It’s looking possible that the EU will have a potential new member as Iceland’s new coalition government is planning to reopen the idea of membership in the union.

Icelandic MPs will stage a vote on whether to hold a referendum on EU membership, according to the three parties in the new Icelandic government coalition. If the Althing (Icelandic Parliament) decides in favour of a referendum, then Iceland is expected to go to the polls in 2018.

Halfway there

Iceland is already connected in many ways with the EU – it is a member of the Schengen passport-free zone and is in the single market. Currently Iceland along with Norway and Liechtenstein are in both the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA).

Iceland was actually in the process of applying for EU membership, but cancelled the application in 2015 following a number of years of tough recession. Those years saw brutal treatment of its politicians and even some jail terms for some of their bankers while the Prime Minister from 2006 to 2009 was put on trial and found guilty over the country’s 2008 financial crisis. So these Icelanders are not to be messed with when it comes to their savings and investments – a possible characteristic that many EU states could learn from!

Liberal trailblazers

Iceland is also an incredibly liberal country with a parliament that dates back to the 1200s and a propensity for taking the lead in political firsts. Iceland elected the first directly chosen female head of state in 1980 when Vigdís Finnbogadóttir took the office as President. Iceland also became the first country with an openly gay head of government when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became Prime Minister in 2009.

So what is it about the Icelanders? I’m guessing it’s a large chunk of pragmatism linked with a strong moral background that’s not based on religion. They are quiet nationalist, but not in a dirty way. They seem to have a certain degree of calm about them that can only be admired. The recent coalition that has been formed is centre-right, but the last election in October was a mixed affair with no real winner. It looked at one point that the Pirate party, a direct democracy populist movement that gained support following the resignation of Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, due to his involvement in the Panama Papers scandal, was going to be in the government, but they were unable to gain enough support.

What will they bring?

So will Iceland be a worthy member? Of course they will, and in fact they will bring more to the table than a lot of previous applicants. What is important though is that Iceland must be willing to be a member and not just another state that will blow out when the difficult times appear. There will no doubt be clashes. Iceland is extremely dependant on their fishing industry and the Common Fisheries Policy will not be attractive to them at all, so things will need to be ironed out and who knows, maybe states like Ireland, who have seen their fishing stocks practically raped by super trailers from all over Europe, may benefit if Iceland seeks a new deal.

But if they do join, let’s hope that they will bring the pragmatism and common sense that we seem to think is in high commodity in Iceland, over here in the rest of Europe.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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    1 Comment

    1. There is a German word ‘halbschwanger’ that literally means semi-pregnant, which looks like half pregnant, a state of being that cannot exist. It is a word that corresponds best with the French ‘en alerte’ which then taken the step further into English is more like ‘on standby’. That is what the Icelanders appeared to be doing up until the 2015 decision to stop the membership negotiations. They have probably seen the advantages of being in the Schengen Area, certainly reap the benefits of the single market and whilst fisheries will emotionally play on their consciences of many of them, the attractions of freedom of movement with their growing population and limited higher education offer there will be attractive for many of them. They may also be, ironically, given an incentive to join by the UK position since the wounds of the Cod Wars are in many ways not emotionally resolved. The UK lost but have never conceded their invasion of Icelandic territorial waters was wrong. The old ‘enemy’ out, them in and they get the last laugh and having known a few Icelanders myself I know their humour is rich enough to truly savour that.

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