Wednesday, 19 June 2013

It's about the fish, stupid

Well, it is partly about the fish. Iceland has now officially informed the European Commission that it will not be applying for EU membership. Appropriately, Fish Information & Services reported it, quoting EUObserver.

Iceland's bid to join the EU is over, the country's foreign minister told the European Commission on Thursday (13 June).

"This is how democracy works," said Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, on his first overseas trip, three weeks after being appointed to the recently elected Icelandic government.

He pointed out that both parties in the new government had campaigned against EU accession.

He commented that the main purpose of the trip had been "to tell the commission that the new government has made decision to put negotiations on hold.

Oddly enough, Stefan Fule, the Czech Commissioner, responsible for EU membership bids (just what kind of a well-paid job is that?) does not seem to have understood what Iceland's Foreign Minister was saying. According to Commissioner Fule, the EU will continue and complete the process, presumably of negotiation for Iceland's membership. With whom those negotiations will be conducted remains a mystery, as so many other things around the Commission.

What is particularly interesting from this blog's point of view is the clear statement that Iceland's "mackerel fishing dispute with the European Union as a prime example of the value of sovereignty". UPI has a longer story on it but says essentially the same.

The Prime Minister said in his speech on Monday that marked Iceland's Independence Day that Brussels was ignoring Iceland's sovereignty in the fishing dispute.

"In the light of the extensive debate that has taken place about the implications of EU membership for fishing, Icelanders must also watch and see whether the EU will treat Iceland with greater fairness in disputes over our fishing within our own economic zone," he said.

"To apply illegal sanctions against a small nation for catching fish in accordance with scientific guidelines and within its own economic zone, at the same time as larger nations are making catches from the same stocks without any criticism being voiced, would hardly promise well for a common fisheries policy."

Iceland says the EU and Norway are ignoring scientific evidence that more of the fish are feeding in its own territorial waters and contends it is being shortchanged by being limited to a small percentage of the overall North Atlantic fisheries take.

Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, the Iceland's chief fisheries negotiator, told The New York Times the EU is continuing to ignore the evidence that mackerel migration patterns have changed, with the fish now crowding into Icelandic waters.

Here is the Prime Minister's National Day Address in full and in English. It is worth reading; there is always some interest in reading a speech by a politician who knows and appreciates his country's history and constitution.

Britain is not playing a particularly glorious role in this dispute. Instead of pressing for sanctions against Iceland, instead of running to the Commission for help, we ought to examine the Icelanders' arguments and start thinking of a way of working with them on equal terms. That might mean a genuine change in the way the Common Fisheries Policy is set up, which would be all to the good.


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