22nd Mar 2023

EU accession debate dominates Iceland election

  • The centre-left and far-left are likely to win Saturday's election (Photo: Johannes Jansson /

The snap general election in Iceland on Saturday (25 April) is set to return the governing minority red-red coalition to power but with a clean majority as voters ditch en masse the free-market and liberalising ideology of the centre-right Independence Party, the governors of the tiny north Atlantic nation for almost two decades and the architects of its economic collapse.

While the issues in the election have been varied, the question of whether to join the European Union has utterly dominated. But it is far from a sure thing that Iceland will apply to join the bloc, as while the leading Social Democrat Alliance are unabashed EU supporters, their coalition partners, the far-left Left Green Movement are steadfast opponents of entry.

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The two parties are neck and neck in the polls. According to a Gallup poll released on the eve of the vote by national daily Morgunbladid and the public broadcaster, RUV, the Social Democrats, on 29 percent, pip their rivals to their left, who are backed by 27.4 percent.

If their support holds up, the two parties will win 19 and 18 seats in the Althingi, the country's parliament, respectively.

The Independence Party is on 23.6 percent and the centrist Progressive Party has 12 percent.

Adding to the left surge, the Citizens' Movement, which grew out of the Busahaldabyltingin, or Kitchenware Revolution, in January that resulted in the resignation of the government, is projected to win 6.5 percent of the vote. This would give the infant party four seats.

The protests took on the name Busahaldabyltingin for the pots and pans used as noise making instruments and the local delicacy, Skyr - a kind of curd, which was thrown at police.

The senior partners in the current caretaker government, the Social Democrats, strongly favour EU access.

On Monday (21 April), the Social Democratic prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, said that the country must apply for membership in the bloc immediately after the elections and that if her party won, they would make such a move their top priority.

"It is important to apply for (EU) membership right away, so that people can see what we can get," she told the Morgunbladid paper.

"I predict that in four years we will have adopted the euro," she added.

Her partners in the Left Green Movement meanwhile argue: "Iceland's economic life is better situation outside of the EU than within it. They believe that the bloc is too pro-free-market and its structures are not sufficiently democratic.

However, the party has left the door open to membership in saying that it would support a referendum on whether to start negotiations on entry with the EU and a second referendum on whether to join.

The people themselves strongly back the idea of opening talks with Brussels, but they equally strongly oppose joining.

A March poll showed that 64.2 percent favour beginning negotiations, but just 39.7 in favour of entering the EU.

A range of commentators and analysts meanwhile have argued that remaining outside the union would result in a second, deeper crash, or kreppa in Icelandic.

At the very least, they have said, if the country does not abandon the krona for the euro, international companies will soon abandon the Icelandic marketplace.

The Left Greens, for their part, favour a sort of currency union with Norway instead.

Nevertheless, despite their disagreement over the EU and the euro, the two parties are almost certain to remain partners, as both have categorically ruled out any coalition with the Independence party.

Eyglo, a middle-aged barmaid in an Irish pub in Keflavik, was typical in her anger at the former ruling party and not afraid that the government is likely to be by some degree the most left-wing in Europe.

"I know these people are very left-wing, but why not give them a chance?" she told EUobserver.

"Do something for the poor people. The others did everything for the rich. They did nothing good."

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