.icenews.is/index.php/2009/07/17/application-sent-to-stockholm-for-iceland-to-join-the-eu/. Retrieved 2009-07-22.  
  63. ^ Iceland submits EU membership bid
  64. ^ The application letter itself
  65. ^ "http://www.consilium.europa.eu/showFocus.aspx?id=1&focusId=393&lang=en". http://www.consilium.europa.eu/showFocus.aspx?id=1&focusId=393&lang=en.  
  66. ^ "Online". IcelandReview. 2005-12-06. http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=16539&ew_0_a_id=325501. Retrieved 2009-07-22.  
  67. ^ The Lithuanian Parliament supports Iceland’s EU Membership | IceNews - Daily News
  68. ^ DI-VE - News Details
  69. ^ Iceland returns EU questions

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