Iceland's parliament backs applying for EU membership



REYKJAVIK, Svanborg Sigmarsdottir - Iceland's parliament voted in favour of applying for EU membership on Thursday in the wake of its economic meltdown, opening the way for negotiations to begin with the 27-nation bloc.
A total of 33 members of the 63-seat Althingi backed the governing Social Democrat party's proposition to open membership talks with Brussels, while 28 voted against and two abstained.



Iceland's parliament backs applying for EU membership
Five members of the Left Green party, the Social Democrats' partner in the coalition government, rejected the proposition, including Jon Bjarnason, the minister of agriculture and fisheries.
The pro-EU Social Democrats, who hold 20 seats, and the 14-strong Left Greens formed a coalition government at the end of April following a general election.
Iceland's Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Johanna Sigurdardottir told AFP she was "extremely pleased" with the result and that EU membership would be a good deal for the country.
"On this day, I am extremely pleased and happy," she said. "I am convinced that this conclusion we reached here today will be beneficial for the nation."
The next step would be to apply for membership before the next EU foreign ministers meeting, which is set to take place in Brussels July 27, Sigurdardottir added.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement: "I welcome that the Icelandic parliament has now decided for itself to apply for EU membership.
"The application is going to be handled according to the (European) Council's established procedures," he added.
Under those procedures, Iceland will make its application to the Swedish EU presidency, which in turn will ask fellow EU members if there are any objections to the North Atlantic island joining.
If countries agree, the European Commission will then be asked to report on whether Iceland should become an official candidate.
Once the commission's report has been completed, membership negotiations can start.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Finnish television on Thursday he expected Iceland's accession to be completed swiftly, provided there were no major disagreement over issues such as fishing.
"Iceland is a thoroughly democratic, European country and it is already part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the Schengen region," Rehn said, referring to the EU's border-free travel zone.
"If the negotiations will not be unnecessarily difficult, due to fishing for instance, Iceland can surely quite quickly join the EU," he told Finland's MTV3 channel.
If Iceland is successful in its negotiations with the European Union, the Icelandic people will vote in a referendum on whether or not they want to join the 27-nation bloc.
Prime Minister Sigurdardottir was a strong advocate of closer ties with the EU on the election campaign trail earlier this year, but struck a deal with the eurosceptic Left Greens to put the matter to a popular vote.
The government argues joining the European Union would be beneficial for Iceland, claiming it would bring an end to the economic turmoil that erupted after the collapse of its once-booming financial sector in October.
Eurosceptics in Iceland counter that joining the EU risks excessive interference from Brussels in the country's lucrative fishing industry, a key pillar of its economy.
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Friday, July 17th 2009
Svanborg Sigmarsdottir
           


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