Icelandic foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson. (Photo: Stock File)
Govt decides against joining the EU
Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 04:40 (GMT + 9)
Iceland has decided to end its bid to join the European Union (EU). The news was announced by the country's foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, to the European Commission.
"This is how democracy works," said the minister three weeks after being appointed to the recently elected Icelandic government.
He stated that both parties in the new Icelandic government had fought the idea of EU accession.
When he made the comment on his first overseas trip since being appointed, he said the main purpose of the trip had been "to tell the commission that the new government has made decision to put negotiations on hold,” EU Observer reports.
"We are part of Europe and want to strengthen our relationship in other ways," he added.
Stefan Fule, the Czech commissioner responsible for EU membership bids, referred to Iceland's decision as a personal blow.
"It was not easy for me as a person (to take the decision)," said Fule. But "I am also a professional and I respect without any questions and any doubt, the will of elected representative and citizens".
Despite the shift, he said he believes that talks on Iceland's accession to the EU should still be completed.
"We remain fully committed to continuing and completing the process," he said
The commissioner called on the Icelandic government to make a quick decision and announce whether it had any plans to re-open negotiations with the EU.
“It is in the interest of us all that the decision is not taken in an unlimited period of time,” Fule said.
Earlier this year, Iceland had said it would quit on plans to join the European Union unless it got a satisfactory deal on fishing rights within its own territorial waters. The EU had threatened sanctions, such as a ban on imports of cod, herring, whiting, haddock and mackerel as long as Iceland refused to lower its unilateral quota or stop setting it unilaterally.
Iceland’s social democratic government began talks regarding the EU accession back in 2010, using the argument that joining the bloc would offer Iceland economic security after being devastated by an economic crisis in 2008.
Even so, the April 2013 election, which was won by the centre-right Independence party and the Progressive party, was considered a vote against EU membership. Moreover, opinion polls show that only 25 per cent of Icelanders support EU membership.
Iceland has closed about one-third of the 33 negotiation chapters in the EU's body of legislation (the acquis communautaire). The country also applies most EU single market legislation as part of its membership of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).
"The level of alignment with EU decisions by Iceland is actually better than a number of member states,” said Fule.
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