21st Aug 2017


Does Iceland want to join the EU?

  • The signposts do not suggest Iceland will join the EU any time soon (Photo: Silje Bergum Kinsten/

There were no celebrations in the streets of Reykjavík or elsewhere in Iceland when the European Commission announced on 24 February that it would recommend membership negotiations with the country. This really shouldn't come as a surprise in the light of the fact that Icelanders don't want to join the EU and probably never have.

According to the most recent public opinion poll in Iceland by Capacent, 56 percent are opposed to EU membership, up six percent since last September, while just 33 percent are in favour. Furthermore, the September poll showed a majority displeased with the government's EU application delivered last summer.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The EU application was merely the result of a horse trading between the two parties forming the current government one of which, the Left Green Movement, is itself thoroughly eurosceptic. The senior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Alliance, is the only political party in Iceland that favours EU membership. In the polls, the Social Democrats have been losing a great deal of support and according to the latest survey it is now the third most popular party in Iceland compared with being the most popular in the general elections in April last year. At the same time, the conservative Independence Party, which rejects EU membership, has regained its former position as the top party.

In Iceland, the EU application has been nicknamed "bjölluat", the Icelandic name for the children's game where a door bell is rung with no one there when the door is answered.

Even the Icelandic business community has now turned strongly against EU membership, according to a recent poll with 60 percent saying Iceland's economy is better placed outside the EU and only a third of the opposite opinion.

Those who favour EU membership in Iceland have pointed to the alledged support of Icelandic businesses in recent months when faced with growing public opposition, but now they do not even have that straw to grasp.

A former newspaper editor in Iceland and a supporter of EU membership, Jónas Kristjánsson, recently explained this situation quite well on his website: "No Icelandic journalist was at the meeting when the European Union accepted negotiations on Iceland's membership. This says much about Icelander's interest in joining."

"For the first time, there is no celebration when membership negotiations with a country are accepted. Our interest in joining has been little for a long time and has decreased rapidly during the Icesave dispute. The membership application was just a formality in order to form a government. Since then, the journey has only been on behalf of the Social Democratic Alliance and the foreign ministry [run by the social democrats]. The general public is not participating in this strange fake-journey and will reject membership."

Mr Kristjánsson is far from being the only prominent supporter of EU membership in Iceland who has publicly criticised the government for putting forward the application under all the wrong circumstances and predicted that membership will be rejected. There has been an obvious and growing pessimism and worries among those who favour joining the EU and the Social Democratic Alliance is becoming increasingly isolated on the issue.

Another devoted EU enthusiaist in Iceland, academic Eiríkur Bergmann Einarsson, expressed his concerns over the lack of support for EU membership recently in an interview with an Icelandic newspaper, warning there was absolutely no sense for Brussels to start expensive negotiations with a country which had no serious intentions to actually join the EU. On a previous occasion last autumn Einarsson said at a conference in Reykjavík that in his opinion, Iceland would not become a member of the EU in the forseeable future.

The Icelandic government, or the part of it that favours EU membership, has naturally tried to put on a brave face and convince Brussels that eventually the public opinion will turn around. Especially when the so-called Icesave dispute with the British and Dutch governments has been solved, if it is solved. But the reality is, as Mr Kristjánsson explains, that Icelanders have in fact never been interested in joining the EU. There has always been heavy opposition to membership and additional debate on the issue has tended only to increase this opposition.

The Icesave dispute was not the main cause of increased opposition to EU membership, but it certainly has not made things any easier for EU boosters.

Hjortur J. Gudmundsson is director of Civis, an Icelandic free-market think-tank.

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Young Poles can halt Kaczynski’s illiberal march

Debates are ongoing on whether president Duda vetoing two out of three bills on judicial reform should be seen as the opposition's success. But the protests brought about another, much less disputed success.

Setting course for strong and focused EU

From strengthening the internal market to completing the energy union, the prime ministers of Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland set out their vision for the EU.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  2. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  3. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  4. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week
  5. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  6. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  7. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  8. European Union returns to 2 percent growth

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  4. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  6. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  7. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  8. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  10. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  11. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead