Minister of Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson has confirmed for the Grapevine that Iceland is seeking an exception in EU negotiations, wherein the country would be allowed to continue hunting whales.
Iceland has reached a new stage in EU negotiations, opening six new chapters and provisionally closing 11 others. President of the Council of the European Union Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told reporters at a press conference today in Brussels that “Iceland’s negotiations are advancing at a very good pace.” European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle confirmed this, adding that “Iceland’s accession is a matter of mutual benefit”, referring to renewable energy as well as the EU’s polar policy.
One of the chapters opened is Chapter 27, which pertains to the environment. Speaking to the Grapevine, Minister of Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson (seen above with Füle) confirmed that Iceland is seeking 14 exceptions to this chapter, among them whale hunting.
“Whaling is a very big issue,” he said. “It is pushed very strongly by the negotiating partners, and some of the member nations have put forward some very strong feelings on whaling. It is a very important card for Iceland and we will not negotiate on it until the last moment.”
When asked how flexible Iceland is on the whaling issue, Össur said the negotiating team was “very inflexible. There are of course different views within Icelandic society on this issue, but we have put forth this negotiation position and as the minister responsible I can only say that we are not so flexible.”
Some of the other exceptions sought to Chapter 27 regard birds; specifically, the hunting of wild birds, collecting their eggs and gathering their down. The EU has some strong regulations where this is concerned, and Össur – citing historical “centuries of darkness and cold” that led to Icelandic resourcefulness – believes Iceland should have an exception to these regulations.
In related news, sources close to the Grapevine have confirmed that Leftist-Green MP Jón Bjarnason sided with the minority in the Foreign Affairs committee, and passed a resolution calling for a pause in EU negotiations. This proposal will still need to be passed by parliament in order to go into effect, which would prove much more difficult.
Despite belonging to the pro-EU coalition government, Jón has been a vocal opponent of the EU for many years, citing issues related to agriculture and fishing. As it happens, the negotiation chapters on fishing and agriculture will be the last to be covered. Director-General for Enlargement at the European Commission Stefan Sannino told reporters yesterday that he does not believe these chapters will be opened by next spring, when Iceland will hold parliamentary elections.
Iceland’s parliamentary elections could mean the difference between accession into and withdrawal from the European Union. As it stands now, the anti-EU Independence Party is leading in the polls, as it has done for at least the past two years. Parliamentary elections in Iceland will be held in April 2013.
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