Another referendum amidst doubt on Europe

Published on 22 February 2011 at 13:45

Within the next two months, the citizens of Iceland will turn out for a referendum on the agreement reached by their government and authorities in the UK and the Netherlands to settle accounts in the wake of the financial meltdown in the autumn of 2008. Although it benefited from a clear majority in parliament -- the law outlining the terms for the agreement had been passed by 44 votes to 16 -- on 20 February, President Olafur Ragnar Grimson made use of his veto for the second time in 12 months to block the legislation. As a result, the plan to reimburse close to €3.9 billion paid out by London and The Hague in the wake of the collapse of the online bank Icesave will once again be subject to a referendum.

“Will this latest development (…) have an impact on Iceland’s accession to the European Union?” wonders Le Soir. In spite of “threats from London and The Hague to slow down or even block negotiations on the island’s entry into the EU,” the “huge ‘no vote’ (93%) in the referendum on the first version of the agreement in 2010 did not prevent the opening of accession negotiations in July” of last year. Interviewed by the Belgian daily, political scientist Baldur Thorhallsson explains that the British, who responded angrily to the first referendum, “were nonetheless accommodating, because they would like to have a new eurosceptic ally in the EU.”

Polling company director Olafur Gylfason points out that the Icelanders “draw a clear distinction between the Icesave affair and the issue of EU membership.” Icelandic public opinion has changed significantly since the financial crisis, continues Le Soir. “Amid the initial panic, many people believed that Europe would provide a safeguard for the future of the island,” explains Gylfason, but “they are less enthusiastic. Only 18% of the population judge the EU to be credible, and the fate of accession plans, which have divided the country’s centre-left government, will be determined by the very sensitive issue of fishing rights.

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