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25th Aug 2019

Icelandic minister wants to finish EU talks in two months

  • From a demonstration around the referendum on the Icesave-law in March (Photo: Ane Cecilie Blichfeldt /norden.org)

Iceland officially started face-to-face negotiations with officials of the European Commission on Monday (15 November), but the country's justice minister is already calling for the talks to be concluded swiftly in two months followed by a snap referendum to bring closure to the issue.

Normally, simultaneously to talks, accession candidate countries steadily adjust their legislation to ensure they are in line with EU law.

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However, on Saturday, justice minister Ogmundur Jonasson, of the Left Green Movement, the hard-left coalition partner of the governing Social Democrats, said in an article in Icelandic daily Morgunbladid that he wants the two sides to sit down for what he called "real negotiations" and reach an offer they can give to the Icelandic people to consider in a referendum.

Only after a Yes vote, should the country then begin to adjust its laws, and not during the negotiation process itself, he said.

If talks were stripped down to this, rather than the lengthy time it takes to change domestic laws, the negotiations could be concluded in two months, he said.

"Why not skip the process of adjustment and just conclude our discussions? Finish them in two months and vote for the final product? This is possible."

"The long-term adjustment process ... was formulated as a consultation process with eastern European countries, which had to completely transformed their infrastructure, while we have adapted ourselves to the EU internal market."

Describing how the EU bid "fits into the dreams of the old colonial powers powers of Europe," he asked in the article: "Is this democracy? Tough questions arise. What are 300,000 people [the population of Iceland is 320,000] against the empire with a thick wallet?"

On Monday, the "screening process" of Iceland officially started in Brussels, in which experts from Iceland and the European Commission meet to discuss, chapter by chapter, legislation in Iceland with the aim of defining outstanding issues.

Subsequently, Iceland and the EU will formulate their negotiating positions and then actual negotiations on individual chapters will subsequently commence.

The commission however rejected the justice minister's suggestion for a fast-track process.

"Our general rules are very clear, and are the same for all candidates," enlargement spokeswoman Angela Filota told EUobserver: There is no short-cut and no fast-track negotiations. Each country joins when it is 100 percent ready."

Despite the bitterness of some of the discourse, in more positive news for the north Atlantic nation's EU application, last week, UK secretary of state for defence, Liam Fox, described the use of anti-terrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in the wake of its economic collapse by the previous government as "brutish" and should never happen again.

Reykjavik has been locked in a dispute with the UK and the Netherlands over compensation by the two EU governments to domestic savers with collapsed Icelandic online bank Icesave. Last June, Iceland reached an agreement with London and the Hague to pay them back €3.8 billion they used to compensate British and Dutch savers who lost money in October 2008 when their accounts with the online savings account Icesave were frozen, following the collapse of the parent company Landsbanki.

However, due to the onerous terms of repayment, which by some estimates would have required every Icelandic household having to contribute around €45,000, citizens later rejected the agreement in a referendum.

Mr Fox's comments were seen by Reykjavik as a signal of a thawing in the Icesave dispute.

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