Thursday

1st Dec 2022

Opinion

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

  • Iceland's 'candidate' status to join the EU lapsed in 2015 - it is not likely to be revived under new Left-Green prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir (Photo: Seppo Samuli/norden.org)

We have a new coalition government in Iceland.

Unlike the previous one it contains no political parties calling for membership of the European Union.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The coalition is historic, as it joins together the conservative Independence Party and the socialist Left Green Movement along with the centrist Progressive Party. A coalition between the Independence Party and the party furthest to the left in Iceland's parliament has not been formed since 1944.

It is also historic as this is the first time the prime minister comes from the parliament's most leftist party.

The general elections on 28 October saw a record number of eight parties entering the parliament. Only two of them, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Restoration Party, support EU membership while one, the Pirates, favours a referendum on whether to apply to join the bloc or not, but does not have an official policy for or against doing so.

Only 11 pro-EU MPs

Together the pro-EU parties now have 11 MPs out of the total of 63 - but had 14 before the elections. Even if those parties are joined with the Pirates their combined number of MPs is now 17, compared to the previous 25.

Meanwhile at least two-thirds of the MPs oppose EU membership. Unsurprisingly after the elections, when the parties elected were attempting to form a new coalition, the leaders of both the Social Democratic Alliance and the Restoration Party declared their parties would not make steps towards EU membership a condition for entering a new coalition.

The results of the general election and the reaction of the two pro-EU party leaders do not come as a surprise either, considering that for more than eight years every single opinion poll published in Iceland has had a solid majority against joining the EU.

The most recent one, produced in October by Gallup for the pro-EU camp, had 59.8 percent against EU membership. The poll also saw a rejection of fresh accession talks with the EU - which pro-EU politicians often claim can be launched without any commitments only to see what Brussels has to offer.

The leadership of Iceland's pro-EU camp has never actually dared to promote the EU as it is.

Instead they have for many years claimed that nobody can really form an opinion on whether to join the EU or not in the absence of an accession treaty.

Which naturally has made regular opinion polls produced for the pro-EU camp on that precise question rather peculiar. Of course they are aware of the fact that by 'joining the EU' countries 'get the EU', but they also know that admitting that would probably result in even more opposition to EU membership.

Post-austerity path away from EU

The then leftist government of Iceland applied for EU membership in 2009 after the international financial crisis hit the country.

Icelandic politicians calling for EU membership saw the crisis and the consequent despair of many of the voters as an opportunity to get Iceland into the EU.

This was, however, doomed from the start as both people favouring and opposing EU membership warned right from the beginning. The application stalled before the leftist government was eventually voted out, and in 2015 Iceland ceased to be an EU candidate country.

The policy of the new government when it comes to the EU is that the interests of Iceland are best served by remaining outside the bloc. Evidently this government will most certainly not take any steps towards joining the EU.

While the government maintains the policy of its predecessors, that the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement is the foundation of Iceland's relations with the EU, there is a growing debate in the country - as in Norway - whether membership of the agreement, which puts increasing pressure on Iceland's sovereignty, serves the interests of the Icelandic people.

We have probably never been further away from joining the EU than today.

Not just because of the new government but as there has arguably never been less public and political support for taking that step.

Meanwhile the EU is set to develop in even more repellent directions to most Icelanders in the coming years, towards more integration, centralisation and erosion of national sovereignty and democracy, and taking on more characteristics of a single state.

The results of our last elections is an embodiment of our determination to hold onto our sovereignty.

Hjortur J. Gudmundsson is a historian in Reykjavík, Iceland

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

In Iceland: Europe woos Arctic allies

The EU is requesting a status of observer at the Arctic Council, a regional forum in which Asian countries are already active.

A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan

Tokayev received congratulations on his election victory from presidents Xi, Putin, Erdogan, and Lukashenko. However, the phone in the Akorda, Kazakhstan's presidential palace, did not ring with congratulatory calls from Berlin, Paris, London, or Washington.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  2. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  3. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  4. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  5. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  6. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  7. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  8. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us