The Citizen's Movement says the EU issue is not a priority

The Citizen's Movement (Borgarahreyfingin), which got four seats in the Icelandic parliament in the general elections that took place on last Saturday, has announced that whether or not Iceland should join the European Union is not a priority issue. Urgent issues regarding aid for Icelandic homes and companies as a result of the economic situation however are.

The Citizen's Movement emerged from the protests in Reykjavík last winter. In the same announcement it stresses that those protests had nothing to do with the EU but the collapse of the Icelandic bank sector and lack of actions from the authorities. This is seen as quite important news in Iceland since the Citizen's Movement has been described in foreign as well as some domestic media as being in favour of EU membership.

Meanwhile the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) and the Left Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð) are still negotiating a new government and according to latest news it may even take another week to get results. The EU issue is by far the toughest matter to discuss according to the Icelandic media but the two parties have entirely different approach to the question whether Iceland should join the EU or not.

Lýsa áhyggjum af foringjastjórnmálum (Mbl.is 30/04/09)
Býst við viku í viðbót í viðræður (Rúv.is 30/04/09)

The results of the Icelandic general elections
No pro-EU protests in Iceland


Report: The results of the Icelandic general elections

by Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson

The results of the general elections in Iceland yesterday are not a success for those who want the country to become a member of the European Union. At least not the success they were hoping for. The only party that has the policy of joining the EU and put emphasis on that in the election campaign, the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), got 30 percent of the votes (20 MPs) which is similar to what the party has got in previous elections. In 1999 it got 27 percent, in 2003 31 percent and in 2007 again 27 percent. In other words the results are at best a defending victory for the party.

The Social Democratic Alliance can form a government with majority in the parliament with both the Left Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð) (34 MPs) or the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) together with the Citizen's Movement (Borgarahreyfingin) (33 MPs) apart from the possibility to form a renewed government with the Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) (36 MPs) which will probabaly not happen due to the current unpopularity of that party. But both the other forms of government are, however, very likely to mean tough and difficult talks for the social democrats.

The party increasing its votes the most is the Left Green Movement as was expected. It got 21.5 percent and 14 MPs compared with 14 percent in 2007. The party rejects EU membership. The conservative Independence Party, which also is opposed to EU membership but has been mainly blamed for last year's collapse of most of the Icelandic banking sector, got 24 percent and 16 MPs. The two parties that thus reject joining the EU the most got together 45.5 percent and 30 of the the total 63 seats in the parliament compared with the Social Democratic Alliance's 20.

The remaining 13 seats are spread between the Progressive Party and the Citizen's Movement. The former got 9 seats and the latter 4. Neither of them is in favour of EU membership but the Progressive Party favours membership negotiations according to its platform if certain very strict conditions will be met, one of them being that Iceland will hold full authority over Icelandic fishing grounds. Something the EU will understandably never be able to accept. As a result the party is generally not seen as being in favour of EU membership.

The Citizen's Movement, however, has no policy in favour of joining the EU. It has a policy that all agreements with other countries that involve transfer of sovereignty shall be put to a referendum and also that Iceland should seek to negotiate monetary cooperation with other countries or, if necessary, adopt a foreign currency unilaterally. One of the party's major policies is also that of not signing any agreement concerning the so-called Icesave issue before a research by independent experts has been carried out on what the duties of the Icelandic government are regarding that.

The Citizen's Movement emerged from the protests in Reykjavík last winter and its platform has many radical policies that the Social Democratic Alliance could find very hard to agree on. The biggest demand of the people protesting was increased direct democracy (referendums) and that the people should be more involved in the decision making process in the country. Naturally joining the EU would not be a step in that direction but rather further away.

What kind of a government will take power in Iceland after the elections is expected to become clear in the next few days and also how that government will approach the EU issue. The most likely coalition is between the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement.


The Icelandic constitution will not be altered

The Icelandic government's intention to alter the constitution so it could be more easily amended in the future did not succeed due to resistence from the Independence Party. Today to alter the constitution it has to be approved by two parliaments. This means that to do that a government must step down and hold general elections.

The current center-left government's intention was to change this procedure so altering the constitution would be possible by putting it to a referendum and without the government having to step down. The idea was to change this alongside the general elections on April 25 but now this will not be possible until the next elections after that.

From the point of view of the social democrats, the senior government partner, these changes were seen as making it easier to get Iceland into the European Union since the Icelandic constitution does not allow the transfer of national sovereignty to EU institutions such membership would requires.

The junior government partner, the Left Green Movement which opposes EU membership, however, saw this as making the constitution changing procedure more democratic.

Flóknara að ganga í ESB (Mbl.is 17/04/09)


Claims the social democrats are isolated on the EU issue

Jón Bjarnason, an MP for the Left Green Movement, said yesterday on his website that the Social Democratic Alliance is getting isolated in the party's support for membership of the European Union. Bjarnason referred among other things to the results of the latest poll showing a continued majority of Icelanders against membership. Unlike the social democrats the Left Green Movement is firmly against the idea of joining the EU.

General elections are scheduled in Iceland on April 25. The most likely outcome is a continued center-left coalition government by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement.

Segir Samfylkinguna að einangrast í ESB-umræðunni (Mbl.is 13/04/09)

Further information:
The Left Green Movement
The Social Democratic Alliance


Says the EU is not a product to sell in Iceland

Jónas Kristjánsson, a former newspaper editor in Iceland and a huge supporter of EU membership for many years, wrote on his blog yesterday that the European Union was simply not a product to sell in Iceland and that the EU was further away from ordinary people today than ever. Those comments came in the wake of the results of the latest poll in Iceland showing continued opposition to EU membership by the majority of Icelanders.

„The popularity of the European Union [in Iceland] is not improving. People don't even want negotiations on membership, not to mention membership itself. The EU is not a product to sell. I have for a long time favoured membership, mainly because it is better to be on the inside than out in the cold. When I began to recommend membership some 15 years ago I hoped that the EU would soon get better. That voter's influence would increase and the EU would move closer to the people. That has not happened. The EU is further from the people than ever before. Its beaurocrats have completely failed to wrap it into an attractive package. They get a zero in public relations,“ Kristjánsson said.

Fá núll í almannatengslum (Jónas.is 12/04/09)


Still a majority against EU membership negotiations in Iceland

There is still a majority against applying for EU membership and starting membership negotiations among Icelanders according to the results of a new poll for the Icelandic daily Fréttablaðið published today. 54,4% are now opposed to applying while 45,6% are in favour.

This is a slightly less support for sending an application to Brussels than a month ago when 46,6% favoured that step. A month ago 53,9% were opposed to applying for EU membership.

The poll was conducted on April 7. 800 people were polled, 77,5% responded to the question asked which was: "Should Iceland apply for membership of the European Union?"

Three polls have been produced for Fréttablaðið this year on whether or not to apply for EU membership and all have shown a majority against taking that step.

Fækkar heldur sem styðja viðræður (Fréttablaðið 11/04/09)

Report: Iceland and the European Union

by Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson

Iceland has never applied for membership of the European Union. The debate has so far never gone further than just debating the issue. Iceland’s relations with the EU are mainly based on the EEA Agreement between the EU and the EFTA (which Iceland is a member of along with Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The last country is, however, not a members of the EEA ) which grants Iceland full access to the EU’s Single Market and at the same time obliges the country to adopt EU laws concerning it. Iceland is also a member of the Schengen borderless zone.

It is a widely used explanation that the fisheries are more or less the sole reason why Icelanders have choosen to stay out of the EU. The fisheries are surely extremely important to Iceland and the biggest pillar of its economy. However, the main reason is without doubt the independence and sovereignty. Which includes naturally the sovereignty over Iceland’s natural resources. The history of Iceland is regarded as a textbook example of how national independence and progress are entwined. How important it is for nations to be able to control their own destiny and be able to secure their own interests themselves.

The history
The public attitute towards EU membership has through the years been divided in two with almost as much support for either side according to opinion polls. At times the yes side has been few percents ahead and at others the no side has had an advance. On few limited occasions, however, either side has gained significantly more support. EU membership has never become an election issue in Iceland and as a rule increased debate on the issue has lead to increased opposition in opinion polls. In recent years only one political party represented in the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, has favoured membership negotiations with the EU.

For the past years there have been five political parties represended in the Althing:
  • The Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) – conservative/liberal/libertarian
  • The Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) – social democrat
  • The Left Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) – socialist/green
  • The Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) – centrist/liberal
  • The Liberal Party (Frjálslyndi flokkurinn) – social liberal
The Independence Party was founded in 1929 through the merger of two center-right parties and has always been opposed to membership of the EU and its forerunners. The party was along with the Social Democratic Party (today a part of the Social Democratic Alliance) mainly responsible for Iceland’s membership of the EEA Agreement. The Independence Party has traditionally been Iceland’s biggest party gaining from 35-40 percent of the votes. In the last general elections in 2007 it got 37 percent. However, the party has been widely blamed for the banking collapse due to the fact until January it had been in government constantly since 1991. As a result according to the last poll by Gallup on April 2 the party has 25 percent.

The Social Democratic Alliance was founded in 2000 through the merger of four older left of center political parties. It has since 2002 been in favour of EU membership negotiations after a postal vote was conducted among party members. The party has received around 30 percent in general elections. In the elections in 2007 it got 27 percent. According to the last poll it has 29 percent.

The Left Green Movement was founded in 1999 and has from the beginning been opposed to EU membership. The party was founded by people who for ideological reasons opposed the idea of merging the whole Icelandic center-left into one single party which later became the Social Democratic Alliance. The Left Green Movement has received around 10 percent in general elections. In the elections in 2007, however, it got 14 percent. According to the last poll it has 28 percent.

The Progressive Party was founded in 1916 and is thus Iceland’s oldest political party still in existence. It was originally founded as a agrarian party but as increasing number of people moved from the countryside to towns and villages during the 20th century the party redefined itself as a centrist party while still holding strong ties with the countryside. The party was opposed to EU membership but in later years its policy has become one of observing the issue mainly as an attempt to reconcile different opinions among its members. The Progressive Party has traditionally had around 15-20 percent of the votes in general elections. In the elections in 2007 the party got 12 percent. According to the latest poll it has 11 percent.

The Liberal Party was founded in 1998 mainly to oppose the Icelandic fishing system which the party sees as unjustful. The party has always rejected EU membership mainly on the grounds of opposition to the Common Fisheries Policy. The Liberal Party has been the smallest of the five parties represented in the parliament in recent years. It has received around 5-10 percent in general elections. In the elections in 2007 the party got 7 percent. According to the latest poll it has about 1.5 percent.

Recent events
In the wake of the collapse of almost all the Icelandic banking sector in October 2008 a public panic emerged which among other things revealed itself in increased support for EU membership according to polls. There was a certain demand for a safe harbour and the yes side systematically portraited the EU as being one. There was also a certain panic among the politicians with some of them, who previously had opposed EU membership, starting to say that perhaps a referendum should be held on the issue. The leadership of the Independence Party decided in November to advance its national congress and hold it at the end of January 2009 among other things to review its position on EU membership.

This decision by the Independence Party’s leadership was widely seen as an attempt to pacify the then coalition partner in government the Social Democratic Alliance which had after the banks collapsed put an increased emphasis on EU membership and even threatened to break up the government if the Independence Party did not change its policy on the EU. The Independence Party’s leadership also formed a special committee within the party with the task of researching what EU membership would mean for Iceland and to provide a platform for the party’s members to voice their opinions. The committe held many meetings which showed clearly that vast majority of party members opposed EU membership.

However, before the Independence Party’s national congress could be held the Social Democratic Alliance left the government and formed a minority government with the Left Green Movement and with the support of the Progressive Party which will be in power until the election on April 25. As a result of this the leadership of the Independence Party decided to move the national congress to the end of March. In the beginning of the year 2009 the public attitute towards EU membership changed completely according to repeated polls with a majority opposed to EU membership.

Results of national congresses
The Independence Party eventually held its national congress on March 26-29. The party reaffirmed its previous policy that EU membership was not in the interests of the Icelandic people. The congress stated that a review of its postion towards EU membership had not led to a changed policy. The congress also stated that the issue should be put to a referendum if it would be addressed at some point in the future.

The Social Democratic Alliance held its national congres March 27-29. The party reaffirmed its previous policy that Iceland should apply for EU membership and start membership negotiations. The party leadership said it would put special emphasis on EU membership, both during the elections campaign and if the party will participate in forming a new government after the elections.

The Left Green Movement held its national congress March 20-22 where its previous opposition to EU membership was confirmed. The party also stated that if the issue would be addressed at any time in the future it should be put to a referendum.

The Progressive Party held its national congress in mid January accepting a changed policy towards EU membership. The party is now in favour of starting membership negotiations with the EU. However, the congress also agreed on certain strict conditions to be fulfilled for the party to support membership. Among them full authority over Icelandic natural resources including the fishing resource. A new chairman was also elected at the congress who has said that negotiations with the EU are not relevant until after the Icelandic economy has recovered. Addressing the issue while the economy is in tough times is simply not sensible.

The Liberal Party held its national congress on March 13-14 where its previous policy opposed to EU membership was confirmed. The party had conducted a mail vote among party members in December 2008 asking if Iceland should seek EU membership or not resulting in 52 percent against and 35 percent in favour.

The campaign before the general elections on April 25 will for obvious reasons be very short. At this point nothing indicates EU membership will be an issue now more than in previous general elections in Iceland. The short campaigning will probably constribute additionally to this since others issues are likely, as before, to be seen as much more important to address. However, the Social Democratic Alliance has as mentioned before claimed it will put special emphasis on EU membership, both during the elections campaign and if the party will participate in forming a new government after the elections. The problem the social democrats are facing is therefore with whom they are going to apply for EU membership?