The parties decided to open four negotiation chapters and immediately closed two at the second EU–Iceland inter-governmental conference, on 27 June 2011 in Brussels. Leading the European Union’s delegation, Foreign Minister János Martonyi, called the decision historic.
Iceland’s accession process has reached the stage of negotiations, after the parties at the second EU–Iceland Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), decided to open four negotiation chapters on Public Procurement, Information Society and Media, Science and Research, and Education and Culture. This was announced by János Martonyi at the follow-up press conference. “This is a historic moment,” the minister said.
Iceland’s level of preparedness has made it possible to close the chapters on science and research, as well as the one on education and culture, in the same negotiation round, the Hungarian foreign minister said. It is a rare example in the enlargement history that newly opened chapters are exempted from further negotiations; and then are preliminarily closed in the very same negotiation round. János Martonyi recalled the time thirteen years ago, when he represented Hungary as a candidate country at the accession talks, and expressed hope that Iceland will also join the EU soon.
“Iceland is a country, which is already highly integrated into the European system. Large parts of the European acquis have already been taken over. Iceland is a member of EEA and is also a member of Schengen,” the minister reiterated. At the same time, he did not conceal that there were some areas, which will require serious negotiating in the future.
Results of eight-month screening
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle, pointed out that the second EU–Iceland inter-governmental conference have marked, not only the beginning of actual negotiations, but also the end of the Commission’s eight-month screening procedure. During this procedure, the European Commission examines whether the candidate country meets the requirements of the Community legislation, consisting of a total of 35 negotiation chapters, and proposes corrections for any deviation detected.
Tough chapters opened first
Mr Füle highlighted on the agreement reached with Iceland’s Foreign Minister Össur Skarphéðinsson, on the earliest possible opening of tough chapters such as agriculture or the fisheries policy. “We are working hard on concluding our screening reports and sharing them with the next Polish Presidency, so that we could deliver on that commitment,” Mr Füle said.
“Iceland is ready to open half of the accession chapters during the Polish Presidency’s term, including the two difficult chapters on agriculture and fisheries. The country would open the other half of the chapters during the Danish Presidency’s term,” Össur Skarphéðinsson told the press conference. He pointed out that this will be the first time for the European Union, to start talks with a new candidate country, which has vital interests in the field of fisheries.
In response to journalists’ questions, the minister revealed that he did not expect his country to become a member of the Union within two years, because of some complex negotiations with Spain over fisheries, and of the need to ratify the accession treaty, subject to a referendum, which is always time-consuming. Nevertheless, Mr Skarphéðinsson stressed he was not afraid that voters would thwart the country’s accession, provided that the fisheries chapter can be closed in line with the interests of the country.
Presidency gave momentum to enlargement
Štefan Füle expressed his delight and thanked the Hungarian Presidency for extending the enlargement process towards not only the southern, but also the north-eastern region. Iceland thanked the Hungarian Presidency for its efforts and appreciated the Presidency’s work.
János Martonyi also thanked the Commission for its support, “We are extremely satisfied that we could have had this IGC, just before the last days of our presidency; because enlargement is one of the most important priorities of our presidency,” he said. The foreign minister reminded participants that Croatia had received the European Council’s endorsement only a few days earlier, on 24 June; so, accession negotiations are expected to be closed with Zagreb on 30 June.