Iceland, EU membership and whaling.

Post by Barbara Slee, IFAW Political and campaign Officer, EU Office

Last week the media reported that the Icelandic government's bid for European Union membership may stumble over agriculture and fisheries, and its ability to convince islanders to support the bid. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has signaled another stumbling block: Iceland and its unacceptable whaling activities.

The island's parliament voted last week to begin accession talks with the EU and hold a referendum for the population to express their opinion. Rumours are that the government is chasing EU membership as a way out of the economic crisis that has crippled the financial system and caused the collapse of its currency. However, things might get slowed down.

The primary hurdle will be the EU's fisheries and agricultural policy, which will cause intense debate between Iceland and the bloc. Another hurdle will be the support of the population; a Gallup poll in May showed 39 percent of Icelanders favor joining the union while 38.6 percent were against.

At the same time the Netherlands is stepping up pressure on Iceland to hammer out a draft deal on compensation to Dutch savers for money lost in Icelandic banks. And the UK is probably hoping to get a similar deal rubber-stamped, as UK savers are still waiting for compensation as well. On 23 July, the vote on this sensitive deal was postponed till August; according to a representative of the government of Iceland this decision was made to give the financial commission more time to reflect about the so-called Icesavedeal.

Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen stated on Tuesday (21 July) after a meeting with his Icelandic counterpart Ossur Skarphedinsson: "It is absolutely necessary that the agreement is approved. A solution to the problem of Icesave would encourage rapid consideration of Iceland's bid to join the EU." Mr. Verhagen added "It would show that Iceland takes European directives seriously." Iceland has transposed about 75 percent of the EU's body of law, but IFAW pointed out in a letter sent to different Permanent Representations in Brussels that the whaling activities of Iceland are without a doubt contrary to EU legislation (for example the Habitat Directive) and several international conventions.

Both Sweden, as the current EU presidency, and the European Commission were quick to praise the decision of Iceland to ask for EU membership. IFAW was equally quick in pointing out that all necessary hurdles have to be tackled to become an EU member state. One of those is a solid commitment to stop all whaling activities. Only then will the country be considered a valid candidate.

Today (July 27) ministers have gathered together in Brussels to discuss different topics, amongst which is Iceland's membership. Under an unofficial plan, Iceland could start membership negotiations next February and hold a public referendum in late 2011 or early 2012. Let's hope some of the member states will remind Iceland of the importance of acting in accordance with EU legislation.

To be continued...

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