Today the Icelandic parliament voted in favor of applying for membership in the EU. The vote was rather close, 33 to 28. With this decision, the Icelandic government is basically authorized to begin accession talks with the EU.
The road to full membership is, however, not a simple one. Several different steps have to be taken before the country can ultimately call itself the 28th member State.
With today’s parliamentary authorization the main barrier in domestic law has been breached. The government is likely to formally apply for accession talks with Brussels late next week. As soon as Brussels accepts, the Icelandic government is expected to hold a referendum on actual membership. Such a referendum is, however, pursuant to Iceland’s constitution not binding. It is nevertheless to be expected that the governemnt would follow the result of such a vote. At the moment opinion polls show a majority of Icelanders in favor of accession talks, but the level of support for actually joining is less solid.
One of the major (potential) obstacles to Iceland’s EU membership is that the country would have to sign up to EU’s centralized fisheries policy and cede much of it’s control over this much needed and valuable area of politics. Icelandic officials have said they would not be seeking a complete opt-out of the EU’s fisheries policy.
According to statements made so far by EU diplomats, an application for membership by Iceland would probably be looked on favorably and it has even been stated that something akin to a fast-track process could be used, enabling Iceland to join the EU as soon as 2011.
A next step would be that the executive European Commission provides a formal opinion on the applicant country, and the European Council of EU leaders decides whether to accept the application. Once the EU Council unanimously agrees a negotiating mandate, negotiations may be formally opened between the candidate and all the member states. A “screening report” is then drawn up for the applicant country and each area of legislation as a basis for further negotiations. Fortunately, Iceland, as a member of the European Economic Area, has already adopted much of the legislation that comes from Brussels. Negotiations will take place at various levels — among experts, permanent representatives for EU countries, chief negotiators and ministers. The European Commission is consulted during the process.
The comment from Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden currently has the presidency of the European Union) was rather short and unmeaning: ‘I welcome the decision of the Icelandic parliament to apply for membership of the European Union. The application will be assessed in accordance with the EU’s established procedures.’