Thursday

21st Nov 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join 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.

Exclusive

France unveils new model EU enlargement

Western Balkan countries should become EU members via a new, step-by-step process, France has said in a detailed proposal seen by EUobserver.

News in Brief

  1. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  2. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  3. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  4. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  5. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  6. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  7. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'
  8. Luxembourg: EU ought to recognise Palestine

Opinion

EU report recognises Albania's achievements

Albania currently faces a serious crisis, which it would be foolish for all actors in the international community to ignore. Yet we must ask that our partners in Europe read Federica Mogherini's report carefully and recognise accomplishments.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  2. New EU financial instruments needed
  3. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  4. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  5. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  6. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  7. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president
  8. Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us