Iceland begins EU bid this week –

Iceland begins EU bid this week Published:  14 June, 2010

ICELAND’s application to join the European Union will be discussed by EU leaders on Thursday – but it could be a futile exercise.

The meeting  – ironically, on Iceland’s National Day – will be closely watched by the country’s fishing industry which remains firmly opposed to Iceland membership bid – as does an increasing proportion of the population. Fishing leaders believe  would not only be a disaster for the country, but would eventually open up its rich fishing grounds to the other member states – with all that means for fish stocks.The largely Social Democratic Alliance Government is expected to support entry – although one coalition party, the Left Greens, is opposed –  claiming it is the only way for Iceland to escape from its economic mess following the banking collapse 18 months go. However, the Government could have a job pulling the public behind it. According to the most recent public opinion poll in Iceland  56 perc ent are opposed to EU membership, up six percent since last September, while just 33 percent are in favour. Furthermore, the September poll showed a majority displeased with the government’s EU application delivered last summer.The fishing industry is certain to campaign hard against entry, pointing out that it is a major foreign currency earner and a major contributor to the national economy.

Even the Icelandic business community has now turned strongly against EU membership, according to a recent poll with 60 percent saying Iceland’s economy is better placed outside the EU and only a third of the opposite opinion. Interestingly, the Conservative Independence Party, thrown out after the financial crisis, is now back top in the polls again -and it too is firmly opposed to membership.

Much will depend on which way  Icelandic economic pendulum swings in the next 18 months and the ratings agency Moody’s has already upgraded Iceland from negative to stable.

It is not thought  the ongoing Icesave dispute with the UK and the Netherlands will have any impact on the EU decision next Thursday. Many within Iceland had hoped the EU decision would not come on that day, with both pro and anti-EU voices feeling it is unnecessarily divisive to receive such important EU news on the National Day.