The Icelandic parliament, after more than a thousand years of independence, has taken the historic decision to pursue membership of the European Union.
It was a close vote in the Althing, 33 – 28, but a week of marathon debates, often lasting until midnight, ended with Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdadottir saying she had no doubt the result would be good for Iceland. The news was welcomed in Brussels, where Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn looked forward to his portfolio extending halfway to North America. The government’s campaign faced opposition from MPs unhappy about parts of the plan, not least a deal to repay Britain and the Netherlands the billions they lost when Iceland’s banking system collapsed spectacularly last year. There are also fears about the impact EU membership could have on fishing, Iceland’s traditional main industry, but an area where Brussels has cut quotas to conserve fish stocks. Accession talks are expected to be tough and take about three years. A recent poll said two out of every three Icelanders were in favour of EU talks. But the figures also showed an even 50-50 split amongst voters on the issue of actual membership.