Iceland denies death of EU accession talks
Iceland’s ambassador to Brussels has denied reports that accession talks with the European Union were dead, telling EurActiv that only the thorniest negotiating points are on hold until after upcoming elections.
“The correct message is that we are slowing down the negotiations, and we are not disbanding them. That has never been an issue," Ambassador Thorir Ibsen told EurActiv on Wednesday (16 January).
Earlier, the embassy issues a statement alluding to the author Mark Twain’s fabled remark: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
“Allow me to share with you that we have been seeing some examples of misleading interpretations in the international press of Iceland’s decision to slow down the EU accession talks,” said the statement from Ibsen. “The purpose is to ensure prudent and calm management of Iceland’s EU accession process during the election period.”
The statement also said that the negotiation of the “difficult” chapters relating to fisheries, agriculture, right of establishment and services, and on free movement of capital are on hold until after the elections scheduled for 27 April.
But work will continue on the 16 other chapters already open and the 2 where Iceland has delivered its negotiating position.
‘Slowing the talks, not disbanding’
Iceland has traditionally been run by coalition governments. The centre-left Social Democratic Alliance scored a historic win in 2009, knocking the centre-right and eurosceptic Independence Party from its dominant position. The alliance now governs with its Left-Green Movement coalition partners.
The latest polls give the Independence Party a lead, with some 36% against 19% for the Social Democratic Alliance.
Ibsen said the government had come to the conclusion that it would make sense to freeze talks on the most difficult issues because that would be calling for a political decision before the elections.
“That would be undemocratic, because it would be too close to a possible government change," Ibsen said.
But for all the other chapters that have been opened, it will be business as usual.
“The point is that we have run these negotiations very transparently and very democratically. In other countries too the negotiating process has slowed down with elections. Our government decided to make it a public decision and announced it,” Ibsen said.
Asked whether the new government could have second thoughts about EU accession, Ibsen said it was not for him to say, but that the expectation was that “the process will continue” after the elections.
He also said that the Intergovernmental Conference, which gives political impetus to the accession negotiations every year, and which was due to be held in the early spring, will “probably not take place”.
Asked if the eurozone troubles have affected Icelanders’ perceptions of the EU accession, Ibsen said the crisis had implications for how nations look at the Union.
“But what has been taking place is that the EU has been taking control of the chain of events, and the situation looks better, with better prospects for the future,” he said.
Peter Stano, spokesman for Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, said the EU executive was not “interpreting” the decision of the Icelandic government not to adopt any further negotiation positions before the parliamentary elections.
“We took note of what they decided. The Commission continues to be convinced that the EU accession of Iceland would be of mutual benefit and remains committed to accompanying Iceland on its path towards EU membership,” Stano said.
Iceland was hit severely by the 2008 global financial crisis and economic downturn that followed.
Iceland's banking-sector assets had grown from about 96% of GDP in 2000 to about 800% by the end of 2006, and were worth around 10 times its GDP on the eve of the crisis.
Iceland's centre-right government collapsed in January 2009 as a result of the crisis. In the summer of 2009, Iceland's parliament backed the new government's plan to begin accession talks with the European Union. Only one year later, the country started EU accession talks.