23rd Jan 2020

Iceland's EU bid causes division in Germany

Centre-right politicians from Germany's Christian Social Union (CSU) have spoken out against Iceland's bid to join the European Union.

"The EU cannot play saviour to Iceland's economic crisis," Markus Ferber, head of the CSU's members of the European parliament, told Suedduetsche newspaper over the weekend.

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"We should discuss the structure of the EU before we discuss expanding it," said Alexander Dobrindt, General Secretary of the CSU, which is the smaller sister party to German chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

The newspaper reports that the manifesto for both parties for the 27 September general election will indirectly oppose further EU enlargement, with the exception of Croatia.

The comments came as Iceland's parliament on Thursday narrowly agreed to make a bid for EU membership, a move that was immediately welcomed by the European Commission.

Enlargement has long been a sensitive issue among centre-right politicians in Germany, who are particularly opposed to Turkey joining the bloc.

The rhetoric increased in the run-up to the last month's European elections and is continuing ahead of September's vote.

The election campaigning also comes at a sensitive time in German-EU relations following a wide-reaching court verdict outlining relations between the country and the 27-nation bloc.

One of the consequences of the verdict will be a strengthened law on parliamentary oversight of EU integration beyond the Lisbon Treaty.

The CSU, which is angling to get the law to give German MPs a say over all of Berlin's negotiations in Brussels, also wants the legislation to state that further enlargement should only be approved by referendum.

The issue is one of several differences between the CSU and the governing CDU. German commentators suggest the CSU is testing to see if euroscepticism, until now almost a taboo in the country, is a vote winner.

Iceland's EU bid

Iceland's bid has also served to highlight how slowly progress towards the EU is for Western Balkan countries and Turkey.

Having taken on most of EU legislation through being a member of the European Economic Area and the bloc's borderless zone, actual negotiations with Iceland are expected to be rapid, except in the sensitive area of fishing rights.

However, Berlin and Paris have both made clear that there should be no further enlargement of the EU until its new rules, the Lisbon Treaty, are in force - ratification has yet to be completed in four countries.

It is also unclear whether the EU as a whole would accept that Iceland joins before Croatia, whose bid has been stalled due to a border dispute with Slovenia. Zagreb had been hoping to join in 2011, a date that now looks unlikely.

But even if negotiations with Reykjavik proceed quickly, Icelanders themselves will have the final say over EU membership in a referendum.

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