Has Iceland really adopted two-thirds of EU legislation?

Since the end of last year it has been repeatedly claimed in foreign media that Iceland has adopted at least two-thirds of all the legislation of the European Union through the country's membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Among those who have said this is Olli Rehn, the EU's commissioner for enlargement, for example to the AFP news agency at the beginning of February.

Until a few years ago, certain Icelanders in favour of joining the European Union on a regular basis claimed the same, that Iceland was adopting 70 and even up to 90 percent of EU laws through the EEA agreement. This claim was repeatedly put forward without being founded on any studies at all.

In the spring of 2005 research carried out by the EFTA [European Free Trade Association] secretariat in Brussels at the request of the Icelandic foreign ministry, however, revealed that only 6.5 percent of all EU legislation was subjected to the EEA agreement between 1994 (when it came into force) and 2004.

In March 2007 a report published by a special committee on Europe commissioned by the Icelandic prime minister, showed that some 2,500 pieces of EU legislation had been adopted in Iceland during the first decade of the EEA agreement. The study also found that about 22 percent of Icelandic laws passed by the parliament originated from the EU during the same period of time.

The totality of EU legislation is according to various sources around 25,000 to 30,000 legal acts. Total Icelandic laws and regulations, however, are around 5,000. Of those there are less than 1,000 laws, the rest is regulations. Even if the entire legislation of Iceland came from the EU it would only be around 20 percent of the total acquis communautaire.

So how is it possible to reach the conclusion that Iceland has already adopted "at least two-thirds of European legislation"?

Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson

(Previously published on Euobserver.com)


What have the polls been saying in Iceland?

Since the beginning of this year the results of most opinion polls in Iceland have been unfavourable for those who want the country to become a part of the European Union. However, it has become quite obvious that it depends which questions are being asked. Let us take a look at how the polls have behaved through the years including this one:

Polls asking if people wanted to start membership talks (aðildarviðræður) with the EU have almost always resulted in a majority in favour.

Polls asking if people wanted to apply for membership (umsókn um aðild) of the EU have almost always resulted in a majority against.

Polls asking if people wanted to join the EU have usually resulted in a 50/50 situation.

The first two examples obviously contradict each other. But this has an explanation. For years people in favour of EU membership have claimed it was possible to enter some kind of a non-obligational "scouting talks" with the EU just to find out what kind of a deal Iceland would be able to get.

Many people in Iceland find the EU issue very complicated so there has been much interest in these kinds of talks. But at the same time people are opposed to a formal application for EU membership. This explaines the contradicting results of polls asking about starting membership talks and applying for membership.

Those in favour of EU membership have always pointed to the polls asking for membership talks as a token of the alledged support in Iceland for applying for membership. But when everything is taken into the picture it must be assumed that there is simply no majority in Iceland for either applying for EU membership or joining the EU.

The Icelandic government, which is led by the only pro-EU political party in Iceland (The Social Democratic Alliance), opposed a proposal to put the application for EU membership to the people in a referendum. The obvious reason is because the government knew applying for membership would be rejected.

However, Icelanders will get a referendum on whether to actually join the EU or not when the accession talks are over.


Report: Icelandic government to apply for EU membership

Yesterday was a black day in Iceland when the Icelandic parliament narrowly voted in favour of a proposal allowing the government to apply for membership of the European Union. The vote was very close and the issue had been debated heavily for a number of days in the parliament. 33 MPs said yes, 28 said no, and two did not vote. A proposal from the opposition that the decision to apply would be a subject to a special referendum was rejected narrowly with 32 votes against 30. The government (backed by most of its MPs) opposed that proposal strongly which suggests it simply does not believe that the people are in favour of this step.

Five government MPs rejected the proposal, all from the junior coalition partner The Left Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð) which is according to its policy strongly opposed to EU membership. Eight of the party's MPs voted in favour and one did not vote. Seven of these eight are nevertheless opposed to membership but voted in favour in order to secure a continued coalition government with the pro-EU Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin). A number of them gave a short speech in the parliament before voting where they claimed their strong oppostion to EU membership while drawing up a very negative picture of the union.

The voting in the parliament:

The Social Democratic Alliance (social democrats): Yes 20, No 0, Abstain 0.
The Independence Party (conservatives/liberals): Yes 1, No 14, Abstain 1.
The Left Green Movement (socialists/greens): Yes 8, No 5, Abstain 1.
The Progressive Party (centrists/agrarians): Yes 3, No 6, Abstain 0.
The Civilian Movement: Yes 1, No 3, Abstain 0.

Total: Yes 33, No 28, Abstain 2.

Much of the debate prior to the vote, both in the parliament and among the people, were about the fact that the Left Greent Movement was according to its policy strongly opposed to EU membership which meant that it did not have any permission from its voters to take part in applying for EU membership. Last general elections in Iceland took place on April 25 this year. Many associations within the party from various parts of the country prior to the vote protested the party leadership's support along with many of the party's ordinary members and voters. Political speculators in Iceland have been suggesting this could lead to some serious internal problems within the party.

The government had to count on the support from few MPs in the oppostion to get its proposal through. One of the government minister even said no, the minister for agriculture and fisheries, who comes from the Left Green Movement. In addition the leader of the Left Green Movement said yesterday to the Icelandic media that his party assumed every right to stop the accession talks at any time if it believes the EU is not meeting its demands. According to the government's proposal the Left Green Movement has also assumed the right to oppose a possible final accession treaty. Whether or not the party will actually do either this is yet another token of how half-heartedly it is on the issue to say the very least. This all simply means the government is very broken on this issue.

The government has already as of this morning formally announced the application to both the Swedish EU Presidency and the European Commission. The formal application is expected to be put forward at the meeting of EU foreign ministers on July 27. Accession talks are expected to begin in February 2010 given the application will be accepted and a possible date of accession according to the government is January 1, 2013 which means a referendum could take place in 2012. However, this whole process could take place sooner depending on the speed and progress of the accession talks.

The last opinion poll in Iceland by Gallup showed a 50/50 situation regarding the question whether people wanted to join the EU or not.

Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson