Iceland’s fisheries and EU membership do not go hand in hand

A joint committee by the Icelandic Ministries of Fisheries and Foreign Affairs and groups of interests in the field of the fisheries believes an EU membership would not be in the interests of the Icelandic fisheries as the situation is now. The committee indicates that Icelandic authorities have always emphasised certain main issues when discussing the matters of the fisheries on international scene. The basic issue there is that Iceland must hold full authority over Icelandic waters and other natural resources. This is among the things in a newly published report from the committee on Iceland, the fisheries and the EU.

"There are different opinions regarding if and how the rights and interests of the Icelandic people could be secured if Iceland decided to join the EU. Various parts of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) contravene the rights and interests of the Icelandic people. The CFP has in fact been changed somewhat and is in development and the enlargement of the EU will also influence the situation of Iceland. [However,] the public opinion in Iceland is that we cannot become memberstate of the EU unless our special interests, especially concerning the fisheries and the fish resources of the Icelandic waters, will be respected and ensured in all future with a permanent arrangement."

And the report continues: "The Icelandic people will not put the authority of their natural resources and livelihood in the hands of others, not at present nor in the future, and believe the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, which has been shaped with other nations and other circumstances in mind, cannot suit Iceland and the Icelandic people. The Icelandic people have an independent authority over Icelandic waters and their resources and will continue to do so. Icelanders have [also] great interests when it comes to fishing in foreign waters and dividend fishing stocks and will not surrender their independent right to conclude agreements concerning that."

The committe also commented on the ideas of the British Conservative Party, to reclaim Britain's authority over its waters, since they would undeniably affect Iceland's situation if made possible. The committe stresses that although it has no reason to doubt the sincere intention of the British Conservatives it believes their ideas to be farfetched. If they were to happen the British people would either have to leave the EU or manages somehow to get the other memberstates to accept special laws ensuring their authority which would not be easy if possible according to the report.

Press article: MorgunblaĆ°iĆ° September 15, 2004.

The report by the committe (in Icelandic)


A big blow for the pro-EU movement in Iceland!

Halldór Ásgrí­msson, the Icelandic Foreign Minister, stressed in an interview yesterday that Icelandic membership of the European Union was not on the agenda. He did so in the wake of a statement by Laila Freiwald, the Swedish Foreign Minister who is on a visit in Iceland, that she wished all the Nordic countries would become members of the EU.

On a conference today in Akureyri Mr. Ásgrí­msson then compared the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU with colonialism. He said it was outworn and suffering from a depression. He restated what he has said before that joining the Union was unthinkable unless the CFP was changed fundamentally and Iceland held full authority over Icelandic waters. This is considered as huge news in Iceland and perhaps the biggest news of the year up to now concerning the EU. At the same time it is seen as a big blow for the Icelandic pro-EU movement.

Mr. Ásgrí­msson has usually been considered as being quite positive towards the EU although his party, the Progressive Party, is very split on the issue. The policy of the party is that EU membership is not on the agenda. But now it seems as Mr. Ásgrí­msson's days as being positive towards the EU are over. At least he is now far more negative towards it than before and Icelandic Europhiles are furious about it. They have been trying hard for many years to win the Progressive Party over to their cause but now that has failed.

Mr. Ásgrí­msson will become Prime Minister on September 15 when Davíð Oddsson, the current Prime Minister, will become Foreign Minister.

The speech by Mr. Ásgrímsson (September 8, 2004)


Iceland is NOT on its way to join the EU

We have received word that Europhiles in Denmark (and probably in some other countries aswell) are claiming that Iceland is on its way into the European Union. This is entirely false and complete rubbish. But it is of course typical for the Europhiles to claim such nonsense. Iceland is not on its way to join the EU, at least not in this decade.

First of all there is no majority in the Icelandic Althing for joining the Union. Secondly the ruling government, set to be in power until 2007, is utterly against membership. The agreement between the two parties forming the government (The Independence Party and the Progressive Party) is that membership is simply out of the question. Thirdly opinion polls in the last couple of years have in most cases shown that the Icelandic people are split almost 50/50 on the question whether Iceland should join the EU or not. Forthly opinion polls have also shown that Icelanders are not in favour of adopting the Euro instead of the Icelandic króna.

Two polls have been made on this issue in the last six months. According to a poll by Gallup a couple of days ago 53% were in favour of joining the EU and 47% against (if only those who took stance are taken into the picture). A poll by the Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið in late June, however, claimed that 55% were against membership and 45% in favour. According to the last poll before that 51% were in favour and 49% against. This is how things have usually been the last couple of years, almost 50/50 with each side either in majority or in minority by few percents. However, few years back it was not this way. Then those in favour of membership were usually in majority, even with about 2/3 of the people. But the last couple of years those against membership have increase their following. (In fact the same time Heimssýn, the cross-political organisation of Icelandic Eurosceptics, has been in action, founded in the summer of 2002). It ought also to be mentioned, which is probably obvious, that narrow majority in favour of joining the EU would not be enough for the matter to be put on the agenda even if there was a political will in Iceland to do so. 2/3 of the voters in favour of membership would be a minimum requirement. So the 50/50 situation is far more in favour of those against membership than those in favour.

The poll by Gallup a couple of days ago, which said that Icelanders were almost 50/50 on the question whether to join the EU or not, also claimed that 61% of Icelanders are in favour of starting negotiations with the EU about membership. (This is probably what the Europhiles are referring to.) This is, however, actually nothing new and the support for this has actually been in decline. In March 2002, for example, a poll by Gallup said that 91% of Icelanders wanted negotiations with the EU. Then some 67% were in favour of joining the Union but only 33% against. And a poll in March this year claimed 63% were in favour of starting negotiations with the Union.

The reason, why so many are in favour of negotiations, inspite the fact people are split 50/50 on the actual question whether Iceland should join the EU or not, can only be one. In Iceland, like probably everywhere else where the debate on the EU is ongoing, it is a known fact that many Icelanders feel that the debate is complicated and it is hard to know what to believe. So many simply feel (and this is a known fact) that by starting negotiations with the EU it will be clear if we can have a favourable agreement or not. We personally know many people who do not support membership of the EU but are in favour of negotiations with the Union simply to get it on the table that we will not be able to get an acceptable deal. So the bottom line is that even though so many seem to support negotiations with the EU it simply does not say anything while the nation is split in half towards the actual question whether to join or not.

However, negotiations with the EU, only to see how acceptable agreement we can have, is of course out of the question from the EU point of view. This has been confirmed by many leading people within the Union. The last one to do so was Denis MacShane, the Minister of European Affairs in the British government, in a visit to Iceland some month ago. He simply said that such negotiations were out of the question if it was not really the intention of the Icelandic people to join the Union and that the negotiations would not certainly result in membership. Jens Stoltenberg, the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, confirmed this actually in his visit to Iceland couple of weeks back. He said that Norway would not start new negotiations with the EU unless it was certain it would result in membership. Of course the EU will not waste menpower, time and money in negotiations with Iceland, or any other country, if there is not a solid intention to join the Union.

Also it is worth mentioning that no Icelandic political party is in favour of joining the EU except for the Alliance (Samfylkingin - Social democrats). However, the party remains very split on the issue. The leadership of the party had decided to make membership of the EU as one of its main policies in the hustings before the parliament election in the spring of 2003 but decided not to do so after polls in the beginning of the year had indicated that majority of the voters were against membership. So this has never actually been a major policy of any party in Iceland. Not in action at least.

Other parties are more or less against joining the EU. The Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn - Liberal conservatives) and the Left Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin-grænt framboð - Socialists/Greens) are utterly against membership. The Progress Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn - Liberal centrists) is also very split towards membership of the EU, like the Social Democrats, and the policy of the Liberal Party (Frjálslyndi flokkurinn - Liberals) is that membership is not an issue, at least not in the years to come. So there is very unlikely that a government could come to power in Iceland in the foreseeable future that would be in favour of joining the EU since the fact a government cannot be formed unless having at least two parties involved. (There is no precedent or tradition in Iceland, since the independence in 1944, for a government not backed up with the majority of the Althing.)

Lastly it ought to be mentioned that to join the EU there does not only have to be a ruling government in favour of membership, a majority in the Althing in favour of membership and a large majority of the voters in favour of membership. Also, the Icelandic constitution would have to be changed since it does not allow the extradition of sovereignty to the EU which membership would require. Such a change has to be confirmed by two parliaments with elections in between and it is a tradition in Iceland to do so alongside regular parliament elections, usually every four years. It is highly likely that the present government will stay in power its full time until 2007. Now, if a government in favour of joining the EU would take power after the elections in 2007, which must be considered highly unlikely, membership of the Union would not be possible until after the year 2011 the earliest if that government would stay in power the usual four years and with all other conditions fulfilled.

So in short there is simply little or nothing which indicates that Iceland is on its way into the EU, at least not in the nearest future. The situation in the matters of the fisheries in the EU, the CFP, the Euro, the extradition of sovereignty, the centralisation of the EU, the red tape of the Union and its proposed constitution are all major factors in making an EU membership quite unattractive to Icelanders.

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