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24th Feb 2018

Iceland 'unwilling to share fishing resources' in EU

  • Fishing rights are set to dominate Iceland's EU negotiations (Photo: EUobserver)

Iceland is hoping to become a member of the EU within three years but will not give up its fishing resources as part of a deal, its foreign minister Ossur Skarpheoinsson said Thursday (23 July) after handing in the country's formal membership application.

Mr Skarpheoinsson, himself a former fisherman, said that fisheries would be the toughest area of negotiation with Brussels as the sparsely populated island "has its sustenance mainly from fisheries."

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He pointed out that Iceland could teach the EU how to manage fishing resources noting that of the two cods stocks in the world that are on the increase, one is in Iceland.

The EU's 26 year old Common Fisheries Policy, maligned by environmentalists for being unsustainable, sees EU waters as a shared resources open to any member state and managed by quotas.

But the policy has decimated resources and each year results in millions of tonnes of fish thrown back into the sea on quota grounds - failures acknowledged in a damning paper by the EU fisheries commissioner earlier this year ahead of a planned 2012 overhaul of the policy.

Mr Skarpheoinsson said that Icelanders, for whom the issue is "emotional" and not just about economics, would be "quite angry" if they got a "rotten deal" on fish.

The minister noted that while there is an increasing tendency to think that sovereignty can only be protected if it is shared "that does not mean that (...) I am willing to share my fishing resources with anyone else."

But he said he trusted the ingenuity of the EU to "adapt existing rules without making lasting exemptions" noting that Iceland was particularly in favour of devolving decisions on fishing to the local level.

In marked contrast to more diffident applicant countries such as those from the Western Balkans, Iceland is keen to point out what its membership can bring to the EU, such as "experience and knowledge" in managing natural resources and using renewable energy.

Some 80 percent of the country's energy needs are met by renewable resources.

Membership in 2012

As a member of the EU's borderless Schengen area and the European Economic Area, Iceland has already taken on around 75 percent of the bloc's body of law, with Reykjavík hoping to wrap negotiations up by 2012.

"I very much hope that within three years, Iceland will be a new member of the European Union," said Mr Skarpheoinsson.

Aside from the contentious issues of fisheries and agriculture, Iceland also has to bring its laws into line with EU law on budgetary, institutional, research and education and foreign and security issues amongst other areas.

Welcoming the application, Carl Bildt, foreign minister of Sweden, currently in charge of the EU, said the mood in the bloc towards Iceland's application is "positive." But he stressed that the bloc's new institutional rules, the Lisbon Treaty, have to be approved first.

EU foreign ministers, meeting Monday (27 July) are set to formally accept the application and send it for review by the European Commission, which will assess the steps needed for it to become an EU member.

On the basis of the commission's study, member states then decide when to open formal membership negotiations with Reykjavík.

However, final say on membership will rest with Icelanders themselves who will vote on the issue at the end of the process in a referendum. Fishermen and farmers are among the biggest opponents to EU membership, with parliament only narrowly agreeing last week to start the process with Brussels.

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