19th Aug 2022

EU wary of diplomatic fallout from Iceland move

  • "We must not lose sight of the need to further stabilise and integrate South East Europe," enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said. (Photo:

The EU has tried to ward off any potential ill feeling in the Balkans after quickly accepting Iceland's accession bid.

EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (27 July) restated their "full support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans" and promised to shortly recognise Albania's application.

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"I hope we will be able in the next few months, and stretching beyond the Swedish presidency, to give a new impetus to the integration process in the Western Balkans," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said.

"We must not lose sight of the need to further stabilise and integrate South East Europe," enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn added.

The remarks came after the EU formally accepted Iceland's request to join the bloc just three days after it was made. Balkan nations such as Montenegro have in the past had to wait up to four months for the green light.

Mr Rehn noted that he was in Podgorice last Thursday promoting EU visa free travel on the same day that Iceland handed over its EU bid in Stockholm.

Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia are set to enjoy visa-free entry into the EU from 1 January 2010.

"I do not happen to have a Montenegrean one, but this is the key to visa free travel in the EU [passport-free] Schengen area," the commissioner said, holding up a Serbian biometric passport at Monday's press event.

EU-Balkan relations are mired in bilateral problems on top of a negative political climate toward enlargement.

Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyanni on Monday said Greece would veto starting accession talks with Macedonia unless the country changed its name, which is also the name of a Greek province.

Slovenia on Friday also blocked the opening of another negotiating chapter in Croatia talks amid an ongoing dispute over maritime borders.

'By the book'

Mr Rehn said that Iceland's EU application will be treated "by the book" but explained that it already observes two-thirds of EU laws as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), a 1994 trade pact.

"It took us a longer time to negotiate membership in the EEA than from that point to negotiate membership in the EU," Sweden's Mr Bildt pointed out.

Iceland's EU entry will not be a walk in the park, however.

Dutch EU ambassador Tom de Bruijn on Monday ruffled feathers by saying Iceland must repay €1.3 billion of debts caused by a 2008 bank collapse before its EU bid goes ahead.

"The Brits [which are owed €2.6 billion] are no longer making this a condition. But the Dutch want their money back," an EU diplomat said.

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.


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.


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.

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