Professor Alyson Bailes: Reasons and Obstacles for Iceland to join the EU

By Lucie Drechselova | 14 April 2011

To quote this document: Lucie Drechselova, “Professor Alyson Bailes: Reasons and Obstacles for Iceland to join the EU ”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Thursday 14 April 2011,, displayed on 08 December 2022


amaelogo.jpgAlyson Bailes is Visiting Professor at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, teaching on general security topics and on Nordic and European security, and also carries out personal projects in the field of security analysis.  From July 2002-August 2007 she was Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the first woman ever to hold that post.

What do you think is the most important reason for Iceland to join the EU? And how will the economic crisis affect the accessing process?

Different Icelanders see different reasons.  Social Democrats who have long supported accession see political and normative reasons for joining the most deeply integrated European grouping; there may also be a little anti-Americanism involved.  The broader public, where less than one third are currently in favour of entry, mainly see economic advantages especially in terms of financial 'shelter' provided by EMU.

Icelandic public views are very volatile and it is hard to be certain of the linkage with economic trends. The economy is currently starting a slow recovery and logically this should make the general public less interested in accession.  However, Iceland may feel more confident about joining when it is in a stronger position and less liable to be 'exploited' by others in return for cash.  Part of the intelligentsia is also convinced of the need for longer-term economic discipline to stop similar mistakes being made again.

Except from the reason discussed above, in your opinion, what are the other facts that can influence the accessing procedure in the future?

There seems to be no general obstacles from the European side so long as Iceland does not get too far ahead of Croatia, which at present looks unlikely.  The difficult concrete issues are fish and agriculture for Iceland and whaling for Brussels. The changes Brussels wishes to see in Icelandic economic and financial management will be taken care of by the IMF and the Icelanders' own policies.

The most likely stumbling block is the need for a national referendum to approve the terms of accession.  Current opinion polls suggest a clear 'No' vote and while things could change at short notice, the public is also liable to be swayed by short-term publication of 'scare stories', whether true or not.

Do you think the Identity Issue can be a problem in the Iceland case?

It is mainly a problem for the right wing in politics and for general public opinion. There are two levels of the problem: a general tendency to national 'exceptionalism', and a distrust of the EU specifically as conveying materialist, big-power, or even militarist values.  Iceland also seems to have a 'superiority-inferiority complex' in that it is (still!) convinced that its own ways are superior to 'Europe', but at the same time fears it will be exploited and contaminated by others in any closer relationship it enters into.

What kind of role does the Euro or the EMU plays in the accession process of Iceland? Will there be a possibility that Iceland can join the EMU without being a formal Member State? In other words, is there an alternative for Iceland’s accession?

People on the right have repeatedly suggested that Iceland could adopt the Euro unilaterally or could attach itself to some other currency, eg the Norwegian krona. The EU, Norwegians, etc have also always also explained immediately why this is impossible, but it will be hard to make the Icelandic people give up such dreams because they offer the hope of 'getting everything for nothing'.  (The latter is the phrase used by the government at the time of Iceland's EEA entry to describe what was happening then!) [NDLR : EEA stands for European Economic Area ; established in 1994, it allows Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to participate in the EU's single market without a conventional EU membership].


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Source photo : Alyson Bailes, pour Nouvelle Europe