EU reform complicates EU accession

To this day there is lim­it­ed dis­cus­sion on EU inter­nal affairs in Ice­land, as opin­ions on EU poli­cies are main­ly cen­tred on the issue of whether Ice­land should join the Union or not. Among the pro­fes­sion­als and experts in the field, the per­cep­tion of the changes brought by the Lis­bon Treaty, includ­ing the new role of the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, are incon­clu­sive. The new sit­u­a­tion calls for a dif­fer­ent approach for a coun­try apply­ing for mem­ber­ship, entail­ing lob­by­ing not only the mem­ber state hold­ing the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy, but also the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil. The new Pres­i­dent is seen as some­one who is not work­ing towards con­sen­sus, but wait­ing for it to occur before he acts. This has left the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy weak­er and ren­dered the struc­ture more com­plex. Con­se­quent­ly this is prob­lem­at­ic for Ice­land, now being forced to bide time pri­or to receiv­ing a deci­sion from the Euro­pean Coun­cil and mean­while left with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of influ­enc­ing the President’s agen­da. Before the Lis­bon Treaty, polit­i­cal efforts zeroed in on the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy, but now one more lay­er has been added to the struc­ture.11Inter­view with gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials in the Min­istry for For­eign Affairs, 19 May 2010. The new per­ma­nent pres­i­den­cy brings a more state-like struc­ture to the Union, com­pa­ra­ble to a head of state or gov­ern­ment. Despite this incer­ti­tude regard­ing the per­ma­nent pres­i­den­cy, the new set-up is believed to have some clear advan­tages to it. More con­ti­nu­ity, for exam­ple, will aid in smooth hand­offs between incom­ing and out­go­ing gov­ern­ments, com­pared to the pre­vi­ous brief six-month rota­tion. The new pres­i­den­cy there­fore will pro­vide cer­tain fix­i­ty.22Tele­phone Inter­view with a mem­ber of the Left-Green move­ment now in government.

The new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy will like­ly sim­pli­fy to a cer­tain extent the work of the EU in the respec­tive areas by hav­ing a set per­son in charge. This, how­ev­er, can also be anoth­er exam­ple of how the EU is devel­op­ing into a fed­er­a­tion of states where the indi­vid­ual mem­ber states’ voice is reduced.33Tele­phone Inter­view with a mem­ber of the Left-Green move­ment now in gov­ern­ment. There is not much debate on the role of the new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union, although some opin­ion mak­ers have expressed the view that Cather­ine Ash­ton lacks expe­ri­ence in the field and that her appoint­ment was a poor­ly dis­guised com­pro­mise.44Björn Bjar­na­son (a lead­ing fig­ure of the con­ser­v­a­tive Inde­pen­dence Par­ty and a for­mer min­is­ter): Andlit og rödd Evró­pusam­bandsins, com­men­tary, 24 Novem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.amx.is/pistlar/11730/ (last access: 16 June 2010).

At first glance, the added loop­hole of hav­ing the Ger­man par­lia­ment vote on Iceland’s appli­ca­tion was ini­tial­ly neg­a­tive­ly received, but in hind­sight, it pro­vid­ed an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to strength­en ties with the most influ­en­tial EU coun­try. Vis­its by Ger­man offi­cials in this capac­i­ty were well received local­ly, and the media wel­comed the oppor­tu­ni­ty of inter­view­ing Ger­man politi­cians on their fact-find­ing mis­sion to Ice­land.55Fret­tablaðið (a dai­ly news­pa­per), 12 March 2010, avail­able at: http://epaper.visir.is/media/201003120000/pdf_online/1_8.pdf (last access: 16 June 2010). A pos­i­tive vote from a pow­er­ful mem­ber state was enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly per­ceived among the Social Democ­rats in gov­ern­ment and oth­er Europeanists.

The Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) is only just start­ing and there­fore expe­ri­ence is lack­ing still. It seems as though the EU will start to run diplo­mat­ic ser­vice across the world where the mem­ber states of the Union speak with one voice and not as indi­vid­ual states. There can be con­flicts there due to the nature of these affairs. Indi­vid­ual states wish to keep their inter­ests and issues at heart at the fore­front. The 27 mem­ber states of the EU are also very dif­fer­ent from each oth­er. Dif­fer­ent approach­es con­stant­ly come up in inter­gov­ern­men­tal and inter­state affairs. In big cas­es such as address­ing Pales­tine and Israel, or rela­tion­ships with Rus­sia, inevitably there will be clash­es due to dif­fer­ent cul­tures and his­to­ries of the mem­ber states of the Union.66Tele­phone inter­view with a mem­ber of the Left-Green move­ment now in gov­ern­ment. Ice­land has a long stand­ing his­to­ry of coop­er­a­tion with its Nordic neigh­bours in diplo­mat­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ser­vices. Being a small state, Ice­land recog­nis­es the val­ue of such coop­er­a­tion and is there­fore high­ly sup­port­ive of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS). Anoth­er per­cep­tion is that it offers dou­ble pro­tec­tion for cit­i­zens of small or weak states, and is there­fore a good con­cept.77Inter­view with a gov­ern­ment offi­cial at the Min­istry for For­eign Affairs from the office of EEA-agree­ment and Euro­pean Affairs.

Being one of the old­est democ­ra­cies in the world, Ice­land is tra­di­tion­al­ly sup­port­ive of increased direct democ­ra­cy. The Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive should pro­vide direct democ­ra­cy to EU cit­i­zens, bring them clos­er to the pow­er struc­ture and give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be heard. There has been no debate on this issue local­ly in Ice­land, and it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that such an ini­tia­tive would not be met with any­thing but enthu­si­asm.88Inter­view with a gov­ern­ment offi­cial at the Min­istry for For­eign Affairs from the office of EEA-agree­ment and Euro­pean Affairs.

    Footnotes

  • 1Inter­view with gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials in the Min­istry for For­eign Affairs, 19 May 2010.
  • 2Tele­phone Inter­view with a mem­ber of the Left-Green move­ment now in government.
  • 3Tele­phone Inter­view with a mem­ber of the Left-Green move­ment now in government.
  • 4Björn Bjar­na­son (a lead­ing fig­ure of the con­ser­v­a­tive Inde­pen­dence Par­ty and a for­mer min­is­ter): Andlit og rödd Evró­pusam­bandsins, com­men­tary, 24 Novem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.amx.is/pistlar/11730/ (last access: 16 June 2010).
  • 5Fret­tablaðið (a dai­ly news­pa­per), 12 March 2010, avail­able at: http://epaper.visir.is/media/201003120000/pdf_online/1_8.pdf (last access: 16 June 2010).
  • 6Tele­phone inter­view with a mem­ber of the Left-Green move­ment now in government.
  • 7Inter­view with a gov­ern­ment offi­cial at the Min­istry for For­eign Affairs from the office of EEA-agree­ment and Euro­pean Affairs.
  • 8Inter­view with a gov­ern­ment offi­cial at the Min­istry for For­eign Affairs from the office of EEA-agree­ment and Euro­pean 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.