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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Exchange of views on Iceland
Plenary Session, European Parliament
Strasbourg, 7 July 2010
Mr. President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
It is my pleasure to be here with you today for an exchange of views on Iceland and the next steps in its accession process.
The unanimous decision of Heads of States and Governments to open accession negotiations taken at the June European Council is an important step forward in the country's bid to join the EU. It clearly confirms that Iceland has a place in the European Union and the common will of Member States to welcome it as soon as all conditions are met.
The Commission of course warmly welcomes this decision, which follows the recommendations of our opinion of February.
Let me seize this opportunity to thank your Assembly for its support in this process, and congratulate the rapporteur, MEP Preda, for his timely and high quality report. The European Parliament resolution under discussion today is a very helpful contribution to the process. It delivers the right messages to Iceland at the right moment.
I can assure your Assembly of the Commission's full support for this resolution.
With the political backing of Member States, the Commission is now actively preparing the next stages of the accession process.
As a first step, the Commission prepared a draft Negotiating Framework, currently under discussion in the Council. The Belgian Presidency foresees adoption by the General Affairs Council on 26 July, with a view to convening the first Intergovernmental Conference with Iceland on 27 July. We count on the Member States' support in this endeavour.
The Negotiating Framework lays down the general guidelines for the conduct of accession negotiations and points out reforms Iceland must undertake in order to join the EU.
As with all candidates, negotiations will be 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. This includes the fulfilment of Iceland's obligations under the EEA. The Commission will provide Iceland with all necessary technical support to facilitate the process of negotiations.
Furthermore, we are actively preparing for the assessment of Iceland's compliance with the acquis, on a chapter by chapter basis, through the so-called screening exercise.
The screening is expected to start in Autumn 2010 and should last until mid-next year. In line with the renewed consensus on enlargement, screening of chapters with special sensitivity in the Icelandic context, e.g. financial services, fisheries, agriculture and environment, should start very early in the process.
Throughout the whole process, the Commission aims to support Iceland's efforts to meet the accession criteria through financial assistance under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).
We therefore welcome the entry into force next week of the amended IPA regulation which allows Iceland to benefit from EU assistance. I would like to thank the Parliament for its constant support in the adoption process of this important regulation.
And, as a sign of it now belonging fully to the enlargement family, Iceland will, for the first time, be included in our annual enlargement package this year, with the first progress report to be published mid November, whereby progress over the last year will be monitored.
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
As you can see, all preparations are well on track to allow for an early start of the negotiations. Iceland’s membership of the EEA, its association with the Schengen Agreement, and the country’s high democratic standards will be valuable assets in this process. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the accession road will also hold a number of challenges.
We are well aware that issues such as whaling or fisheries - to quote the most obvious – are sensitive issues for both Iceland and the Member States. I heard your call for a constructive attitude when negotiating the fisheries chapter and can assure you that the Commission will conduct talks in the best spirit.
As regards the Icesave issue, I understand the concerns raised due to the slowdown in bilateral talks following the negative outcome of the referendum in Iceland in March.
As referred to in your resolution, we hope that the clarification of the legal situation provided by a letter of formal notice from the EFTA Surveillance Authority will facilitate the process of swiftly finding a satisfactory agreement between Iceland, the UK and the Netherlands.
Recent exchanges at ministerial level give reason for hope. Let me stress that I greatly appreciate the efforts and commitment of all parties involved to try and find an agreement on this issue. The Commission will of course closely follow the developments in the framework of the accession process.
Not least, I share your concerns on the challenges stemming from the absence of national consensus and the relating low level of public support in Iceland for membership. I duly noted the call made on the Commission to provide support to the Icelandic authorities in its communication strategy on EU membership.
Communication will be a clear priority for IPA support to Iceland. We are working on the setting up of an Info-centre in the country and the development of factual and objective communication material.
Our delegation in Reyjkavik, which will be fully operational by autumn, will be instrumental in addressing the citizens of Iceland.
It will work in very close cooperation with the Icelandic government, which bears the first responsibility in this field.
To conclude, let me reiterate the Commission's full support of Iceland's aspiration to join the European Union. I am confident that Iceland will continue to undertake all necessary efforts to ensure a positive outcome of the accession negotiations.
As I have emphasised at previous occasions, I will make sure that the Parliament is kept fully informed throughout the negotiation process.