EU-Iceland relations 'remain strong' despite accession hiatus

Pat the Cope Gallagher says Icelandic membership of the European Union would be beneficial to both sides.

Accession negotiations between the European Union and Iceland came to a shuddering halt last summer and consequently raised numerous questions over the future of the north Atlantic island's relationship with the EU.

Negotiations between the two began on 27 July 2010 and since that date over 27 chapters of negotiation have been opened, of which 11 have been finalised. Iceland's membership of the European economic area (EEA) was one of the main reasons that considerable progress was made in such a short time span, this process usually takes years before talks can even begin. Despite this, [pullquote]EU accession is a controversial issue, with a majority of Icelandic people sceptical of the advantages of EU membership due to the recent economic crisis and the issue of fishing rights[/pullquote].

The announcement last year by the Icelandic government that they would put their accession negotiations on hold then was not surprising as it became clear that change was ahead. Of course, as chair of the EU-Iceland joint parliamentary committee, I was disappointed by the decision to cease talks; however, I fully respect the decision of the government to decide what is in the best interests of the Icelandic people.

It has been my long held position that it would have been beneficial for the Icelandic people to wait until the end of the process to see what the EU could offer, weighing up both the disadvantages and advantages, before holding a referendum on accession. However, circumstances have clearly changed and both sides now have to adapt to this new environment.

I must stress that I would very much like to see Iceland as an EU member state as I believe membership would be beneficial for both sides. In the meantime, I believe that it is vitally important that the European parliament continue to have a strong relationship with the Althingi, Iceland's parliament, by way of a joint parliamentary committee. We have worked well over the last few years, with the exchange being both fruitful and beneficial.

Presently, the Icelandic government has asked the university of Iceland to assess and write a report on the status of the accession negotiations of Iceland and of developments within the EU. This report will then be submitted to the Althingi on completion.

On a broader level, despite the fact negotiations are now on hold, relations between Iceland and the EU remain strong. Iceland is still a member of the EEA, entailing participation in the EU’s single market and many other EU polices. We also have shared goals in the Arctic, with the aim of ensuring long term and sustainable polices for this important region. Furthermore, I will lead a delegation to Iceland in March and hope to have a constructive exchange of views on the future of accession, and the EU’s relationship with the oldest democracy in Europe.