Iceland closer to joining EU as centre-left wins election


THE PROSPECT of Iceland joining the EU has come one step closer after a historic win for Iceland’s centre-left caretaker government in Saturday’s general election.

After being forced from office in January after 18 years, Iceland’s conservatives were given a severe drubbing by voters who blame them for last October’s financial meltdown.

“The nation is settling scores with neo-liberalism, with the Independence Party, who have been in power for much too long,” said caretaker prime minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir (66), whose Social Democrats took almost 30 per cent of the vote.

The win is seen a vote of confidence in her campaign for accession talks with the EU after telling voters during the campaign that Iceland’s close relationship with the bloc meant it had already adopted three-quarters of EU legislation.

Now Ms Sigurdardóttir has to try to win over her more EU-critical Left-Green coalition partners, who secured 21.5 per cent of the vote.

Left-Green leader Steingrímur Sigfússon said the coalition would work to overcome their opposing views on EU membership, though a clear solution was not yet in sight. “There are good chances that we can agree on a process which is acceptable to a divided nation on this big issue,” he said.

Post-election analysis by the leading Morgunbladid newspaper suggested that, even without her coalition partners, Ms Sigurdardóttir could attract cross-party support for EU accession from almost 70 per cent of MPs.

Opposition to EU membership in Iceland, traditionally based on concerns about guarding plentiful fish stocks, has wavered since October’s crash forced the state to take control of Iceland’s three debt-laden banks.

The island economy remains in a tailspin and is expected to contract by more than 10 per cent this year.

The krona has lost 44 per cent of its value and is seen as fatally damaged currency, with inflation running at 15 per cent.

Together, the government of socialists and environmentalists will enjoy a four-seat majority in the 63-seat parliament, or Althingi, as they push through the tough spending cuts that were a condition of last year’s $10 billion (€7.56 billion) International Monetary Fund-led rescue plan.

Further challenges lie in how to limit surging unemployment and find new sources of government revenue.

Saturday’s election was historic in many senses: almost half of the incoming MPs are women and the government is headed by Europe’s first openly lesbian prime minister.