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2nd Mar 2024

Iceland leader snubs EU membership

  • According to polls, 25 percent of Icelanders support EU accession. (Photo: smcgee)

Iceland’s bid to join the EU has come to an end, Iceland’s centre-right independence party leader Bjarni Benediktsson has said.

The eurosceptic politician made the statement in an interview with Icelandic news outlet mbl.is on Tuesday (21 May).

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The 43-year old Benediktsson is in discussion to shape a new government with the centrist progressive party, following elections on 27 April. The progressives also oppose joining the EU.

Benediktsson’s party won 26.5 percent of the vote, giving it 19 seats in the 63-seat parliament. The progressives obtained 24.4 percent and 19 seats. The ruling social democrats won 13.5 percent of the votes and nine seats.

It is not the first time that the independence party has a role at the government helm.

The party was involved in every government between 1991 and 2009.

While in power, the centre-right party pushed to privatise the banks and liberalise the financial sector.

It was in office when Iceland’s commercial banks collapsed in 2008, leaving the country with massive debts. The bank liabilities were worth around 10 times more than its GDP.

The independence party was replaced by the social democrats who applied for EU membership in July 2009. The social democrats also asked for a $2 billion loan in 2009 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help cover debts.

Formal EU entry negotiations started a year later.

Since then, it has closed about a third of the 33 negotiation chapters in the EU's body of legislation, known as the acquis communautaire.

The outgoing social democrats had argued that joining the EU would provide long-term security. But the April election is viewed as a vote against EU membership with only 25 percent of Icelanders supporting EU accession, according to polls.

Iceland already enjoys a high degree of integration with the EU. It participates in the single market and applies a number of EU laws.

It is a member of the border free Schengen area, the European economic area, the European free trade association, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

It has also been a member of the European free trade association since 1972.

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