Monday

18th Feb 2019

Opinion

EU membership? No thank you!

  • "An application for EU membership should never have been made" (Photo: EUobserver)

European politicians and journalists visiting Iceland in recent months have been quite astonished to experience first hand how little interest Icelandic MPs and Icelanders in general have in joining the European Union.

So astonished in fact that Icelandic lawmakers have repeatedly been asked if the EU application delivered by the Icelandic government in 2009 is really serious. Well, quite frankly it isn't. It is a door bell prank. No one really is there when the bell rings and the door is opened.

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There is a reason why Iceland has never before applied to join the EU. There has always been a strong opposition to membership in the country. The necessary support among the Icelandic people has in fact never been there and the present government was and is well aware of that.

Still the EU was deliberately told differently. And now the EU is waking up to a bad dream and realising that Icelanders quite simply don't want to join the EU and never have. That the EU application is in fact a lame duck.

Since last summer repeated opinion polls have shown more people against joining the EU than ever before. According to the latest one 60 percent of Icelanders want the EU application scrapped with only 26 percent wanting to carry on with it. Another recent poll showed that 70 percent would reject joining the EU in a referendum and yet another one that 58 percent don't trust the Icelandic government to defend Iceland's interests in talks with the EU. Finally the business community opposes membership.

There are a number of reasons why Icelanders don't wish to join the EU. First of all it is the self-determination, the independence. Icelanders believe and for a very good reason that by joining the EU their independence would be no more. As a token of this, people in Iceland felt insulted when the European Council decided on 17 June to recommend accession talks with Iceland. On that date Icelanders celebrate that Iceland became an independent republic a little more than 60 years ago.

Another important issue is fishing rights. Icelanders will never be willing to accept that any authority over Icelandic waters will be transferred to the EU. That means that the Lisbon Treaty could never have any authority over Icelandic fishing grounds whatsoever.

Agriculture is also very important to Icelanders when it comes to EU relations as polls have shown. The same goes for the right to conclude agreements with other countries on issues like free trade and shared fish stocks.

The Icelandic foreign minister has been active in feeding leading people in the EU with wrong information about the true situation in Iceland. He gave a speech in Brussels on the day accession talks between Iceland and the EU were formally launched in which he claimed that his government was united behind the EU application. On the same day the farm and fisheries minister told Icelandic media that the accession process should be stopped.

There is only one political party in Iceland which supports EU membership and that is the foreign minister's own governing Social Democratic Alliance. The EU application was merely the fruit of bargaining between the social democrats and their junior coalition partner, the eurosceptic Left Green Movement, when forming a government in the spring of 2009. Since then, opposition to the EU deal with the social democrats has been increasing fast within the ranks of the Left Greens.

In addition, this summer Iceland's largest political party, the conservative Independence Party, which is the most likely to enter government if the current fragile one should break apart, accepted the idea that the EU application should be withdrawn completely and without delay. The policy was overwhelmingly accepted at the party's national congress at the end of June and the party's chairman has said publicly that making it come to pass will be a top priority should the party enter into government.

In short it should be quite obvious to anyone that Icelanders don't want to join the EU. An application for EU membership should never have been made.

Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson is director of Civis, an Icelandic free-market think tank.

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