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]

Greek debt crisis strains the EU’s commitment to European solidarity

A.D. Papagiannidis and Nikos Frangakis
The gravity of the debt crisis and the pain experienced due to the EC/ECB/IMF sponsored stabilisation package for 2010-2014 presently dominate public discourse. Drastic cuts to salaries and pensions, combined with higher taxation are measures to be faced by the vast majority of people in Greece. It is to be expected, though, that the questions raised by limited and hesitant European solidarity in face of the onslaught of the financial markets will lead to deeper doubts as to Greece’s membership in future.[1] In late 2009 and early 2010, the extent of Greece’s budget deficit and the feeling that statistical data were intentionally fudged made for extremely negative comments on the part of EU authorities and for increasing uneasiness on the part of several European capitals; still, the new Greek Government initially insisted that a plan to bring back growth (through assistance to lower-income groups) should be applied, with moves such as cutting back public expenditure and raising taxes coming a distant second. Even more importantly, public opinion was largely supportive of this stance, while “Brussels pressures” (as well as the downgrading of Greek paper by the markets) were viewed as something close to unwarranted external intrusion in national policy-making.

A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) controversy: a “hot potato”

Aurélien Evrard

The decision made by the European Commission to authorise the cultivation of a genetically modified potato, and in fact to lift the moratorium on GMOs, caused a strong debate in France. If the French association for vegetal biotechnologies were to welcome this decision,[1] environmental associations asked the government to use its safeguard clause. The latter decided to refer to the High Council on Biotechnologies (HCB) before making a decision, said the Ministries for the Environment and for Agriculture in a joint declaration.[2] According to Hervé Kempf, from Le Monde, such a decision not only flies in the face of the Europe-wide debate of the past ten years, but it also raises a question, which discounts the European ideal: “In order to pave the way for GM products, the Commission plans to give each state the right to choose whether or not to authorise them, which clearly cuts the very principle of European integration and manifests the cacophony which currently reigns in the EU.”[3]

[1] Agrapress: L’autorisation de la pomme de terre Amflora critiquée, 15/03/2010.

[2] Communiqué de Presse, 03/03/2010, available at: (last access: 04/06/2010).

[3] Le Monde: Mal à l’Europe, 07/03/2010.

Estonian economy beyond the Euro: questions abound

Piret Ehin

Qualifying for the Euro amidst the economic tumult[1] is an extraordinary achievement, and in the overall European context, Estonian budget and public debt figures are indeed “sheer magic.”[2] As a “poster child for austerity,” Estonia could pay all its public debts and still have reserves left over. Equally notable is the stoicism of the Estonian people in enduring the government’s drastic spending cuts and falling real wages. There have been no major protests or riots – in fact, the government’s popularity has been on the rise since summer 2009. The Commission’s positive decision on Estonia’s Euro-eligibility lends additional “post hoc” legitimacy to the government’s austerity measures, and is likely to boost support for government parties in the March 2011 general elections.

The Danish opt-outs

Katrine Prytz Larsen

As a result of the Treaty of Lisbon entering into force, the Danish opt-outs were brought up. The opt-out regarding justice and home affairs and the opt-out regarding common defence were especially debated. According to these two opt-outs, Denmark only participates in EU judicial cooperation at an intergovernmental level and does not participate in the elaboration and implementation of decisions and actions which have defence implications.[1] All four opt-outs were maintained in the Treaty of Lisbon and thus Denmark was precluded from Europol cooperation, including the combating of international crime and terrorism. Furthermore, the opt-out regarding common defence meant that Denmark was unable to participate in the combating of piracy off the coast of Somalia – an issue which has been of great concern to the Danish shipping industry.[2]
The EU debate in Denmark focused mainly on the four Danish opt-outs and the possibility of an upcoming referendum. It was especially discussed how such a referendum ought to go about. The government parties have on a number of occasions argued that all four opt-outs should be voted on together as a full package so as to make it a final decision whether to become a full member of the EU.

Czech Republic – too few European topics attract the attention of politicians and the public

Vít Beneš

We would like to stress the salience of economic topics in the Czech Republic and its public debate. On 28-29 May 2010, the Czech Republic held general elections, with Czech national debt and its budgetary discipline being the core issues debated during the election campaign. The right-wing parties singled out Greece as a negative example of what could happen to the Czech Republic if it does not tackle its own budget deficit.

Fight against corruption in Croatia intensifies

Nevenka Čučković

The fight against corruption remains a top priority of the government, as this area is condition sine qua non if the negotiations with the EU are to be completed by the end of 2010. The government had strived to have some tangible results from its intensified efforts with a hope that the negotiating chapter number 23 on judiciary and fundamental rights would finally be opened at the beginning of June 2010. This chapter remained closed for negotiations until fulfilment of preconditions set by the European Council: a) a full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague and b) demonstrated ability of the government to systematically fight against corruption. The stumbling stone for opening this negotiating chapter with the EU had been the inability of the Croatian government to deliver the military artillery logbooks requested by the prosecutor’s office of the ICTY in The Hague, which would serve as evidence that no excessive artillery was used while liberating the Croatian city Knin during the liberating operation “Storm” in 1995, for which some Croatian generals were indicted.

Presidential elections in Austria

Hakan Akbulut

In the reporting period, the presidential elections of 25 April 2010 were the major issue dominating domestic politics and related debate. Apart from the incumbent, Heinz Fischer, a Social Democrat running as an independent candidate, Barbara Rosenkranz from the Freedom Party and Rudolf Gehring from a small party called the Christian Party of Austria (CPÖ) ran for the office. However, given Heinz Fischer’s popularity, combined with the ideological affiliation and comparatively unglamorous careers of his challengers, there existed no doubts that Fischer was going to win. Thus, the election campaign lacked any excitement. Nevertheless, the personality of Barbara Rosenkranz and the general attitude adopted by the People’s Party during the election campaign caused some controversies.