Diplomats told EurActiv they were confident that the EU foreign ministers would forward Iceland's application to the Commission for an opinion - a thorough screening of the candidate's credentials based on answers to a questionnaire.
The procedure, which follows Iceland's formal application on 16 July, is progressing much more quickly than with other candidates, diplomats pointed out.
On Wednesday (22 July), EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn handed such a questionnaire to another applicant country, Montenegro, containing more than 2,100 questions.
Montenegro filed its membership bid on 15 December 2008, but the EU Council of Ministers did not invite the Commission to submit its opinion until months later, on 23 April.
And Albania, which filed its own EU membership bid in April, has not seen its application followed up yet.
The fastest opinion delivered by the Commission on a candidate state so far took 14 months, but in the case of Iceland, Stockholm is pushing for the EU executive to complete the procedure under the Swedish EU Presidency so that talks could start in early 2010.
But a diplomat from a large EU country told EurActiv he would be surprised to see the opinion before the end of the year.
Acknowledging that Iceland was benefitting from a fast-track procedure, another diplomat told this website that the EU wished to avoid sending a negative signal to some Western Balkan countries.
A Western diplomat who did not want to be named said that the main reason for the delay in the case of Albania was the forthcoming elections in Germany, where mainstream parties do not want an electoral debate over the issue.
Officially Tirana was told that it should in the meantime complete its own electoral process, after the opposition contested the results of national polls held on 28 June (EurActiv 30/06/09).
France had adopted a particularly tough stance, arguing that EU enlargement would have to stop unless the Lisbon Treaty is ratified (EurActiv 09/07/09). But French diplomats said giving the green light to Iceland's bid was not an issue, as the avis procedure would take longer to complete than the Lisbon ratification process, provided that everything goes well.
Banking and fisheries are the two major issues
But the negotiations will not all be plain-sailing for Iceland.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen recently said his country would block Iceland's EU accession if the country did not reimburse Dutch victims of a bankrupt Icelandic bank, Icesave, a web-based subsidiary of the Landsbanki bank from which many savers from Britain and the Netherlands are awaiting reimbursement.
But the issue will be part of the Commission's opinion, other diplomats explained, saying that no objections are expected to be raised either by Britain or the Netherlands at this stage.
Also, a diplomat from a country with a long coast warned that fisheries could mean Iceland's accession process takes longer than expected. He referred to positions expressed by the island's foreign minister, Össur Skarphéðinsson, that Reykjavik would not accept a rotten deal with the EU for its powerful fishing industry.
Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland's exports and 10% of its gross domestic product.
At their meeting, the 27 EU foreign ministers are also expected to decide to prolong the mandate of the EU observer mission in Georgia by another 12 months.
EU countries differ on whether to agree to include US observers in the EU mission, which monitors the borders of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, EurActiv has learned.
The mission was established in September 2008 (EurActiv 16/09/09), following French-mediated troubleshooting in the wake of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia last August.
This is even more important given that the other two international observer missions in the region were not able to continue their work, said a high-ranking Western representative.
Russia recently vetoed the extension of the UN observer mission's mandate in Abkhazia (EurActiv 16/06/09), after having previously prevented the continuation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) mission in Georgia.
The USA, Turkey - and according to some reports, Canada and Ukraine - had expressed a desire to contribute observers to the EU mission. But some EU countries traditionally friendly to Moscow opposed the move, which in their view would make EU-Russia relations more difficult, EurActiv was told.
UK, Germany and France were in favour of incorporating US personnel into the mission, a Western diplomat said. But a French diplomat explained that such discussions were premature. Paris has not yet stated its position as the issue has not yet been raised officially, he said.