Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Iceland and the European Union: An In-Depth Analysis of One of Iceland's Most Controversial Debates

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Iceland and the European Union: An In-Depth Analysis of One of Iceland's Most Controversial Debates

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE examines the costs and benefits that membership in the European Union could bring to Iceland. For the most part, there is a sense of ambivalence toward the concept of EU membership in Iceland. While the EU offers significant economic and political opportunities, it also poses a great threat to the extremely independent and culturally unique nature of Iceland. Will Iceland choose to follow twenty-five other European countries and join the European Union? Or will it continue to maintain an independent existence in the midst of this growing international bloc?

On 1 May 2004, ten new countries were officially inducted into the European Union enlarging the union to twenty-five member states and greatly expanding its influence in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. (1) The addition of these new members inevitably alters the nature and function of the EU, and consequently new questions and concerns have been raised in the debate over membership in non-EU countries that are within the confines of the European region. While many citizens and politicians alike are becoming more concerned about their isolated status, EU-skeptics continue to advocate the preservation of independence from the EU. Iceland is one of the countries caught in this rift between anti-EU and pro-EU sentiments. The majority of the Icelandic political elite remain skeptical about EU membership, while its electorate appears to be more open to considerations of membership. Iceland is notorious for its isolationist tendencies and for being somewhat Euro-skeptic, but it has maintained relatively strong ties with the EU member stares. Nevertheless, with the enlargement of the EU and its expansion toward the eastern and southern regions of Europe, Iceland may feel more isolated than ever and may eventually be compelled to reconsider its political autonomy from the EU.

With these new pressures and tensions arising, it is important to analyze the debate over whether Iceland should seek membership in the Et; by surveying the opinions of the Icelandic political elite and the electorate, by presenting the specific arguments for and against EU membership, and by investigating the actual factors that will aid or hinder Icelandic admission to the EU.

WHAT DO ICELANDERS THINK OF THE EU?

It is vital to analyze the opinions of both the political elite and the electorate toward EU membership. The political elite have been noticeably hesitant about further integration in the European Union. One reason may be the fact that Iceland is such a small state when compared to the larger EU states (e.g. France and Germany) and the EU as a whole. As Baldur Thorhallsson points out, "Iceland, with a population of some 276,000, is clearly a small state" (Consequences 62), and many scholars have argued that the political influence of small states on an international level is significantly less than that of the larger. "Others [scholars] have defined a small state as being a state that is unable to exercise its political will, or protect its interests, by power politics or does not have the capabilities to guarantee its own security" (The Role 4). And even though Iceland's economy and political institutions run smoothly and the standard of living is impressively high, (2) many Icelandic politicians argue that Iceland is still exogenously perceived as a "small state." Therefore, the majority of the political elite in Iceland believe that their power and influence in the EU would not be as great as the larger states. The EU observer's Luise Hemmer Pihl explains that membership in the EU can be a daunting concept for applicants (especially smaller nations) since membership would require the transfer of some national sovereignty to EU institutions.

   The arguments against EU membership have been strengthened since
   1994. More and more power has been shifted from member states to
   Brussels. The big countries have secured more power at the cost
   of the smaller ones. … 
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