Iceland in the EU? Yes, but?.

The Icelandic application for EU membership is a little bit special: propelled by the economic crisis, the EU’s eagerness will annoy other potential accession states

Iceland has now formally requested membership in the European Union. This is, of course, flattering news. It shows that the EU is still an attractive club – a club that countries are willing to mobilise their citizens in order to join. But the economic crisis, and the fact that other countries are also lining up to join the EU, make the Icelandic application a little bit special.

Iceland was hit hard by the financial crisis last year: The economic thunderstorm that struck its currency and banking system made the country bankrupt. The bubble party is certainly over in Iceland, and an after-festive clean up is still needed.  This is, of course, where the EU comes in.

In a way, that is sad. The EU ought to been seen as more than a rescue haven for countries in economic downturn. It is a political project that, more than ever, wants responsibility and relevance in the world order, to secure its position as an international actor.

The case for Iceland

Although it is a small country, Iceland is still wealthy, and it is a vivid democracy that already complies with some 90% of the aquis communitaire because it is already part of the European Economic Community. Legally, it should be very simple for Iceland to join. There are some problems with fishery policies and whaling that will need to be solved, but this should not take longer than a couple of years.

But is the EU ready for Iceland? There is the perpetual problem of Lisbon – the EU definitely needs the Lisbon Treaty to be ratified before it takes on more members and the bureaucratic burdens that come with expansion.

Iceland will probably join before a few other countries, which have been waiting in the queue for awhile – Croatia, Turkey, the Western Balkans etc. Then are those that hope to join (for instance, Georgia and Ukraine). These countries may feel neglected if Iceland jumps the queue, and the EU will have a hard time arguing that will need to line up again.

To say that Iceland is welcome because of its resources and access to the Arctic region may be nice.  But it is ultimately not convincing: the EU should not allow uncontrolled accession just because some countries are small, badly affected by a crisis and need help.  Iceland and its citizens still need to define what they want to contribute to the EU and its political project for the next century – other than the debt of their country.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

We will store your email address and gather analytics on how you interact with our mailings. You can unsubscribe or opt-out at any time. Find out more in our privacy notice.