'EU clock is ticking,' Iceland told
By Honor Mahony
The EU Tuesday (16 July) told Iceland it is not going to wait around forever while the island weighs up whether it is worth joining the bloc.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the decision to open membership negotiations with Iceland was still "valid." But he added: "The clock is ticking. It is in the interests of all that this decision is taken without further delay."
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He urged Iceland to make a decision on EU membership that "is taken on the basis of proper reflection, and in an objective, transparent, serene manner."
Barroso was standing alongside Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was on his first trip to Brussels since his eurosceptic Progressive Party did well in April elections.
On being chosen to be prime minister in May, Gunnlaugsson immediately called a halt to the island's accession talks, in a first-of-its-kind snub for the EU.
Responding to Barroso, the Icelandic leader said he had quizzed the commission president on the future of the EU, with the bloc still struggling to fully stabilize the euro by taking further integrative steps.
"We are not only discussing the past four or five years, but also the future and how the European Union is likely to develop in the future," said Gunnlaugsson.
Matters are set to become clearer in autumn. Iceland's parliament will at that point vote on a report on "developments so far" with the EU and on the "development of the European Union itself."
"After debate in parliament next autumn we will see how things progress," said Gunnlaugsson, whose coalition government has promised that membership talks can only be restarted if agreed by referendum.
But the visit to Brussels came as Icelanders are being reminded of EU powers in fishing policy - one of the most contentious issues for the island.
EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki Monday said the commission would decide by the end of the month on whether to sanction Reykjavik for its decision to raise the quotas for mackerel.
Barroso reiterated the point on Tuesday. "We cannot support unilateral action by our partner countries," he said.
Gunnlaugsson responded that the EU should rather look at replenishing its depleting stocks, something Iceland could "assist" it with and urged member states to base their arguments on "science."
Iceland argues it can increase its quotas as more mackerel are migrating northwards due to warmer seas.
Fishing rights were always expected to be a major issue in membership discussions between Brussels and Reykjavik but talks were suspended before the subject came to the table.
Since becoming prime minister, Gunnlaugsson has said that EU demands for a reduction in mackerel quotas underlines the importance of sovereignty.