Communication with the EU

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Accession application and communications with the European Union

A dialogue has taken place between the EU and Iceland on Iceland's status as a candidate country. It clarified that the government has no intention of resuming the accession process, that any commitments made by the former government in the accession process are superseded by the new policy and that the EU should take action in view of the fact that Iceland can no longer be considered a candidate country. If the process will be renewed at a later date, the present government believes it important not to move forward without referring to the nation first with the question of whether it wants to accede to the EU. At the same time, emphasis is placed on reinforcing the implementation of the EEA Agreement and on closer collaboration with the EU on that basis.

Why end the accession negotiations?

The policy of both government parties is clear: Iceland's interests are best served outside the European Union. This policy was already in place during the election campaign and is reflected in the government's coalition agreement, where the negotiations were brought to a halt and a decision made not to continue, without prior referendum. Furthermore, a decision was made to carry out an assessment of the negotiations and the situation within the EU and its development. The government has stayed with this policy and honoured that which is stipulated in the coalition agreement. Thus, the position towards the EU, its Member States and the Icelandic nation is clear in this matter. In meetings between the Prime Minister of Iceland and the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council in July 2013 this new policy was explained.  On those occasions it was made clear by the two leaders of the EU Institutions that clarity regarding the application process would be welcomed.

How far had the negotiations progressed?

Altogether, 27 out of 33 chapters had been opened, 11 of which had been concluded, although the most important and complex negotiation chapters remained unopened, including chapters on fisheries and agriculture.

Will there be a referendum?

The government has no intention of holding a referendum on the negotiations with the European Union as this would constitute voting on an issue the government already opposes.  If the process will be recommenced at a later date, the present government believes it important not to move forward without referring to the nation first with the question of whether it wants to accede to the EU.

How does the government envisage its relations with Europe?

The government emphasises strong communications with the European Union on the basis of the EEA Agreement and this point is affirmed in the letter sent to the EU Presidency. It is important to promote the EEA Agreement and strengthen Iceland's participation at the level of the agreement. In March 2014, the government published its policy on Europe [http://www.mfa.is/media/esb/Evropustefna-ENS.pdf] which is aimed at this and ever since work has been carried out on its basis.

The EEA Agreement plays an important role in the legislative environment and is extremely important, e.g. in regard to the country's export interests, not least in fisheries, as Icelandic products enjoy free movement within the European Economic Area. The functioning of the agreement as such must be considered and no less so with regard to Iceland's interests served by it. 

Why maintain strong communications with the EU if accession is not a consideration?

The European Economic Area, the EEA, is one of Iceland's most important markets and in effect a domestic market. The key to this is the EEA Agreement. The government's policy on Europe places importance on strengthening work within the EEA.  The policy stresses the effective implementation of the EEA Agreement, e.g. by promoting consultations within the Administration and with regard to the Althingi. Priority is given to continued independent, effective and close relations and collaboration with the EU and the Member States.

How does the Minister for Foreign Affairs envisage the EEA Agreement and its development?

To make Iceland more prominent at the early stages of any matter pertaining to the agreement and advocate the country's interests. Actions have already been taken to serve this goal, e.g. through a steering group chaired by the Prime Minister´s Office and the business community's consultative group. Both groups were established on the basis of the policy for Europe. A recent case in point is the vigorous representation of Iceland's interests vis-à-vis the EU in the recent negotiations on adaptation in the area of financial markets oversight based on the absence of constitutional authorisation to adopt the legislation without adaptation.

Iceland must improve its performance in incorporating EEA legislation into national law. Certain progress has been made in this respect but further steps must be taken. Moreover, priority must be given to efforts towards matters of specific interests. On the few occasions Iceland needs to stress its unique situation, it proves increasingly hard to bring about changes on those grounds. In addition, developments in the acquis of the EEA Agreement have increasingly been put to the test on constitutional grounds. Efforts must be made to strengthen the political involvement in the operation of the agreement, not least on behalf of the EU.

What exactly does it mean to strengthen the implementation of the EEA Agreement?

Iceland has lagged behind in the timely incorporation of acts into the EEA Agreement, as the process has been delayed excessively. It is necessary to reinforce the work carried out at national level, in ministries and bodies, in order to speed up case handling. The steering group of the Prime Minister´s Office on EEA matters is currently reviewing procedures in this context.

The aim is to address matters earlier so as to render the representation of interests effective already at these early stages of case handling within the EU. Amongst actions aimed at by the government is the assessment of Iceland's interests in regard to the EEA Agreement. A coordinating group has been set up with the participation of e.g. representatives of the business community and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, to identify opportunities in Europe with regard to existing trade agreements, there is an ongoing effort to strengthen collaboration with Norway and Liechtenstein in relation to the EEA Agreement, emphasis is placed on the continued efficient cooperation of the Nordic and West Nordic countries to further strengthen the representation of interests at European level, and to reinforce bilateral cooperation with other European states, such as in the areas of security, trade, science and culture.

Will the end of the accession process in any way affect Iceland's credibility to the EU and its Member States?

The fact is that Iceland and the European Union have maintained close collaboration for decades.  EU leaders have reiterated that they wish to continue close cooperation with Iceland and this has been the case as Iceland already enjoys such cooperation with all EU Member States within various international bodies. Iceland maintains its credibility by presenting an unwavering long-term policy built on solid foundations.

Could the end of the accession process in any way affect the operation of the EEA Agreement?

It has at all times been possible to resolve any issues at the level of the EEA and there is no reason to assume any changes in this regard. It should be kept in mind that this is a mutual agreement between Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on the one hand and the EU on the other, which calls for cooperation and flexibility on behalf of both parties.

Could it adversely affect the solidarity of European states and the EU itself when the accession process if ended in this way?

This position was in fact clear already at the outset of the government's term of office, pursuant to the government's policy declaration. Iceland's solidarity with other like-minded European states, the EU, NATO, etc., is beyond dispute. Such alliance and solidarity are based on solid foundations which will not be overshadowed by this. Iceland is not the first country to change its mind following an application to the EU for a membership, cf. Norway which enjoys, just as Iceland does, extensive and good relations with the EU. Collaboration with the EU extends beyond the EEA Agreement and this has long been the case. The terrorist threat Europe now faces is an area, for example, where Iceland works closely with the EU and its Member States.