Reykjavik, the small modern capital, is soon left behind, and as one speeds across the lunar plains, past smoking craters and furiously spurting geysers, inhaling occasional whiffs of rotting shark, the local culinary delicacy, the feeling that one is at home in Europe soon vanishes. Icelanders weren't particularly convinced of it either, and their Parliament did not decide to apply for European Union membership until the fall of 2008, when Iceland's banking system collapsed and the IMF had to pump in emergency funds. EU foreign ministers have just submitted Iceland's candidacy to the Commission.

A bit farther to the south, another Atlantic island which appears to be more European in nature, Ireland, controls Iceland's fate to some degree. Knowing the unpredictable nature of the poets of the Celtic lands, Icelanders will be in suspense until 2 October. That day, the Irish will vote in a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Besides being more democratic and efficient, this treaty enables the Union to admit new countries.

Unless Lisbon passes, Iceland, Croatia, Turkey, and the other candidates will be shut out of the EU. The reasons are legal and political, because France and Germany have tied enlargement to the Lisbon Treaty. "No enlargement is possible until the Lisbon Treaty is operational," said Pierre Lellouche, the French State Secretary for European Affairs, in Brussels on 27 July.

The next day, Lellouche made a tour of the two Atlantic islands. Europe's oddballs have more in common than insular patriotism and a strong bond with the United States. Both went from poverty to riches in record time, until their economic bubbles, based on bad mortgages and stock-market speculation, suddenly burst, in the worldwide economic and financial crisis.

With 4.4 million inhabitants, Ireland, once the poorest country in Europe, became a Celtic tiger in the late 1980s, and is now the second wealthiest EU country after Luxembourg. It owes its meteoric rise to having joined the European Community in 1973. With an economy based on foreign investment (encouraged by tax incentives) and the real-estate boom, the tiger collided head-on with the global economic depression. Ireland was the first EU country to go into recession.

Iceland, with a population of 320,000, had long vied with Ireland for Europe's poverty record. But in the mid 1990s, it soared to the top, among the richest countries in the world, on the strength of its high-tech and fishing industries and bank investments. It was ranked 5th by the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and first according to the UN's Human Development Index (HDI). But in the autumn of 2008, the crisis revealed the folly of Iceland's financiers: oustanding debt had reached eleven times the island's GDP. Iceland is the only industrialised nation to have its banking system collapse, and was the first to request aid from the International Monetary Fund in the current crisis. The public was so indignant they nearly rebelled.

With the Irish referendum two months away, the two islands differ. Iceland, which already applies most of the community's civic rights and duties, is in a hurry to join the EU. Ireland, which has already benefited largely from EU subsidies (60 billion euros) rejected the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, just when the country went from "net beneficiary" to "net contributor". It is wary of enlargement. Public opinion polls predict that the referendum will approve the treaty, but other surveys, commissioned by political parties, say the opposite.

In Dublin, Mr. Lellouche avoided getting involved in the campaign. Irish voters resented having European leaders tell them how to conduct their business in 2008. The goal of Lellouche's tour was to remind the Irish of what Icelanders already know: the EU can help a country withstand the crisis. On 2 October, some 3 million Irish voters will seal the fate of 500 million Europeans. If they say nay, Icelanders will not be the only ones to suffer. But they, at least, may see the Irish vote as delayed revenge against their Viking ancestors, who sailed abroad to seek their slaves… in Ireland.