Friday

16th Apr 2021

Iceland: EU membership depends on fishery 'superpowers'

  • Spain and France are Europe's largest fishing powers (Photo: Ross Thomson)

European fishery "superpowers" such as Spain hold the key to Iceland's membership of the European Union, Iceland's foreign minister has said.

Ossur Skarphedinsson made the comments in Brussels on Monday (27 June), where the formal opening of EU accession talks saw four negotiation 'chapters' opened and two closed immediately, a first in EU integration history. In total, there are 33 chapters which have to be negotiated.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"It will all rest with the Spaniards," Skarphedinsson told journalists after an intergovernmental conference (IGC), acknowledging that Icelanders themselves were not yet ready to commit to EU membership.

"They want to see the outcome of the negotiations. There is especially one thing that weighs on their minds, which is related to the psyche of the nation, and that is fisheries."

Iceland applied to join the 27-member bloc in 2009, amid a surge of EU enthusiasm following the island nation's banking sector meltdown a year earlier.

But concerns over sovereignty losses, especially in the fisheries sector, and a skirmish with the UK and the Netherlands over the collapse of the online Icesave savings account have since seen support plummet to between between 30 and 40 percent.

Despite these challenges, Skarphedinsson said he was confident that Iceland would join the Union in the coming years, his optimism partially based on the flexibility shown by the EU during accession negotiations with Norway in the 1990s. Despite an agreement on fisheries, Norwegians ultimately rejected EU membership in a referendum in 1994 however.

EU member states share fishing waters under the bloc's common fisheries policy (CFP), with total allowable catches (TACS) for different species and national quotas agreed during late-night carve-ups between ministers in Brussels each December.

The system doesn't satisfy everyone. Irish fishermen, for example, grumble that access to the country's substantial fish stocks was quietly negotiated away during accession talks in the 1970s by a government far more concerned with agriculture.

Reykjavik however has its gaze firmly fixed on the fisheries portfolio. "This is the first time that the EU is negotiating with a country that comes to the table with fisheries as the big, vital, special needs [issue]," said Skarphedinsson.

Progress on Monday saw all sides support an intensification of talks, facilitated by Iceland's membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Schengen visa-free zone.

Negotiators have already closed the science/research and education/culture chapters, although they could potentially be reopened if the EU deemed necessary.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said roughly one third of the chapters were "linked" to the EEA, with another third "partially linked".

"With that kind of alignment ... one would expect a fast process forward," he said.

Iceland wants half the remaining accession chapters opened under the incoming Polish EU presidency, and the other half under the following Danish EU presidency.

Monday's IGC took place after an eight-month 'screening' process, during which the EU learnt a lot about Iceland, said Fuele.

He added that the EU could learn lessons from Iceland's "sustainable [fisheries] policy", with the commission set to come forward with proposals to reform the much-criticised CFP this July.

As well as the wider fisheries question, the two sides will also need to resolve an shorter-term row over mackerel quotas, with warmer sea temperatures pushing European stocks of the fish species increasingly northwards in recent years.

Opinion

The unwanted EU application

The Icelandic government’s EU application is, and has been from the start, a total waste of resources for both the EU itself and Iceland, writes Icelandic MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir.

Opinion

Joint responsiblities in mackerel fishing

Recognition of the changed migration pattern of the mackerel stock in the Northeast-Atlantic should be taken into account as Iceland, the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands discuss mackerel catches for this year, writes Iceland's Fisheries Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon

Feature

EU subsidies fuel Spain’s ravenous fleet

Decades of overfishing have left Europe’s fish stocks in peril and its fishermen in poverty. It’s an impasse paid for by EU taxpayers. Yet a proposed revision of the EU’s fishing law, hailed as sweeping reform, is rapidly losing momentum.

Interview

Does North Macedonia really exist?

Its language and history give North Macedonia its identity for president Stevo Pendarovski, but, for Bulgaria, neither of them are real, in a dispute holding up EU enlargement.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Opinion

Montenegro's membership can inspire the European Dream

Today (15 December) I come to Brussels with a simple purpose: to present the credentials of my country, Montenegro, to become the next member state of the European Union, writes prime minister Zdravko Krivokapic.

Interview

Does North Macedonia really exist?

Its language and history give North Macedonia its identity for president Stevo Pendarovski, but, for Bulgaria, neither of them are real, in a dispute holding up EU enlargement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us