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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Address at the plenary debate on Iceland
European Parliament, Strasbourg
Strasbourg, 14 March 2012
It is a great pleasure for me to contribute today to your debate on Iceland's accession and to hear your views on this ambitious project.
I would like to seize this opportunity to congratulate the Rapporteur, Mr Preda, on his comprehensive report, which – in my view – is right to the point and well balanced.
Since the official opening of the negotiations with Iceland in July 2010, 11 chapters have been opened out of which 8 have now been provisionally closed. This well reflects Iceland's own merits, its advanced stage of integration with the European Union as a member of the EEA, and the proper functioning of the established enlargement methodology.
Let me also point out that the most recent internal market scoreboard of the EFTA members of the European Economic Area shows that Iceland is transposing the relevant acquis much better than the average Member State. With 0,5%, it is well below the 1% transposition deficit target set by the European Council of March 2007 (for comparison: the average EU MS transposition deficit is 1,2%).
The Commission, together with the Icelandic authorities and the Danish and Cypriot Presidencies, is working to build on this momentum to open as many chapters of the acquis as possible in 2012.
All the screening reports have now been presented to the Council with the exception of the one on fisheries which is close to completion. We hope to open up to 4 chapters at the next Accession Conference on 30 March.
Let us be clear: 2012 will be a decisive year as we are getting ready to start, as soon as possible, negotiations on some of the core chapters, such as on fisheries, agriculture, food safety and environment. In doing so, we will always privilege quality over speed.
Let me now briefly turn to issues of particular interest that were raised by Christian Preda in his report.
Iceland was among the first countries to undergo the detrimental effects of the financial crisis and has imposed a number of austerity measures. Thanks to its efforts, the economic recovery has continued over the last months with an estimated growth of over 3 % for 2012. Iceland should be commended for these efforts.
Let me briefly mention the pre-accession financial support measures that we are providing to Iceland.
A total indicative envelope of some € 30 million is foreseen for the years 2011-2013, to support strengthening the country's administrative capacity. The TAIEX instrument is fully operational in a wide range of acquis related fields.
We are also providing the pre-accession support for information activities. There is a need for a well-informed and balanced debate about the accession process within the EU and in Iceland.
I therefore very much welcome the opening early this year of the EU Information Centre in Reykjavik. The Centre will play an important role in enabling the Icelandic population to make an informed decision on their European future.
Most opinion polls indicate that the majority of Icelanders are in favour of continuing the accession talks and are willing to exercise their right of decision on a final deal.
In spite of the diverging views on EU accession that exist in Iceland, the progress achieved since our last meeting strongly illustrates Iceland's commitment to its EU aspiration and its determination to overcome the challenges ahead.