Icelandic parliament continues debate on EU membership | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.07.2009
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Icelandic parliament continues debate on EU membership

Iceland's Social Democrats are pushing for EU membership to guarantee the country's financial future following the collapse of its economy. But Left-Green junior coalition partners are opposed to the move.

Iceland landscape with EU stars

Iceland's prime minister is pushing for EU membership for the crisis-hit nation

The Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, has been debating whether to authorize the government of the island nation to begin accession talks with the European Union.

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, who was elected after the previous government collapsed this year following its failure to avert a financial meltdown, has made joining the 27-nation bloc a top priority.

"We urgently want the application to Brussels by the 27th of this month in order to have an answer by the end of the year," Sigurdardottir told Icelandic television.

Thousands of people at an anti-government demonstration in Reykjavik

Massive protests over the economic crisis brought down the previous government

"We are close to a democratic and informed conclusion on this important issue, a conclusion that will no doubt facilitate our economic recovery," she said, addressing parliament on Friday.

"I don't doubt for a minute that we would be better off had we been EU members already when the calamity hit us last October," she added, referring to the meltdown that has crippled the economy.

Coalition partners disagree

EU officials have responded to the move saying member states will probably look favorably on an Icelandic application. They said negotiations could move quickly because the country already has strong ties to the bloc.

The resolution in the Althingi would allow the coalition of pro-EU Social Democrats and EU-skeptical Left-Greens to negotiate an accession deal with the bloc, which would then be put before voters in a referendum.

"This motion lacks heart. It lacks passion. There is probably love for the EU in some parts, but it is not here," said Bjarni Benediktsson, leader of the opposition Independence Party, in response of the government's proposal.

EU membership was the main sticking point between the Social Democrats and the Left-Greens after their April election victory. The coalition partners later said they had "agreed to disagree" on the issue.

The headquarters of Icelandic bank Kaupthing in Reykjavik, Iceland

The state was forced to take control of three top banks as they were facing a collapse

The opposition has proposed holding one referendum on whether to apply to the EU and, if there's support for that, then they want another vote on whether to join. The government insists it wants only one vote. However, Iceland first needs to get the green light from EU member countries before it can hold a referendum.

The daily Frettabladid said the resolution was expected to pass by a narrow margin and estimated that up to 35 of the 63 Althingi members supported it.

The Social Democrats have 20 seats in parliament and the Left-Greens 14. Analysts say the Social Democrats could get the support of two other pro-European parties, the Citizen Movement and the Progressive Party. The motion needs 32 votes to pass.

Growing support

Prime Minister Sigurdardottir and her Social Democrats have said a majority in parliament favors kicking off accession talks despite the wavering support of some Left-Greens.

"I have ascertained that the bill will go through by next week and I hope some of the opposition will support us," Ossur Skarphedinsson, foreign minister and a senior Social Democrat leader, was quoted as saying on the website of the Morgunbladid newspaper.

Support for joining the EU has risen in Iceland since last year's collapse of its top commercial banks and currency, which forced the country to seek aid from the International Monetary Fund and various European nations.

A May opinion poll showed over 61 percent of Icelanders in favor of accession talks. However, not all are happy with such a move. Powerful interests in the fishing industry oppose the idea amid fears EU membership would mean giving up fishing rights as they would have to respect the bloc's regulations and quota systems.

Officials of the foreign affairs committee said that the debates would stretch well into the weekend, necessitating an extra parliamentary session on Saturday.

rb/Reuters/AFP

Editor: Kyle James

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