The EU should not give an inch on fishing and whalingby Stephen Tindale / August 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
“Mackerel war”: the EU argues that Iceland’s fishing quota is unsustainable
Iceland is the world’s longest running democracy. At a time when European Union institutions are still being criticised for a democratic deficit, Iceland would be a valuable and welcome member of the club. However, the European Commission should remain firm on its negotiating demands on fishing and whaling.
Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009, in the aftermath of its banking crisis. The island saw EU membership as a route to economic recovery. Out of the 35 negotiating chapters, 18 have been opened. Ten of these have been provisionally completed.
Iceland’s accession bid has support among member states. The main obstacle is that Icelanders themselves are likely to reject it. Once negotiations are completed, Icelanders will vote on membership. Polls suggest that a quarter will vote yes, with over half against and a fifth undecided. Support for membership has fallen since negotiations began in 2009, in part because Iceland has recovered from the 2008 banking and debt crises, and is growing at over four per cent per year. EU membership is no longer seen as a source of stability. But support for membership has also fallen because of the Commission’s perceived (by Icelanders) unfairness over Icesave, the online savings bank, and the current “mackerel war.” And the totemic issue of whaling remains to be confronted.
Icesave was run by Landsbanki between 2006 and 2008, with over 300,000 customers in the UK and 125,000 in the Netherlands. But in 2008 Landsbanki went into receivership. The British and Dutch governments argue that Iceland’s government is obliged to pay €20,000 to each depositor. Reykjavik argues that this would place the bank in €2.6bn of negative equity, which would have had to be paid by Icelandic taxpayers.
The time for negotiation over Icesave has passed, since the matter is now before a court and half the debt has been paid. So the key negotiating issues are fishing and whaling. The European Commission should remain firm on both. It would be counter-productive to lower existing EU standards to attract a new member. If this firmness leads to Iceland voting no in a referendum, so be it.
Iceland sets its own fishing policy and the industry provides 40 per cent of its export earnings, and eight per cent of employment. The current dispute focuses on…