Iceland starts formal EU membership talks

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Iceland starts formal EU membership talks

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Iceland has officially begun talks on EU membership just as Icelanders themselves seem to be going off the idea.

Launching formal negotiations, the EU’s enlargement commissioner urged Iceland’s government on Tuesday to give its electorate what he called “more objective information” on EU policies. He added that the decision to join the bloc should be based on “facts and figures” rather than “myths and fears.”

Public opinion is not the only obstacle to Icelandic membership.

A row over debt owed to Britain and the Netherlands still needs to be settled and there are differences over fishing rights and whale hunting.

Brussels forbids whaling but Icelanders see it as part of their culture.

Reykjavik is also reluctant to share its rich fishing waters with European countries that have over-fished their own seas.

As for the debt dispute, the Dutch and British governments want back nearly four billion euros they had to shell out to customers of the failed Icelandic bank, Icesave.

The people of Iceland rejected repaying the money in a referendum and the whole episode has dampened their enthusiasm for joining the EU: some 60 percent of the public are now against doing so.

And it’s Icelanders themselves who will have the final say on membership in another referendum when, and if, all the other hurdles are cleared.