Iceland minister says must consider joining EU


A senior Icelandic minister long opposed to joining the European Union said this afternoon said that option must now be considered to safeguard the island's crisis-hit economy.

Iceland was forced over the past week to take over three big banks, shut down its stock market and abandon attempts to defend its free-falling currency.

Trading in Icelandic shares was due to begin again today but the exchange said it would now start tomorrow.

Iceland has long been wary of joining the EU for fear of the impact on its vital fishing industry. It has also been cautious, even as the financial crisis erupted, about seeking help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But there were indications on Monday that the island could embrace both.

Fisheries Minister Einar Gudfinnsson said on Icelandic radio: "It's no secret, I've been against membership. However, the current turmoil means we have to look at every option."

EU membership is a charged issue because it is a pre-requisite for joining the euro. Before the current financial storm, many citizens and politicians had called for Iceland to move in that direction.

The crisis is rapidly changing the political landscape.

Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, writing in this morning’s edition of daily Morganbladid, said embracing the EU and adopting the euro had to be long-term ambition now.

Ms Gisladottir is a Social Democrat, a party which has been pro-EU.

“In the short term, our defence is cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and in the long term EU membership, adoption of the euro and backup from the European Central Bank,” she wrote.

A European Commission spokeswoman said she was not aware of Ms Gudfinnsson's comments but the EU's standard position remained that Iceland is a European country and thus entitled to apply for EU membership.

“Negotiation with Iceland, theoretically speaking, could go fast because as a member of the European Economic Area, it has already adopted many EU laws," a Commission official said.

Diplomats said Iceland sent a parliamentary delegation to Brussels last month to plead for some link between its battered currency and the euro, but they were told firmly that only member states were entitled to such protection.”

In the meantime, Icelanders must deal with currency curbs as the country tries to avoid a complete collapse.
The central bank, in a posting on its website, said people withdrawing foreign currency should show proof of a travel ticket or other documentation.