Iceland-EU talks: How to say “no” without quite saying it

At meetings in Brussels earlier this summer minister of foreign affairs Einar Bragi Sveinsson made it clear that the Icelandic coalition government (led by Sveinsson’s party the Progressive Party, together with the Independence Party) does not intend to continue its accession talks with the European Union. Sveinsson was categoric, there did not seem any way back. In Brussels those involved with the talks took this to be the end, I understand, though nothing final has been said.

Formally, there was to be a report in the Icelandic Parliament, on the state of the EU and on the state of the negotiations, already now in autumn. After discussing this report decisions would be taken. Well, no decisions have yet been taken who is going to write this report – will it be a committee or some organisation? No decisions on that so far. Consequently, it is completely unclear when the Althing will be able to have a say.

In Iceland, Sveinsson has stated quite clearly that the accession talks are over and this government will not continue. Sveinsson has also said that in spite of both parties, during the election campaign, favoured a referendum on continued negotiations he now sees no need for that. Officially, the government still talks officially about a break.

There are some Independence Party MPs, as well as some influential people connected to the party, who are in favour of Icelandic membership and who feel decidedly unhappy that this matter is being dealt with by only one minister without any further debate. This creates disgruntled mood between the parties.

The situation is now as if the government is trying to find a way of saying “no” to further talks without breaking off the relationship completely – it seems afraid of taking this decision knowing that the majority of Icelanders, according to polls, want to finish the talks and vote on an agreement. Sveinsson has been pointing out that in fact the EU has rejected Iceland by discontinuing the IPA grants Iceland has enjoyed the last few years thereby trying to tell the story as if the rejection is coming from the EU side.

Leader of the social democrats Árni Páll Árnason asked Sveinsson some questions recently regarding the talks but little was clarified (here are the questions and answers, in Icelandic). What is clear is that the government does not intend to continue the talks nor does it want a referendum, which it might very well lose.

The government may well be trying to keep this uncertainty going until the EU loses it patience and calls the negotiations off. But as it is now, the way the government is handling the issue portrays a government with an unclear idea of how to break without completely locking the door. A government that wants to say “no” but does not quite know how to do it and does not quite dare to do it. Since the government has only been in power for a few months this does not bode well for the major decisions that will have to be taken in the coming months, i.a. re capital controls.

*Read the original article here.

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