Iceland’s path to EU membership may be a rocky one

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Icelandic parliament’s recent vote “to apply for membership [of the European Union] was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead,” writes Michael Berendt, a former European Commission official and current public affairs advisor, in a July post on Blogactiv.

“I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership,” says Berendt.

“The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the euro zone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth,” he writes.

“At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed,” Berendt explains, identifying fisheries as a potential “major stumbling block”.

First of all, “seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10% of its gross domestic product,” the blogger points out. Secondly, “the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose,” Berendt argues, evem though the review of the EU common fisheries policy is “timely”.

“Becoming part of the euro zone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well,” Berendt argues. “To qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary,” he says.

Moreover, “if the Irish vote ‘no’ on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still,” he concludes. 

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