Foreign relations of Iceland

Foreign relations of Iceland

Iceland maintains diplomatic and commercial relations with practically all nations, but its ties with Norway and other Nordic states, Germany, with the US, and with the other NATO nations are particularly close. Icelanders remain especially proud of the role Iceland played in hosting the historic 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavík, which set the stage for the end of the Cold War.

Iceland's principal historical international disputes involved disagreements over fishing rights. Conflict with Britain led to the so-called Cod Wars in 1952-1956 because of extension of Fishing zone from 3 to 4 nautical miles (6 to 7 km), 1958-1961 because of extending the fishing zone to 12 nautical miles (22 km) in 1972-1973 because of extension to 50 nautical miles and in 1975 to 1976 because of extension to 200 nautical miles (370 km). Disagreements with Norway and Russia over fishing rights in the Barents Sea were successfully resolved in 2000. Certain environmentalists are concerned that Iceland left the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in June 1992 in protest of an IWC decision to refuse to lift the ban on whaling, after the IWC Scientific Committee had determined that the taking of certain species could safely be resumed. That year, Iceland established its own commission—which the US does not recognize—along with Norway, Greenland, and the Faroes for the conservation, management, and study of marine mammals. Since then, Iceland has resumed whaling for scientific purpose and has rejoined the IWC, which it did in October 2002.

The Icelandic Fisheries Ministry issued a permit to hunt 39 whales for commercial purposes on 17 October 2006 [cite web|url=|title=Iceland resumes commercial whaling|publisher=Greenpeace International|accessdate=2006-10-17] . 25 nations delivered a formal diplomatic protest (called a "demarche") to the Icelandic government on 1 November concerning resumed commercial whaling. The protest was led by the UK and signed by nations including the US, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Finland and Sweden [cite web|url=|title=Iceland rapped over whale hunting|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2006-11-02] .

Iceland prides itself on being the first country to recognize the regained independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from USSR in 1990-1991. Similarly, it was the first country to recognize Montenegro's independence from its former union with Serbia [] . Iceland also is the greatest Nordic contributor per capita to NATO-led troops in Bosnia and Kosovo, to police in Bosnia, and to Bosnia/Kosovo reconstruction, resettlement, and relief.

Through the various international organizations in which it participates, Iceland has also increased its involvement in Third World affairs, focusing on development assistance and trade.

Membership in international organizations

Iceland is a member of the following organizations: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; Western European Union (associate member); International Criminal Court; International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; International Development Association; International Finance Corporation; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; European Economic Area; European Free Trade Association; Council of Europe; International Criminal Police Organization; and the United Nations, since November 19th 1946, and most of its specialized agencies, including the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Telecommunication Union, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization and the International Whaling Commission. The Icelandic government does currently finance two Programs of the United Nations University that are located in Iceland, The Geothermal Training Programme since 1979 and The Fisheries Training Programme since 1998.

International disputes

Rockall continental shelf dispute involving Denmark on behalf of Faroe Islands, Ireland, and the UK (Ireland and the UK have signed a boundary agreement in the Rockall area hereby ignoring its existance and thus declaring the claim irrelevant)

Iceland and the European Union

Iceland is not a member state of the European Union (EU) and has never applied for membership. Iceland is, however, a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), along with Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In 1992 Iceland and its EFTA partners (except for Switzerland, which rejected the agreement in a referendum) signed the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement with the European Union, which was designed to allow the EFTA countries to participate in the European Single Market without having to join the EU. The EFTA Secretariat in Brussels reported in 2005 that Iceland had adopted approximately 6.5% of EU regulations as a result of signing the EEA agreement [] .

The outgoing coalition government of Iceland, consisting of the conservative Independence Party ("Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn") and the liberal Progressive Party ("Framsóknarflokkurinn"), was against joining the EU. The Social Democratic Alliance ("Samfylkingin") is in favour of membership negotiations resulting in a deal which would then be submitted to a referendum. Following the 2007 election, the Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance entered coalition talks.

The most contentious issue regarding possible EU membership for Iceland is the loss of control over natural resources, notably fishing grounds due to the Union's Common Fisheries Policy. Opponents also point to the good performance of the Icelandic economy, high growth and low unemployment, as a sign that there is no pressing need to join the EU. It is commonly argued that the membership of EEA already brings most of the potential benefits of an EU-membership without the costs. Then there are those who view the EEA membership as costly and the experience with the EEA as a negative one and therefore oppose EU-membership. Unwillingness to hand over a part of Iceland's sovereignty to a supranational organization is another source of opposition to EU membership, as in other European countries.

Proponents of EU membership largely rely on economic arguments: they view the euro as a solution to the dramatic exchange rate fluctuations of the króna, which have posed a challenge for many Icelandic export businesses. It is also pointed out that Iceland has Europe's highest grocery prices and completely opening the Icelandic market to EU products might result in lower prices. Foreign Minister Valgerður Sverrisdóttir has said in an interview with Iceland Radio that she seriously wishes to look into whether Iceland can join the euro without being a member of the 27-nation EU, according to Norwegian news NRK. Valgerður believes it is difficult to maintain an independent currency in a small economy on the open European market.

Former Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson, seems to be also in favour of joining the EU, and predicted on 8 February 2006 that the country will join the EU by 2015. He added that the decisive factor will be the future and the size of the eurozone, especially whether Denmark, Sweden and the UK have joined the euro or not. [] His prediction, however, did not receive much support in Iceland; instead, it received much criticism, not the least from people within his own government. []

Although new Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde has not made any specific announcements on the matter since taking office, a speech he made as Foreign Minister in an official visit to Sweden in February 2006 made his position clear. In response to Halldór Ásgrímsson’s earlier prediction Geir Haarde stated that, "I don't share that point of view. Our policy is not to join in the foreseeable future. We are not even exploring membership." Further in a speech at a conference at the University of Iceland on 31 March 2006, Geir Haarde repeated what he had said on a number of occasions – that no special Icelandic interests demanded membership of the EU. In the same speech he further explained in detail why it would not be in the interest of Iceland to adopt the euro. []

An opinion poll on the matter conducted in August 2005 (after the rejection of the proposed European Constitution in France and the Netherlands) showed that 43% of respondents were in favour of EU membership while 37% were against, 20% were undecided. When asked whether Iceland should start membership negotiations, 55% were in favour while 30% were against. 54% of respondents were against adopting the euro while 37% were in favour. [] A poll produced on 18 February 2006 (after the prime minister's prediction) by the newspaper "Fréttablaðið" found 42% opposed to applying for EU membership while 34% were in favour. [] . One in February 2008 showed 55.1% supportive and 44.9% against. [cite web|title=Icelanders change their tune on EU membership: poll |publisher=Frettabladid |date=Februari 2008|url=|accessdate=2008-02-26]

Following a coalition government between the Independence Party and the pro-EU Alliance a special commission to weigh the pros and cons of European Union membership was set up. [,2144,2556758,00.html]

Agreed Minute

The Agreed Minute was a statute governing the nature of the U.S. military presence in Iceland. The Agreed Minute was last renegotiated in 2001. At the time, the U.S. Air Force committed itself to maintaining four to six interceptors at the Keflavík base, supported by a helicopter rescue squad. The Air Force, in order to cut costs, announced plans to remove the four remaining jets in 2003. The removal was then delayed to address Icelandic demands for continued presence of the jets. After an unfruitful series of negotiations and two reshufflings of the Icelandic government the issue lay dormant until early 2006 when the U.S. Air Force issued an official statement that withdrawal of the aircraft was already being prepared. U.S. officials have since then argued that Iceland is in no need of a military presence.

ee also

* Enlargement of the European Union
* Diplomatic missions of Iceland
* List of diplomatic missions in Iceland
* Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iceland

External links

* [ Icelandic Foreign Service] Iceland's embassies and missions abroad
* [ European Commission > The EU's relations with Iceland]
* [ The Icelandic European Movement (favours Icelandic membership)]
* [ Heimssýn, the cross-political organisation of Icelandic eurosceptics]
* [ An Icelandic eurosceptic blog (Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson)]

* [ Iceland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs] Foreign representations in Iceland
* [ Canadian Embassy in Iceland]
* [ United States Embassy in Reykjavik]


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