Most Icelanders want EU membership talks

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Two thirds of Icelanders are in favour of continuing European Union membership talks, according to a poll published on Tuesday, representing a rebound since June when the opposite was almost the case.

800 Icelanders were polled by the daily Frettabladid, with 64.2% of those questioned wanting Reykjavik to "continue with Iceland's EU application" and only 32.8% saying they wanted the application to be retracted.

The poll indicates a dramatic shift in opinion since a barometer in June showed that 57.6% of those questioned wanted the country to withdraw its application.

The most radical switch was seen in the Leftist-Green party - for a long time the party most opposed to EU membership - where 63.6% of voters now support the talks.

Political scientist Gretar Thor Eythorsson of Akureyri University described the poll as reflecting increased awareness of the EU membership negotiation process, rather than a change in public opinion.

"I simply think that people have realised that pulling out of the process at this point is too late, and that going through with the application does not equal becoming a part of the EU," he told AFP.

"I don't think there has been any one thing that has changed people's opinions but rather a general flow of information within the Icelandic community […] perhaps it shows how fleeting the public opinion is in all of the EU discussions. It could be a hint rather than a right-about turn," he added.

Indeed, since the opening of EU accession negotiations in July, public opinion appears to have been determined by emotion. The island's population of 320,000 had initially strongly supported the idea of EU membership following the decimation of its banking sector in the wake of a financial crisis and the prospective economic security of joining the Union.

Public opinion seemingly dipped in line with a rise in nationalism following the collapse of the Icesave bank, however, when the island went through coarse negotiations with EU members UK and the Netherlands over compensation for British and Dutch account holders who had lost their savings.

Disagreements with the bloc over fishing rights and Iceland's whaling tradition have also dampened the idea of membership on both sides, described by EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki as "risking impacting negatively" on accession negotiations.

A referendum will be necessary to give the final green light to the eventual membership of the Nordic country, which is already a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).

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