EU membership no priority for Icelandic social democrats

Today, a week after the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), held its biannual general meeting, nothing has been reported in the Icelandic media concerning what was decided during the meeting on matters concerning Iceland's relationship with the European Union. Not one word! Furthermore it has proved very hard to find any documents concerning that on the internet. In fact I haven't been able to find any yet. This all points to what actually comes as no surprise that EU membership is no priority for Icelandic social democrats, at least not at the moment. And more than that it hasn't been since before the Icelandic general elections in the spring of 2003. For those who don't know, the Social Democratic Alliance is the only political party in Iceland which is in favour of joining the EU although membership is obviously not on its agenda.

The new chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, was intended by the party to become a Prime Minister after the elections in 2003. That is of course if the party would have been able to form a government which turned out not to be the case. However, before the elections Gísladóttir said in an interview that the Social Democratic Alliance was willing to scrap its policy of entering membership negotiations with the EU if that policy would prove to be an obstacle for taking part in forming the next government. So EU membership doesn't seem to be much of a priority for her personally either.

Lastly, the Social Democratic Alliance held a mail election in the end of the year 2002 among its members where they were asked if starting membership negotiations with the EU at some point in the future should be the policy of the party or not. Before the elections the leadership of the party had talked about its intention to hold it for months and the party also held meetings all over the country to introduce it (and run propaganda for a yes). Nevertheless only about 30% of the members of the party bothered to participate and about 2/3 of them said yes - in other words around 20% af the members. So furthermore it doesn't seem like EU membership is a priority for the common members of the Social Democratic Alliance either.

However, the leadership of the party claimed this was a great support for putting negotiations with the EU on its agenda but then dropped the idea completely only few months later just before the general elections in 2003 when several opinion polls indicated that vast majority of Icelanders were opposed to EU membership. Since then the leadership of the party has hardly spoken of the idea of joining the EU.


A free trade agreement between Iceland and China being prepared

Davíð Oddsson, the Icelandic Foreign Minister, and Bo Xilai, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Trade, recently signed an agreement between the two countries which is a prelude to a free trade agreement. The agreement embodies that a joint research of practicality will be carried out for preparation of a free trade agreement between the two countries, but Iceland is the first country in Europe to reach such an agreement with China.

A statement from the Icelandic Foreign Ministry says that Icelandic companies have in the recent years increased their relations with companies in China, especially after Iceland established an embassy in Beijing in 1995. The Foreign Ministry and the embassy have emphasised to facilitate access of Icelandic companies to the Chinese market, both with direct assistance of commercial attachés and by reaching agreements with China.

Iceland has generally concluded free trade agreements through EFTA along with its partners Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein but this time Icelandic authorities have chosen to conclude a bilateral agreement with China. Discussions are intended within EFTA about possible participation of the other memberstates in the agreement on later levels.

If Iceland was a member of the EU this would not be possible since countries among other things surrender their authority to conclude international agreements to the Union's institutions by joining it. Chinese authorities have not been interested in making such an agreement with the EU.

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Europhiles in Iceland having a rough time

Europhiles in Iceland have been experiencing a rough time since it was revealed last Monday that Iceland has adopted less than 6,5 percent of EU regulations, directives, etc. through the EEA agreement since signing it a decade ago. Until now the pro-EU movement in Iceland has claimed that this number was around 80 percent and even in some cases up to 90 percent. This has been one of the key arguments of the pro-EU movement for years, claiming that because of this Iceland could just as well join the EU. But now it has been revealed that these claimes have been entirely groundless.

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


Iceland only adopting 6,5 percent of EU laws through the EEA agreement

Iceland has only adopted about 6,5 percent of EU regulations, directives, decisions, etc. through its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) since signing the agreement a decade ago. This was revealed today in the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, by Davíð Oddsson, the Icelandic Minister of Foreign Affairs, as an answer to an inquiry from Sigurður Kári Kristjánsson, MP for the Independence Party. The information was collected by the EFTA Secretariat in Brussels for the Icelandic Foreign Ministry. In the answer says that by far most of EU regulations, directives, etc. have to do with the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agriculture Policy and matters concerning foreign trade of the EU and tariffs. This falls outside the EEA agreement. Also many EU laws which fall under the EEA agreement do not apply to Iceland like laws concerning railways since there are no such in the country.

During discussions in the Althing about the Foreign Minister's answer Kristjánsson said this made it clear that claims from the pro-EU movement in Iceland that Iceland had been adopting around 80 percent of EU regulations, directives, etc. over the years was a deception. This showed that the arguments of those in favour of EU membership in Iceland were almost as ridicilous as the idea of membership itself.

Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, MP and chairman of the Left-Green Movement, said that the claims of the pro-EU movement completely collapsed in the light of this new information. He said there was of course a big difference between the EEA agreement and EU membership, especially since the CFP, the CAP and matters concerning tariffs were outside the agreement.

Björgvin G. Sigurðsson, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, said he thought Iceland should join the EU as soon as possible. He claimed that Norway was on its way into the EU and that the EEA agreement was destined to perish. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, MP for the Independence Party, said nothing indicated that Norway was going to join the EU and neither that the EEA agreement was about to perish.

Björn Bjarnason, Minister of Justice (Independence Party), said this new information was according to what the members of the special parliamentary committe on European affairs he chairs had realised during their work. That claims that Iceland was adopting up to 80 percent of EU regulations, directives, etc. were entirely false.

Bjarnason furthermore argued that the EEA agreement would not perish if Norway would join the EU. When the agreement was signed more than a decade ago Norway was expected to join the EU. The Norwegians then rejected membership in a referendum. No one expected the EEA agreement to perish at that time even though Norway would have joined the EU.

This matter has received huge attention in Iceland.

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Stöð 2

The answer from the Foreign Minister


No Icelandic EU membership in the forseeable future

The Icelandic economy will not benefit from membership of the European Union and there is no political reason for Iceland to join the Union. This is among what Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the president of Iceland, said in a speech in London recently according to the Financial Times. The president also said that he did not believe that Iceland would apply for membership of the EU in the forseeable future.

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