Baldur Thorhallsson, Tómas Joensen, Pia Hansson

EU discussion sidelined because of the Ice-save dispute – a country preparing itself for an intensive EU debate

Baldur Thorhallsson
In February, the European Commission recommended that negotiations for accession to the EU should be opened with Iceland – only seven months after Iceland submitted its application. The Icelandic government welcomed the opinion’s conclusion that Iceland is well prepared to assume the obligations of membership in most areas, in particular the policy fields conversed by the European Economic Area (EEA).[1] The ruling Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) also appreciated the opinion recommendations that Iceland needs to make serious efforts to align its legislation with the acquis and/or to implement and enforce it effectively in order to fulfil the accession criteria in the following fields: fisheries; agriculture and rural development; the environment; free movement of capital; financial services; the customs union; taxation; statistics; food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy; regional policy and coordination of structural instruments; and financial control.[2] On the other hand, this advice was not well received by the Left Green Movement, the SDP’s coalition partner in government, as well as the opposition parties and the fisheries’ and farmers’ lobby. All of them claimed that through EU membership Iceland would lose control of its most valuable resource, fisheries, and leave Iceland’s agriculture in ruins.[3]

Disappointment in Copenhagen but prospects in the future

Pia Hansson and Baldur Thorhallsson
The Copenhagen conference depicted a dilemma faced by the international community regarding necessary actions in the face of climate change. The Copenhagen Accord offered some results, but most Icelanders agree that the text fell short of what is needed. It is clear that there does not exist a consensus on what each state should do in this area and when. At the end of the conference, it was revealed, according to the negotiation offered by the states, that the atmospheric temperature would rise three degrees Celsius on average. Before the conference, the consensus was that the temperature should never rise more than two degrees Celsius on average.[1] For a small country like Iceland, sitting on the sidelines when policy and agreements are being made is not unusual. Some felt that the EU was on the sidelines as well and were disappointed. Negotiations in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference were characterised with scepticism from developing countries towards industrial countries. The hosts, the Danes, who steered the meetings, were never able to earn the trust from third world countries. This happened despite the fact that the EU and key states within the Union tried everything in their power to reach an agreement with the African states and other groups of third world countries in order for matters to be solved.[2]

The Greek problem seen from Iceland

Pia Hansson and Baldur Thorhallsson
In Iceland the current economic crisis in Europe is perceived as a very serious problem, not least because of the domestic bank collapse in the autumn of 2008. The European Central Bank has had substantial intervention in the bond market, by buying bonds from states that stand poorly. By doing that the Bank is gaining a new role in economic cooperation in Europe but perhaps simultaneously sacrificing its independence in the process.[1] Increasing stability in Europe is seen as a difficult project, and the understanding of that is high in Iceland, having already experienced severe economic and currency difficulties in the last two years.
The Icelandic media portrayed a tug of war on how much aid Greece would receive from the EU on the one hand and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the other, which in a way tainted the results of the matter. Great dissatisfaction was shown by the German nation, feeling they were expected to provide too much help. A risk of a Euro-collapse controlled the German government’s movements. By granting the aid, they bought certain security and thus tried to prevent something else and much graver to happen.[2]