Sunday, February 01, 2009

Opposition to EU membership grows in Iceland

As a new left-wing minority coalition of the social-democrats and Left Greens takes power today (with new elections planned for the 25th of April) it looks like opinion is shifting away from support for EU membership. According to the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen the last two polls have both shown the no side in the lead - by 38.3 to 37.7 percent in one poll and by 59.8 to 40.2 in another - which is in stark contrast to those carried out just a few weeks ago. In addition Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre who has been in Iceland for the last few days says he doesn’t expect EU membership to be an important priority for the new government. It was reported yesterday in The Guardian that Brussels is keen to have Iceland as a member and would fast-track them for admission in 2011. For numerous reasons though it is in the interests of Iceland not to go down such a road and in the end it's what ordinary people think that counts.

As for why Iceland should remain out the most important thing is perhaps fishing which with the collapse of the nation’s banking industry is likely to become an even more important part of its economy in the years ahead. At the moment Iceland as part of the EEA can stay out of the Common Fisheries Policy and therefore can set its own quotas and regulate who fishes off the Icelandic coast. If they joined the EU on the other hand they would be forced to open their waters to fisherman from right across the union and would have to accept centrally agreed quotas which they would have little control over. Iceland has long fought for national control of its fishing stocks, getting into several skirmishes with Britain in the 70s, and over the last few decades they have made a far better job of building a sustainable fishing industry than any of the member states of the EU.

The collapse of Iceland’s currency was the main reason why people initially turned in favour of the EU yet even if Iceland did become a member it’s in no way guaranteed they’d be allowed to use the Euro because of the strict fiscal rules imposed on member states. Some in the Norwegian government opposed to the EU, such as Centre Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete, have instead suggested that Iceland’s currency could be tied to the Norwegian krone. I’m not an economist and have no idea what the consequences of such a move might be for Norway but it would certainly in my view be the most favourable option for Iceland, stabilising its currency while allowing it to remain independent of many of the centralised and undemocratic EU structures which take little account of the social and economic needs of ordinary people.