Styrmir Gunnarson has been at the forefront of the Icelandic political landscape for nearly half a century, including 36 years as editor of the daily newspaper Morgunblaðið, which has strong ties to the political right in Iceland. As editor of this formerly most influential medium in Iceland, Stymir has been in a unique position to observe and even shape the political discourse in this country.
Since retiring his editorial chops in 2008, Styrmir has been taken a very active part in the local discourse. Among other things, he has published two books, one documenting the collapse of the Icelandic banks (‘The Siege’), and another detailing his take on the findings of the Special Investigation Committee’s report. He is also an active member of the organisation Heimssýn, “Iceland’s ‘No to EU’ movement, [whose] members agree that Iceland’s interests are best served as an independent country outside the European Union.
Founded in 2002 as a cross-political organisation, Heimssýn’s goal has remained the same: to keep Iceland outside the EU” (we stole this description off their website).
By your definition what is the EU and what does it do?
The European Union, in my point of view, was formed to prevent further wars on the European continent, after two world wars in the Twentieth century, and many wars in former centuries. That’s why it came into being. It is a peace-keeping organisation.
Why do you oppose Iceland joining the EU?
I am not against the EU itself. I think it is an important organisation. However, I don’t think it is in the interest of the Icelandic nation to become a member of the European Union. I think it is in the interest of the Icelandic nation to keep its independence, which it fought for many centuries, and to keep control of its natural resources, which we would lose if we became members of the EU.
In what way would Iceland lose control of its independence and natural resources?
For instance, our fishing grounds would become common grounds of the EU. The EU states that we would not be in any danger and foreign trawlers would not come back into Icelandic waters because of the rule of relative stability, but the EU itself published a Greenbook in early 2009 in which they themselves state that the rule of relative stability can longer protect fishing grounds from the intrusion of other nations.
Why do you think EU proponents want Iceland to join?
Because they don’t believe that we, as a very small nation, can go it alone. They think, and have thought for a long time, that we should be part of the European community, especially so after the fall of the Icelandic banks. They think that we cannot go it alone. They think we have to be part of a bigger community than the Icelandic nation itself. That is the main reason they want to become a member of the Union.
What do you think appeals to them about the EU?
I think what appeals to them is the same thing that appeals to a lot of people. From my point of view, the EU is a wonderful and noble idea. It’s nice to see the countries on the continent of Europe that fought between themselves for so many centuries living in peace and quiet amongst themselves. But that is different from our national interests in Iceland. Iceland has never participated in any war on the European continent. It has nothing to do with us.
Do you think there is no threat of conflict posed to Iceland, based on precedent?
Of course, there could be a threat, but I do not think this is a primary concern to the nation.
Many EU proponents we have spoken to say that opposition to joining is based on misunderstanding of the Union, or protection of old power interests. How do you respond to this?
It’s an absurd argument to say it’s protection of old power interests. I must say, I have never heard that argument before you mentioned it now. It’s not an argument that has been used in discussions here in Iceland, so that’s an absurd argument. The old power interests simply disappeared with the fall of the banks. The question of misunderstanding the European Union is simply wrong. I think I completely understand what the EU is about and as I’ve said before it’s a positive thing, but it is not something in our interest here in Iceland, as a small nation on this island in the North Atlantic.