Friday

19th Aug 2022

Iceland closer to joining EU after left-wing victory

Icelandic voters punished the centre-right party that had governed the country for most of the last 18 years and dominated it for generations, delivering a clear majority in a snap general election to the centre-left Social Democrats and far-left and ecologist Left Green Movement.

But in a twist on expectations, voters also sent to the Althingi, the Icelandic parliament, a majority of deputies in favour of an immediate application for membership in the European Union.

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

On an 85 percent turnout, the governing caretaker coalition of the two left-wing parties won 34 seats in the 63-seat legislature.

The Social Democrats saw a minor last-minute surge, winning 30 percent of the vote, or 20 seats - slightly higher than polls on Friday had predicted, while their partners to their left won 21.5 percent of the vote, or 14 seats, substantially less than the 27.4 percent they had predicted to win.

The centre-right Independence Party, viewed by voters as the architects of the country's economic collapse, saw its support drop to 23 percent, delivering just 16 seats, the lowest result in its history.

"The people of Iceland are settling the score with the past, with the neo-liberalism that has been in power here for too long," said the Social Democratic prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir after the vote, adding: "There is a demand for a change of values."

Symbolising the shift, the last prime minister, Geir Haarde, drummed out of his job by the self-styled Busahaldabyltingin, or Kitchenware Revolution, in January, was a former central bank economist, while the new prime minister had been an air stewardess and her finance minister and leader of the Left Greens, Steingrimur Sigfusson, a lorry driver.

The two left parties have reportedly enjoyed a good working relationship but are on opposite sides of the question of whether to apply for EU membership.

The Social Democrats believe the crisis, or kreppa, has taught them that their small economy will only be battered again and again if they do not seek the shelter of the 27-country bloc.

Ms Sigurdardottir has said she wants to begin the application process "within weeks" of the election.

The Left Greens, for their part, say the EU is too undemocratic and "neo-liberal", the very ideology, they say, that caused the crisis in the first place. They also fear loss of control over the country's natural resources.

The Independence party meanwhile has traditionally opposed EU membership as well, but analysts believe that this uncompromising stance has lost it the support of sections of the business community who agree with the new prime minister that there is no alternative to beginning negotiations with Brussels.

The EU itself has said that it would be happy to see the north Atlantic nation apply. The application would proceed rapidly, as the country already applies some 75 percent of EU legislation through its existing membership in The European Economic Area (EEA) along with Liechtenstein and Norway.

Tough bargaining over Iceland's pristine fisheries is expected to be a major point of division - with 2011 expected to be the earliest possible date of admission.

Ahead of the elections, analysts puzzled over how such a major split at the heart of the governing coalition could be resolved.

However, taking into account the minor parties, the final seat tally shows a strong majority in favour of the EU.

The centrist Progressive Party, which recently changed its position and now backs applying for EU membership, won nine seats, and the Citizens' Movement, which grew out of the protests that led to the government resigning and also supports such a move, won four, giving the pro-EU fraction in the parliament a total of 33 seats.

The current coalition is unlikely to break up over the issue, but the Social Democrats have been given a clear mandate for negotiations.

Indeed, after the vote, the Left Green leader hinted that his party would be open to the launch of accession talks in order to maintain their relations with the Social Democrats.

The two parties however both back returning to the voters with a referendum on the issue ahead of any formal application.

Slovakia's government stares into the abyss

When a pro-western coalition swept to power in Slovak elections in 2020, many saw it as the start of a new era. Yet fast forward two-and-a-half years, and the four-party coalition is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Draghi's grip on power finally unravels

Italy looked set to lose its highly-respected prime minister Mario Draghi on Thursday, after his attempt to relaunch his grand coalition government ended with right-wing parties joining the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) in deserting him.

Italy back in chaos, as Draghi quits over 5-Star snub

Italy was plunged into fresh political turmoil on Thursday as prime minister Mario Draghi announced his resignation after a key ally within his grand coalition government boycotted a parliamentary vote.

MEP accused of 'disrespecting' female moderator

Some 100 representatives of civil society organisations, including Transparency International EU and Oxfam, accuse German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer of disrespecting a moderator because she was a woman of colour and want him reprimanded.

Column

Albania's post-communist dream has lessons for Ukraine

Comparisons between post-communist Albania and current-day Ukraine are fascinating — and make many pertinent parallels. Ukrainians have a similar determination to belong to "the rest of Europe" as Albanians.

Opinion

Finally, the victims of Utøya got a memorial

A legal battle between locals on the one hand and the state and the labour youth organisation on the other side postponed the inception of the memorial in remembrance of the victims of Anders Behring Breivik.

News in Brief

  1. China joins Russian military exercises in Vostok
  2. Ukraine nuclear plant damage would be 'suicide', says UN chief
  3. Denmark to invest €5.5bn in new warships
  4. German economy stagnates, finance ministry says
  5. Syria received stolen grain, says Ukraine envoy
  6. Truss still leads in next UK PM polling
  7. UN chief meets Zelensky and Erdogan over grain exports
  8. Fighting stalls ahead of UN visit, Ukraine says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Latest News

  1. European inflation hits 25-year high, driven by energy spike
  2. No breakthrough in EU-hosted Kosovo/Serbia talks
  3. Letter to the Editor: Rosatom responds on Zaporizhzhia
  4. Could the central Asian 'stan' states turn away from Moscow?
  5. Serbia expects difficult talks with Kosovo at EU meeting
  6. How scary is threat to Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant?
  7. Slovakia's government stares into the abyss
  8. Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us