Iceland definitively dropped its EU membership bid nearly six years after having made the demand. “The government of Iceland has no intentions to resume accession talks”, country’s foreign affair minister, Gunnar Sveinsson, wrote in a letter to enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn and Latvia’s foreign affairs minister Edgars Rinkevics. Talks were suspended in May 2013 after a centre-right coalition, opposed to EU membership, had come to power.
By that time, 27 of the 35 legislative chapters in accession talks had been opened and 11 concluded. But disputes remained on several issues, mainly to do with agriculture and fisheries. Fishing quotas, especially for mackerel, have for many years been a divisive issue between Iceland and the EU and had not yet been negotiated in the accession talks. An agreement on mackerel quotas was reached by the EU with Norway and the Faroe Islands but not with Iceland in March 2014. Reykjavik denounced it as an agreement made “behind [its] back” after it failed to find a common ground with the other countries. “Iceland’s interests are best served outside the European union”, the country’s government website said Wednesday.
Iceland made its membership request in July 2009, just as it was in the throes of violent financial crisis. EU member states decided to open talks with the island in December of the following year. Now Iceland is experiencing economic growth again (it grew by 1.9 percent last year) making accession to a still crisis-ridden EU less attractive. The decision by prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s government to leave EU talks for good has been criticized by the opposition. Social Democrat leader Arni Pall Arnasson regretted that the government took the decision with no formal approval by parliament. When talks were suspended in 2013, thousands of people demonstrated to protest against the decision and the opposition called for a referendum on the issue.
But the government Wednesday said it has “no intention of holding a referendum on the negotiations with the European Union as this would constitute voting on an issue the government already opposes. If the process will be recommenced at a later date, the present government believes it important not to move forward without referring to the nation first with the question of whether it wants to accede to the EU,” it added. In his letter to the EU, Gunnar Sveinsson spoke of “the importance of continued close relations and cooperation between the EU and Iceland”. The country is a member of the EU’s borderless Schengen area and of the European economic area, which gives it access to the EU’s single market with no tariff barrier for its fish and agriculture products. ( By Eric Maurice from Euobserver.com )