Independence Party chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson says holding a referendum on whether or not to continue European Union accession talks is “unrealistic”. However, lower levels of public support prompted the Icesave referendum in 2011.
RÚV reports that Bjarni does not believe there is much support amongst Icelanders for joining the EU, but at the same time has seen a strong reaction to how the government handled the decision to end accession talks. He believes the matter should be discussed in parliament, and that the government wants to “keep an open mind”, adding that “no decision has been taken on anything.”
Bjarni also speculated that perhaps the strong public reaction was due to the decision to end talks being made too quickly. However, he said that he has “always been of the opinion that it is questionable, and in this case unrealistic, to hold a public referendum on matters that are not on the parliamentary agenda.”
The statement is in contrast with the official platform of the Independence Party during last year’s parliamentary election campaign, when voters were promised that “the people will take the decision on EU accession by public referendum during the election term.”
DV points out that when President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson made the decision in 2011 to refer the Icesave law to public referendum, he cited his decision in part on a petition signed by around 40,000 Icelanders. At the time of this writing, just under 45,000 Icelanders have signed a petition calling for a public referendum on whether or not to continue EU accession talks.
It should be pointed out, though, that what the president referred to public referendum in 2011 was a law which had been passed by parliament – once passed, Icelandic laws require a presidential signature, or the law is either referred to referendum or withdrawn. The measure to end EU accession talks is, by contrast, a parliamentary proposal, which does not require a presidential signature.
As reported, over 81% of Icelanders – and the majority of voters from every political party – want to vote in a referendum on whether or not to continue European Union accession talks.