24th Oct 2016

Fish keep Faroe Islands at a distance from EU

The Faroe Islands will only consider EU membership if both Norway and Iceland join the bloc, says the prime minister of the small north Atlantic country.

On a two-day visit to Brussels Joannes Eidesgaard said that the Faroe Islands – an autonomous region under the sovereignty of the Danish Kingdom like Greenland – would not join the bloc for the same reason as back in 1973 when they refused to follow Denmark into EU membership.

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"The reason back then was that we could not live with the Common Fisheries Policy because ... if we lose our fish we have nothing left. It is the same reason today," Mr Eidesgaard told EUobserver.

The Faroese economy depends strongly on its fishing industry which represents more than 95 percent of its exports and accounts for almost half of the GDP of the country with a population of 48,000.

"If Iceland and Norway join the EU, then I think the Faroe Islands might join as well," Mr Eidesgaard said, adding that it would be worse for the islands if they were left isolated while their two biggest competitors were in the union. "But right now, there are no signs that they will become members of the EU," he noted.

The prime minister also expressed his country's interest in joining the European Free Trade Organisation (EFTA), consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

EFTA membership

"I want the goal of EFTA membership to become more important now," he said and added that as a member the Faroe Islands would need exemptions from areas managed by Denmark such as foreign policy.

The the Faroe Islands are already in negotiations with Iceland on a trade agreement which will make the two countries' markets into one.

"The EU is our most important collaboration partner - nearly all of the Faroese export goes to the EU," Mr Eidesgaard said. "It is very important for us to have good relations with the EU," he added.

The future status of the Faroe Islands with respect to Denmark has dominated the political agenda in the capital of Torshavn in recent years but the current government coalition, with its socialist leader, is also working on strengthening international relations.

Formalising EU ties

"At the moment we are working on getting a really good foundation with the EU to formalise a relationship between the EU and the Faroe Islands," the prime minister said.

During his Brussels visit he met education commissioner Jan Figel and fisheries commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

Mr Eidesgaard spoke with Mr Figel about the Faroe Islands joining the European lifelong learning programme, aimed at encouraging mobility and promoting cooperation between schools and universities across the EU, EFTA and the five candidate countries.

The EU's official relationship with the Faroe Islands is regulated by two bilateral agreements – a bilateral fisheries agreement from 1977 and a free trade agreement from 1991, last revised in 1998.

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