Fisheries Minister: Iceland better off outside the EU

Iceland's Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Jón Bjarnason, yesterday gave a speech to an international conference on coastal fisheries in Biarritz in France. At the end of his speech Bjarnason, who voted against his government's application for membership if the European Union this summer, discussed from his point of view the situation of that application and how it came about:

"Last summer the Icelandic Parliament, Althingi, decided, to apply for EU membership. The process has already begun, although nobody knows how much time is needed for the negotiations. The political background is somewhat peculiar. The two parties in government have opposing opinions. While one is for membership, the other my party the Left-greens is rather strongly against it but has agreed to let a national referendum have the final say.

Recent opinion polls in Iceland show a huge majority against membership. Keeping in mind that all the agricultural sector, the farmers and the food industry are against membership, and the same goes for the whole of the fishing industry as my own party the left-greens, it should not surprise anyone that I am not in favor of membership myself.

Iceland is a small island situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with just over 300 thousand inhabitants. The foundation of our livelyhood lies in our natural resources; we must maintain sovereignty over our most valued assets, our economy, our culture and our future generations are depending on it. We can enjoy wide-ranging international cooperation without being tied up in the EU framework.

Given these circumstances, it is my firm belief that the future of our country is will be much better off outside European Union than inside."

Jón Bjarnason's speech

See also:
How serious is Iceland about joining the EU?
Report: Icelandic government to apply for EU membership


New chairman of the Icelandic No movement

Heimssýn, the Icelandic broad-political organisation opposed to membership of the European Union, held its national congress today (November 15) and elected a new board. The new chairman is Ásmundur Einar Daðason, MP for the Left Green Movement.

Ragnar Arnalds, former Finance Minister, stepped down as chairman after holding the post for the past seven years or since Heimssýn was founded in June 2002. Arnalds will nevertheless continue to stay on the board as a regular board member.

The Left Greens are in government with their senior coalition partner the Social Democratic Alliance. When the government applied for EU membership in July this summer Daðason was among four other Left Green MPs who voted against the application.

Ásmundur Einar nýr formaður Heimssýnar (Mbl.is November 15, 2009)

See also:
How serious is Iceland about joining the EU?
Report: Icelandic government to apply for EU membership


Would have voted against an EU application in opposition

Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon and chairman of the junior coalition partner in the Icelandic government, the Left Green Movement, said in a recent interview with the website Balinn.blog.is (published on August 21) that if he had been in opposition and thus not in the government he would probably have voted against applying for membership of the European Union this summer instead of voting in favour.

Sigfússon's Left Greens are opposed to EU membership according to their platform but the leadership decided to give in and support applying in order to stay in government with the pro-EU Social Democratic Alliance. The social democrats had made it an absolute condition for a renewed coalition after the general elections last spring that an application for EU membership would be sent to Brussels.

However, Sigfússon recently admitted that despite the application being delivered by his government it was nevertheless obvious that the Icelandic people did not want to join the EU. The latest opinion polls have suggested that a vast majority opposes EU membership with the last one from Capacent published on November 5 putting the margins at 54 percent against and only 29 percent in favour.

The interview on YouTube (in Icelandic)

See also:
How serious is Iceland about joining the EU?
Report: Icelandic government to apply for EU membership


Iceland wants full authority over its fishing grounds

The Icelandic negotiation team for the upcoming membership negotiations with the European Union has been appointed led by Stefán Haukur Jóhannesson, Iceland's ambassador in Brussels. The chief negotiator for fisheries, Kolbeinn Árnason, said today (November 12) to the state radio RÚV that emphasis would be put on Iceland keeping full authority over its fishing grounds.

Ísland haldi stjórn á fiskveiðum (Rúv.is November 12, 2009)


How serious is Iceland about joining the EU?

Speculations whether the Icelandic government’s application for membership of the European Union is really serious are quite understandable. The government is totally split on the issue, the Icelandic parliament only voted narrowly in favour of the application this summer and the people are utterly opposing it. The step is completely premature with all the wrong circumstances at hand.

Even in the light of the economic difficulties Iceland is facing at the moment, and which have been used to the outmost by the pro-EU side to try to get Icelanders to change their minds about the EU, the opposition to membership has on the contrary been growing fast according to the polls. The Icelandic people are simply not being convinced that the EU is a solution to their problems and besides the price for joining is simply seen as way too great.

The political situation
Nothing has really changed in Iceland in the political attitute towards the EU. There is still as before only one political party which can be defined as pro-EU, the ruling Social Democratic Alliance. There is also far from being a sufficient support for EU membership in the polls. According to the latest one the vast majority of Icelanders oppose joining the EU by 54 percent against 29. And the majority is also unhappy with the membership application.

The sole reason why the social democrats managed to get an EU application through is that the leadership of their junior coalition partner, the Left Green Movement which is opposed to EU membership according to its platform, decided to support the step only to be able to form a government with them. Otherwise there would simply not have been any EU application. This was merely a horse bargaining between the government parties.

Split government
The result of all this is a government torn apart over this issue – and others. One of its ministers voted against the EU application in the parliament in July, Jón Bjarnason the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, along with four other Left Green MPs (out of total 14 Left Green MPs). The leadership of the Left Green Movement has furthermore publicly assumed every right to oppose a final membership agreement with the EU and even to withdraw the application at any time.

The leader of the Left Greens, Finance Minister Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, summed up the situation quite well at the recent Nordic Council’s 61st Session in Stockholm when he said that even though his government had applied for EU membership the Icelandic people nevertheless didn’t want to join. In other words there is a huge gap – or more precise a huge canyon – between the Icelandic government and its people on the EU issue.

Those Icelanders who favour joining the EU have been waiting for years for the right environment for an EU application without success. So when Iceland was hit by the economic crisis a year ago they thought this opportunity had finally arrived, not the least since the polls became very favourable for them at first. But at the beginning of this year the polls again became unfavourable for their cause and have been increasingly since.

The latest token of the growing pro-EU desperation in Iceland is a ridiculous and at the same time laughable attempt to draw up a picture of Icelanders as xenophobes, and especially their opponents in the No camp, and claiming it the reason for the opposition to joining the EU. Despite for example the fact that opposition to membership has always had a tendency to grow when there has been a significantly increased debate in Iceland on the issue.

Growing pessimism
This all has led to growing pessimism among leading people in the pro-EU camp. Recently a former Foreign Minister of Iceland, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, said that he thought the Icelandic people would reject joining the EU in a referendum. Hannibalsson, who was a Foreign Minister when Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1994, has for many years been one of the most outspoken supporters of Icelandic EU membership.

Another prominent figure on the pro-EU side, scholar Eiríkur Bergmann Einarsson, said addressing a public meeting at the end of September that he thought Iceland wouldn’t join the EU in the forseeable future. If the Icelandic people would say yes to membership it would be due to temporary insanity, at any ordinary day they would say no. Einarsson’s assumption is probably quite correct.

Norway all over again
Iceland’s neighbour to the east, Norway, has twice applied for EU membership and on both occasions rejected it in a referendum. According to various news reports there are growing worries in Brussels that the Icelandic application will meet the same fate. Which must be seen as quite understandable. After all Icelanders clearly don’t want to join the EU and probably never have.

So the question the leaders of the EU obviously must ask themselves is whether or not they are eager to repeat their Norwegian experience?


New poll showing majority against EU membership

One more opinion poll showing majority of Icelanders opposed to joining the European Union was published today (November 5). According to the poll 54 percent of Icelanders now oppose membership while only 29 percent favour the step. 17 percent are uncertain. If those uncertain are excluded 65 percent are opposed to EU membership and 35 percent in favour.

This is the third poll in a row showing an absolute majority against EU membership. Here are the results of the three polls on the question if Iceland should join the EU or not including this one.

August 4:   No 48,5 percent   Yes 34,7 percent
September 15:   No 50,2 percent   Yes 32,7 percent
November 5:   No 54 percent   Yes 29 percent

The poll was carried out by the Research Center of Bifröst University for the TV channel Stöð 2 between September 26 and October 4. Some 859 people were polled and 65 percent responded.

Könnun: ESB yrði kolfellt í kosningum (Vísir.is November 5, 2009)

Related stories:
Never as much opposition to EU membership in Iceland
Majority of Icelanders against EU membership


Icelanders don't trust the EU

The majority of Icelanders has very little trust for the European Union according to a new opinion poll published on Saturday (October 31) by Capacent. Only about 26 percent have much trust for the EU with 44 percent who have little trust for it. The rest, or 30 percent, are undecided.

Mikill meirihluti Íslendinga treystir ekki AGS (Amx.is October 31, 2009)


Former FM says EU membership will probably be rejected

A former Foreign Minister of Iceland, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, said at a meeting held at the University of Reykjavík on Friday (October 30) that he thought the Icelandic people would probably reject membership of the European Union in a referendum. This he contributed among other things to a poor political leadership by which he was obviously referring to the current government in Iceland.

This is seen as quite interesting since Hannibalsson has for years been one of the most outspoken supporters of Icelandic joining the EU. The former Foreign Minister is, however, far from being the only leading supporter of EU membership in Iceland who has recently aired pessimism that Iceland will actually join the EU at the end of the ongoing accession process.

Jón Baldvin: ESB-aðild sennilega hafnað (Amx.is October 31, 2009)