20th Mar 2018

Icelandic minister criticises 'Kafka-esque' EU talks

  • A castle in the Czech Republic. Kafka's novel 'The Castle' speaks of a shadowy elite that governs people in mystifying ways (Photo: Florin Draghici)

Iceland's justice minister, who last weekend called for stripped-down accession negotiations with Brussels that could be completed in just two months, has stepped up his criticisms, calling into question the need to make "Kafka-esque bureaucratic" changes to national law if the people are likely to ultimately reject joining the bloc in a referendum.

"Brussels has to understand that we have had a massive economic crash, and yet such changes are obviously an enormous burden of bureaucratic work that would cost a lot of money and energy," the minister, Ogmundur Jonasson, told EUobserver.

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"So it is a waste of time to go ahead with this if in the end we do not get a deal that is acceptable to Iceland and is then rejected by the people."

Mr Jonasson, who hails from the Left Green Movement coalition partners of the governing Social Democrats, wants talks to proceed in the same way that the ultimately failed negotiations did with Norway.

In an opinion piece in Icelandic daily Morgunbladid last Saturday, he wrote 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.

"In the early 1990s, Norway's negotiations with Brussels on EU accession were conducted on exactly the same basis as I am suggesting now," he clarified to this website. "That is to say, we negotiate over certain key, fundamental issues - in our case, fisheries, farming and some others - which we can then refer to our people, and put the question to the people before having to reform the sectors to be in alignment with the EU."

He explained that this approach was no longer allowed: "But for some reason around the turn of the century, eastern European nations negotiated access under a completely different structure, a structure that is now being applied to us."

"But we have been members of the European Economic Area since the 1990s. I don't understand how it should be different for us than it was with Norway."

"When they say that we have to accept 100 percent EU law, that we have to be 100 percent ready beforehand, this is so inflexible, this is beyond my understanding," he continued.

"Why can't we get these issues out into the open before setting to work on these Kafka-esque bureaucratic changes? Why on earth can Brussels not reconsider this?"

However, EU enlargement spokeswoman Angela Filota, responding to the minister's complaints, told EUobserver that neither Iceland nor any other country can be treated in the same way as Norway was two decades ago, as a result of changes made to accession rules as a result of issues resulting from eastern European negotiations.

"There was a renewed consensus in 2006 as the basis for all new negotiations. It would be very difficult to depart from this agreed consensus," she said.

She said that talks also begin on the basis of a negotiated framework that Iceland has already agreed to.

"It's basically a set of rules on how the negotiations are to be conducted, between the member states and the country concerned. And Iceland agreed to this framework. They can't go back on it now."

"In some [negotiating] chapters, there has to be a good track record of matching EU law if you haven't implemented anything. But actually in the Icelandic case, this is largely theoretical, because of course there is a track record because has implemented most EU law already."

She said that the discussions "are actually quite likely to go faster for Iceland than other candidate countries,"

An EU source close to the talks said: "I think he's just worrying unnecessarily over this. We really don't expect any excruciating, long drawn-out negotiations at all."

"I mean, there will certainly be a couple of rough spots eventually, but it's been very positive so far compared to any other countries," the source continued.

But a stripped-down, two-month process, as hoped for by the minister, is not on the cards.

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