A quest for speedy accession and inclusion of the North West European Region

The EU has changed a great deal since it was established with only a few founding members. It has become a different Union. The Council of Europe (CoE) has 44 member states including Iceland. In recent years the EU is gradually becoming more similar to the CoE. This development is more positive then negative. It upholds this collective unity which promotes peace in the continent and greater balance in living standards within the Union. Also there seems to exists no well-founded reason for keeping the applicant European states outside the EU.11Telephone interview with a member of the Left-Green movement now in government. Today, Iceland finds itself negotiating for EU entry alongside a group of seven candidates and potential candidates from the Western Balkans. Iceland, not having experienced recent conflicts and political motives and circumstances, is very different from these other states.22Alyson J. K. Bailes/Jóhanna María Þórdísardóttir: Iceland’s neighbours in the EU Entry Queue: Contrasts or Parallels in EU Enlargement to the North and the South-East, 2009, available at: http://stjornmalogstjornsysla.is/images/stories/fg2009h/alyson.pdf (last access: 12 July 2010). The perception in Iceland is that Croatia will be granted membership before Iceland. Iceland is, however, already ahead of Macedonia, which before Iceland’s application seemed to be next in line, and there is even more work remaining for the rest of the applicants. Therefore, Iceland would likely follow Croatia – if it is to join.33Telephone interview with a member of the Left-Green movement currently in government. Regardless of who wins the race in South-Eastern Europe, it seems only a coincidence that Iceland’s application finds itself on the table for processing alongside those of three small-to-medium-sized Western Balkan states and with four more close behind in the queue. Iceland’s existing relations with the Union are undoubtedly closer and on a more equal basis, thanks mainly to the country’s membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) for the past 16 years and of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) since 1970.44Alyson J. K. Bailes/Jóhanna María Þórdísardóttir: Iceland’s neighbours in the EU Entry Queue: Contrasts or Parallels in EU Enlargement to the North and the South-East 2009, available at: http://stjornmalogstjornsysla.is/images/stories/fg2009h/alyson.pdf (last access: 12 July 2010). When Iceland applied for EU membership in July 2009, the local perception was indeed that, due to Iceland’s EFTA membership and participation in the EEA agreement, the process would not have to be long. Although Iceland has experienced a total bank collapse and is going through a recession, Iceland’s economic development and situation today still leaves Iceland in a good position to enter into negotiations. The process has, nevertheless, been longer and more complicated than what was initially expected.55Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of EEA-agreement and European Affairs.

In general, Iceland is positive towards enlargement, as long as the countries fulfil the criteria set forth by the Union. The EU should maintain an open-door policy true to its origin. All countries that have applied should therefore become members, but may have to work hard to fulfil the criteria before this can happen. Membership in the future will probably occur on an individual basis though, not in groups like in 2004 and 2007. Understandably, the EU is more cautious at this point, because of the current economic crisis and the deteriorating situation in Greece. This can even be categorised as enlargement fatigue.66Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.

The Icelandic government wholeheartedly supports initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership. Promoting democracy and good governance, economic reform and environmental issues are all issues that are seen as extremely important, and the EU should reach out to the neighbourhood, offering assistance and leadership in policy making and development. Such initiatives also offer EU member states the opportunity to provide leadership and guidance. International and interpersonal relations are strengthened by such initiatives. But it is not enough to present one more initiative; it needs to be followed through with the necessary political backing. It should never be thought of as a one-way street or a charity project; the EU can and should also gain from this both in experience and better understanding.77Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.

As for the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), for the most part, the same applies. It should, however, be noted that there is concern that the UfM works well as a forum for dialogue on issues such as the environment, energy and civil protection, but has not been able to handle the issue of security which remains a concern. The Arab/Israeli conflict continues to paralyse all real efforts at increased cooperation around the Mediterranean Sea. This does not mean that an initiative such as the UfM should be abandoned, but it may be more successful if its limitations are clear from the beginning.88Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.
That said, some Icelandic politicians, public officials and Europeanists are concerned that the north-west region of Europe, Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, is being overlooked and even sidelined as the EU attempts to reach out to the east and south. The north-western region consists of inhabitants who are, at present, relatively negative toward European integration and participation in the European project. A question has been raised whether the EU does not have the responsibility to reach out to this part of Europe in the name of European solidarity based on the European ideology. For instance, this could be done in the fields of fisheries, agriculture and rural and regional development. Hence, there is a call for “a comprehensive EU neighbouring policy” towards the North-West.99Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.

    Footnotes

  • 1Telephone interview with a member of the Left-Green movement now in government.
  • 2Alyson J. K. Bailes/Jóhanna María Þórdísardóttir: Iceland’s neighbours in the EU Entry Queue: Contrasts or Parallels in EU Enlargement to the North and the South-East, 2009, available at: http://stjornmalogstjornsysla.is/images/stories/fg2009h/alyson.pdf (last access: 12 July 2010).
  • 3Telephone interview with a member of the Left-Green movement currently in government.
  • 4Alyson J. K. Bailes/Jóhanna María Þórdísardóttir: Iceland’s neighbours in the EU Entry Queue: Contrasts or Parallels in EU Enlargement to the North and the South-East 2009, available at: http://stjornmalogstjornsysla.is/images/stories/fg2009h/alyson.pdf (last access: 12 July 2010).
  • 5Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of EEA-agreement and European Affairs.
  • 6Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.
  • 7Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.
  • 8Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.
  • 9Interview with a government official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the office of Information Affairs.

The reports focus on a reporting period from December 2009 until May 2010. This survey was conducted on the basis of a questionnaire that has been elaborated in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were delivered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives significant funding from the Otto Wolff-Foundation, Cologne, in the framework of the ‘Dialog Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and financial support from the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.