Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

How to say “no” without quite saying it – Iceland and the EU talks

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How to a break up a relationship? Do you say you need a break, yet making it clear it’s finite – or do you make a clean cut and say it as it is, that you really don’t want to stay in this relationship? The Icelandic government is having a major difficulty in breaking up with the European Union although the relationship was only that of negotiating a further relationship. Saying “no, it’s over” seems difficult – and that is exactly what foreigners often say about Icelanders: they find it difficult to commit themselves to final decisions. 

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.

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

August 26th, 2013 at 10:40 am

Posted in Iceland

4 Responses to 'How to say “no” without quite saying it – Iceland and the EU talks'

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  1. […] *Read the original article here. […]

  2. goupil

    2 Sep 13 at 3:02 pm

  3. Now doth prosperity mellow and drop into the rotten jaws of death. The coalition partners are beginning to learn how far apart they are on several, key issues. This is a recipe for governmental vapor lock. Strange, though, how that’s actually a major, neo-liberal goal.

    Knute Rife

    3 Sep 13 at 3:23 am

  4. Sigrún,
    Your allegory of the Iceland-EU negotiations as a domestic rifting is jolly, but inaccurate: The relationship between the parties never reached domestic, it broke during the prenuptial negotiations. The EU, a suitor of the mould and character of Fielding’s Jonathon Wild (see book of same name) was seeking to add Miss Iceland to his harem of, what is it, 27 wives (if he hasn’t yet managed to shove off Ms. Greece, with whomm he has become somewhat disenchanted), and add her ample resources to his fortune. To say that Wild, I mean the EU, wants Ms. Iceland for the substantial dower of resources only would be incorrect, since he has certain of his friends who are interested in, eh, how do you say delicately…”possessing” her…

    Whether Iceland is being coy or dismissive in responding to the EU’s Wild protestations d’amour does not bear on her serious decision-making in regard to her financial affairs. Or in her decision-making in regard to her capital controls.

    What bears on Iceland’s decision-making in regard to her capital controls is the state of the ongoing market war being waged against her. The war has been ongoing from February of 2007, when Britain’s financial sector, using media and rumour, made their first attack against the overseas Icelandic banks. But the capital controls did not come in until after Britain, regulators, government and financial sector, with little dog Holland jumping in to snatch what she might, blitzkrieged the Icelandic banks in autumn.

    Capital controls are rationing. They are controls applied to fiscal resouorces just as rationing controls are applied to fuel, essential materials, limited commodities, etc. that must be protected against scarcities and exploitations in times of national peril. For her fiscal defence when she was all but overrun Iceland found it necessary to ration the movements of, especially, foreign exchange, to harbour what she had, to insure she would have enough to meet her foreign exchange denominated obligations.

    Have you not noticed that the war is still going on? That the EU has been interfering with Iceland’s ability to obtain foreign exchange? For example, through selling mackerel she harvests from her ‘ocean ranching’ operation? It is the EU, not Iceland, who has a record of over-fishing and not competently managing ocean resources, yet the EU is attempting to pas itself as competent to manage Iceland’s harvesting, through attempting to force her to reduce her catch, which would result in her having less to sell, and in closing markets to ‘enforce’ or ‘punish’., which interferes with Iceland’s ability to sell the mackerel she does harvest, and so to obtain foreign exchange that she needs to meet her foreign exchange denominated obligations.

    Did you notice when Holland interfered with Iceland’s shipping of whale meat to Japan? Peventing an international shipment passing through a Dutch port from continuing to its destination? Shipments are between nations, hence, they are not governed by laws of nations, they are governed by International Merchant Law, whose jurisdiction is Admiralty. Shipments remain in International law jurisdiction from boarding port to destination port, remaining even when trans-shipping through a national port. Holland violated Merchant Law when she interfered with an Iceland to Japan shipment not legally her business, or within her lawful right to interfere with.

    You may recall other EU states joined Holland, and that the EU, the “federal” authority for the Euro-Block states, did nothing. Did not reprimand them, or order them to adhere to law. The interference was clearly hostile, its result intentional, whatever colour might have been put forward for a justification. The purpose was to interfere with Iceland’s ability to sell her produce, legally harvested from her ‘ocean-ranching’ operation, to a buyer willing to pay in foreign exchange that Iceland needs to meet her foreign exchange denominated obligations.

    The market war is still ongoing, Sigrún. As long as nations and blocks of nations behave in hostile manner toward Iceland to interfere with her ability to carry on normal trade and business the market war those hostile nations and blocks are waging continues.

    As long as that market warfare is continuing Iceland has to maintain her defences, including her capital controls. To suggest that Iceland should abandon her capital controls in the present hostile circumstances is to suggest she throw down her best defensive weapon. Such a suggestion is more in the interests of Iceland’s market enemies than Iceland’s, or any Icelanders’.


    7 Sep 13 at 2:33 am

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