ICELAND HAS begun talks with the European Union concerning its possible accession.
Belgium’s foreign minister and President-in-office of the Council, Steven Vanackere, said that it is “confident that Iceland has the capacity, has the determination and the commitment” to become a member of the European Union.
However he added that serious efforts will be required on Iceland’s part before the country will meet accession criteria – particularly in the areas of fisheries, agriculture, rural development, environment, free movement of capital and financial services.
Issues like whale hunting and the collapse of Icelandic bank Icesave are likely to be the most difficult points of negotiations.
Up until relatively recently, Iceland was a rural nation. Industries like agriculture and fisheries are still closely guarded, local enterprises. However, this does mean that food prices are expensive which is one reason for potential domestic support for EU accession.
From Ireland’s point of view, Iceland’s fishing industry is a significant issue. Irish fishermen particularly depend on mackerel fishing as a source of income but their quota is about half that of Iceland’s (which has a population of just 308,910), which Ireland complains is unfair.
Following failed talks on the issue in early 2010, the Irish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Sean Connick, wrote to the European Commission to complain that Iceland’s fishing habits threaten mackerel stock and encourage the Faroe islands to overfish.
The Icelandic bank Icesaver failed in the wake global financial crisis, resulting in many British and Dutch investors losing their deposits. Reykjavik has been found to be legally responsible for the loss by European trade authority and ordered to pay back €3.8bn, which is – unsurprisingly – extremely unpopular with Icelandic voters.
Iceland has been told that it will not be able to enter the EU without resolving the issue.
The Icelandic whaling industry is also a point of contention. Iceland’s application will not be likely to be accepted unless they stop hunting whales.
Despite Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphédinsson, stating: “Our home is Europe and Iceland’s EU membership will certainly serve our mutual interests,” Icelandic domestic support for the EU bid is failing.
Public opposition to EU accession has risen to about 60% from about 54 % in November 2009, according to the Financial Times.