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In 2015, the former Icelandic prime minister breathed a sigh of relief that his country had never joined the EU. Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said: “I’m pretty sure our recovery could not have happened if we had been part of the EU. Then Iceland may have suffered the fate of Greece, with its long-standing economic collapse, or Ireland, which saw its public debt soar as the government endorsed the industry’s bad debts. banking.
“If all these debts had been in euros, and we had been forced to do the same as Ireland or Greece, and take responsibility for the debts of the failed banks.
“It would have been catastrophic for us economically. “
Iceland is now a world away from the difficult days of 2009, when Mr Gunnlaugsson’s predecessor, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, saw EU membership as a way to save the country.
However, the country’s candidacy for the EU subsequently failed.
Reluctance in Brussels and Reykjavik to bring up the embarrassing subject of fishing quotas slowed down negotiations, while at home popular sentiment shifted as the North Atlantic island slowly made its way.
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The former Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
According to the country’s finance minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, however, in 2018 the EU began to view the Nordic country’s independence as a “nuisance”.
Mr Benediktsson said the bloc’s desire for “deeper integration” made it more difficult for Iceland to have special exemptions in areas that risked harming national interests.
His comments highlighted the difficulties Britain would have faced had it adopted the ‘soft Brexit’ model pushed by some activists and Labor MPs.
Mr Benediktsson told The Telegraph that Reykjavik was increasingly concerned that the EU “understood” why Iceland was so reluctant to be drawn into the European project.
He said, “They almost show contempt, it’s like a nuisance to them.
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Icelandic Finance Minister Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson
“Why can’t everyone become a full member?
“I can understand that from a political point of view, but the point is, if you have an international agreement, you have to respect it, and that’s it. “
His comments came after the Icelandic parliament vowed to review the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, amid growing concerns that Brussels was exerting too much influence over its internal affairs.
Iceland’s membership in the EEA allows full access to the single market, its main trading partner, but forces the country to accept EU rules such as free movement.
Legal issues are handled by the European Free Trade Area (Efta) Court, which is independent and although its decisions are often informed by case law established by judgments of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Norway and Liechtenstein are also members of the EEA and Efta.
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Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping
Referring to the legal framework which ensures that Iceland is ruled by Efta, rather than accepting the direct rule from Brussels, Mr Benediktsson insisted that his country’s participation in the EU internal market is based on a “two-pillar system”.
The Minister of Finance added: “The fact that the European Union has the idea that we would accept anything else is simply scandalous to us. But these attempts are in progress. “
Despite this, Iceland’s accession to the EEA has been “a huge success,” said Mr Benediktsson, stressing that Iceland was still in a position to sign free trade agreements because it was unable to do so. was not part of the EU customs union.
In 2013, Reykjavik became the first European country to conclude a trade agreement with China.