Iceland’s finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has told his party conference that the country’s accession talks with the EU have come to an end, according to reports by the country’s paper Morgunblandid.
The application for joining the bloc was submitted in the wake of the financial crisis in Iceland in 2009. But with recent polls showing the majority of Icelanders support remaining independent, Mr Benediktsson, chairman of the Independence Party, said the talks had “come to an end”.
EU membership is opposed by both parties of government, the Independence Party and the Progressive Party.
This isn’t the first time that the minister has voiced his opposition to Iceland joining the EU: before the May 2013 General Election he said there should be a referendum on whether the talks should continue.
And he made clear that the political will was on the side of staying out, saying that they had “reached the clear conclusion over and over against that Iceland’s interests are better secured outside the EU.”
“That is our conclusion and in my opinion that conclusion is becoming stronger. That is my honest belief. Not the least in the light of what we have seen happening within the EU in recent years,” he added.
Mr Benediktsson said there were two key elements which had lead the people and the politicians to reach their conclusion that independence was best; the continued drive for political integration by Brussels and a growing discontent with EU actions.
“The EU stands on a great crossroads, not least because of the euro” he said. “The euro has become an independent source of conflicts between the nation states regarding ways to tackle stagnation, high debts and persistent deficit.”
Iceland faced huge criticism from EU countries in the wake of the financial crisis where they let the privately owned banks which had caused the crisis die. They also held a referendum on whether the country should reimburse investors of ‘Icesave’, mainly British and Dutch, and voted against compensation. Consequently the Icelandic government refused to pay £2.3bn back to Britain and ignored the condemnation voiced at the time.
But the decisions taken by Iceland have seen the country fare much better than those in the EU and particularly in the eurozone. And it was the choices they were able to make outside of Brussels control which aided the recovery, including capital controls which would have been banned by the EU single market had they capitulated to the calls to join.
Benediktsson said the problems of the eurozone were far from solved and that Icelanders should focus on dealing with their own issues. This message makes sense given the seven consecutive quarters of economic growth the country has experienced, with average GDP growth of 2.5 per cent, something that many eurozone countries can only read slack-jawed.
Technicalities over talks aside, there is very little support for Iceland joining the EU and the frenzy after the financial crisis was short lived.
“A Referendum on this issue should never be about anything else [other] than whether the Icelandic people want full membership of the EU or not,” Mr Benediktsson told delegates.
“Fundamental to such a referendum is a majority in the parliament as well as in government willing to shoulder responsibility for the accession talks and finish them with the aim of joining the EU. If these fundamentals are not in place then we will again get the same circus that took place during the last government term.”