Faroe Islands seek closer EU relations
EUOBSERVER / TÓRSHAVN – The Faroe Islands are seeking a stronger and more structured relationship with the European Union and membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
"We would like a closer co-operation with the EU – a more structured relationship similar to the one Switzerland has with the EU," said Herluf Sigvaldsson, director of the Faroese government's foreign affairs department.
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He told EUobserver that the Faroese government is having informal talks with the EFTA member states – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Although the talks are only in the initial stages and are expected to take a long time, "the strategy is membership", according to Mr Sigvaldsson.
The Faroe Islands – located between the UK's Shetland Islands and Iceland – is, like Greenland, an autonomous region under the sovereignty of the Danish Kingdom.
When Denmark joined the then European Economic Community in 1973, the Faroe Islands chose to stay outside mainly due to the Common Fisheries Policy. Over 95 percent of the Islands' industry depends on fishing.
Currently, 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. The free trade agreement has some quantitative restrictions though.
In November 2003 the Faroe Islands acceded to the Pan-European System of Cumulation of Origin - in principle a mutual free-trade agreement aimed to be in place by 2010.
The recent push for further foreign and economic relations comes as part of an overall attempt by the government to strengthen Faroese capacity to deal with the challenges of globalisation and climate change.
The business community is also in favour of strengthening ties.
"We would like to have an as close collaboration with the EU as possible," said Jan Mortensen, who represents the islands' businesses as the managing director of the Faroese House of Industry.
Mr Mortensen would also like to see the Islands taking part in the EU's internal market securing them the free movement of capital, people, goods and services within the 27-member union..
But although it would like to move politically closer to the EU, the Faroe Islands remain against full membership of the bloc.
Prime minister Jóannes Eidesgaard told this news-site that the government would be concerned that the 18-island nation, with only 48,000 inhabitants, would disappear in a union of almost 500 million people.