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Brussels, 17 June 2010

Commission welcomes European Council's decision to open accession negotiations with Iceland

A decisive step in Iceland's bid to join the EU has been taken today with the decision by the European Council to open accession negotiations with the country, which applied for EU membership in July 2009. The Council's decision follows the European Commission's Opinion of February 2010 recommending the opening of accession negotiations. On the basis of the Commission opinion, EU Member States concluded unanimously that Iceland meets the political criteria for membership but that it will have to address existing obligations under the EEA, and areas of weakness, including financial services, during accession negotiations.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso stated: ”I want to express my satisfaction with the fact that the European Commission’s opinion on Iceland’s request for membership of the European Union has been very much welcomed by the European Council.”

Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Füle said: "The Commission remains supportive of Iceland's aspiration to join the European Union. The Council decision clearly underlines the fact that Iceland has a place in the European Union. I am certain that Iceland will continue to undertake all necessary efforts to ensure a positive outcome of the accession negotiations."

The decision to open accession negotiations with Iceland was taken at the highest European level, the meeting of EU heads of state and government. According to the Treaty on European Union, the Council has to act unanimously on any application for EU membership, thereby creating the legal basis for negotiations. In its conclusions, the European Council confirms the Commission's statement that Iceland meets the political criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993. It also highlights again the country's need to make serious efforts to align with EU law in specific areas identified by the Opinion. In this regard, the Council draws attention in particular to Iceland's existing obligations under the European Economic Area Agreement as identified by the European Free Trade Area Surveillance Authority.

As the next step prior to the opening of negotiations, the Commission will prepare a Negotiating Framework which lays down the general guidelines for the accession negotiations and indicates the reforms Iceland must undertake to join the EU. Negotiations are aimed at the full adoption, implementation and enforcement of the body of EU law, the acquis. As with all candidates, negotiations are based on the country's own merits, and their pace will depend on Iceland’s progress in meeting the requirements set out in the Negotiating Framework. The Commission will provide all necessary technical support to facilitate the process of negotiations between Iceland and the EU Member States.

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