Monday, February 2, 2009

EU Early Membership for Iceland?

Iceland, the almost bankrupt Artic State, may soon apply to join the EU:

“The EU prefers two countries joining at the same time rather than individually. If Iceland applies shortly and the negotiations are rapid, Croatia and Iceland could join the EU in parallel. … It is one of the oldest democracies in the world and its strategic and economic positions would be an asset to the EU,” Olli Rehn, the European commissioner in charge of enlargement, told The Guardian on the 30th of January.

As a current non-EU member of the European Economic Area, along with Norway and Liechtenstein, Iceland has incorporated EU legislation dealing with “internal market” issues, a big bunch of the entire body of the acquis communautaire, that is, EC/EU legislation that candidate countries must adopt before they can join the EU. In other words, supporters of Iceland’s membership bid argue that the country’s ability to meet the legal conditions of EU membership will not require long negotiations.

Iceland’s miniscule size is also presented as an advantage in the sense that the EU’s constitutional architecture can easily absorb it. This is true although one may note, for instance, that the current rule of one Commissioner per Member State is set to continue for the near future following Irish insistence after their lost referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in June 2008. Iceland, with a population of 304,000, will therefore be entitled to its Commissioner.The EU Law Blog has more on this question here

Regardless of Iceland’s impact (or lack thereof) on EU decision-making processes, should EU citizens welcome Iceland as a matter of principle?

A positive answer seems obvious. This is not to say, however, that more caution is not needed. EU Institutions and Member States should make clear that that EU membership is a reward hard to obtain and that EU enlargement is not governed by double standards, i.e. Iceland should not be allowed to precede Croatia for example. Icelanders, for their part, should be ready to make sacrifices (e.g. compliance with EU fisheries policies – themselves in dire need of reforms – should not be an option, etc.). As for the treaty ratification aspects of Croatia’s EU membership bid (and potentially Iceland’s), they will be dealt with in a future post.

Laurent Pech

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