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Iceland’s volte-face

Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, Independence Party leader and centre-right leader of the new Icelandic government

Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, Independence Party leader and centre-right leader of the new Icelandic government

This is an unnoticed but quite important piece of information. Indeed, Iceland – by its new government – has just announced it suspended negotiations regarding its adhesion to the EU and it should hold a referendum during the next legislature.

The centre-right government’s decision, winner of the last 27th of April national elections, is not so surprising. On the last January, Johanna Siguroardottir, at that time, social-democratic and centre-left government leader already announced a break due to the elections. A break which was confirmed by Sigmumdur Gunnlaugsson, new Iceland’s Prime minister and Independence Party leader who was not in favour of the adhesion of Iceland to the UE during the campaign.

Although the EU takes cognizance of the Reykjavik’s sovereign decision, Iceland’s volte-face is quite disconcerting even if it was finally predictable. In fact, Icelandic people never hid their distrust, not to say their scepticism vis-à-vis Europe while Iceland has been part of the European economic Area (EEA) since 1992. This country even participates to some EU policies and European co-operations – as Schengen for instance – as Norway and Switzerland.

The 2008 financial crisis questions the situation. Icelandic banking system is collapsing and the country is near to go in bankruptcy. The social-democratic and ecologist left enjoys it and just after its victory at the 2009 legislative elections, officially makes a request as full-member of the EU, with the objective to join the EU-27 from 2012.

Johanna Siguroardottir, at that time, Iceland's Prime minister with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission

Johanna Siguroardottir, at that time, Iceland’s Prime minister with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission

Nonetheless, social-democratic Icelandic – very shared on the EU issue already – never succeeded to make grow a pro-European feeling within the island and the population insofar as despites the crisis, euro-scepticism is remained still important. Moreover, it has been reinforced when Iceland progressively recovered its economic situation, getting out of the crisis as an increasing power of purchase, growth and a continuing decrease unemployment rate since two years show. Consequently, and as we go along Iceland came back to prosperity, and faced with a Europe in permanent crisis, the adhesion to the EU became less a priority issue.

What is more, the negotiations open since July 2010, are still blocked, Reykjavik and Brussels are still in opposition regarding some issues as fisheries or agriculture for instance. A certain enthusiasm provoked by the 2008 crisis, fell and with it the hope to enjoy the advantages of the EU quickly, seen as a kind of protection against the crisis.

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Iceland’s attitude is very typical and shows a country which came to the Union less attracted by the European ideal and the will to share a collective project and adventure but more by the will to find a solution to the crisis and protect its national interests both. Thus, Iceland’s volte-face is quite unhappy to the point of wondering if this country really has the intention and wants to join the UE, contrary to some States as Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Ukraine and Turkey especially. And although the European Union took cognizance of the Icelandic government’s announcement, it is high probable such a change of attitude will have a major impact on the pursuit of the negotiations, if they restart. What’s going to depend on the Icelandic population’s decision, currently hostile to the EU adhesion.

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