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.