(AFP) – Oct 20, 2008
BRUSSELS (AFP) — Iceland could quickly complete European Union membership negotiations should it want to do so, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Monday, as the island labours under a financial crisis.
"Iceland is clearly a democratic European country," which has "already negotiated perhaps two-thirds" of the criteria needed to join the current 27-nation bloc, he told AFP.
"This means that were Iceland to pose its candidature, we could quickly complete the negotiations," he said.
However Rehn said that he still expected Croatia, which began accession negotiations three years ago, to become the 28th member of Europe's rich club.
Zagreb hopes to be able to join in 2010.
Iceland's fisheries minister Einar Gudfinnsson said last week that the time could be ripe for a rethink about his country's relationship with the European Union, seen as a relative haven during the financial storm.
"Everyone knows that I am against EU membership," he told RUV radio, but added: "Today we should think about these questions in a new light."
Iceland's once booming financial sector recently collapsed under the weight of the global financial crisis, with the government forced to take over the major banks for lack of liquidity and give up protecting the plunging krona.
In an attempt to reboot its comatose foreign trade, the island nation has been scrambling to get hold of foreign currency.
An opinion poll published Saturday in Iceland's Frettabladid daily indicated that 70 percent of Icelanders want a referendum to be held on EU membership, with 49 percent saying they would vote in favour of joining the bloc.
The Capacent-Gallup poll, which questioned 1,200 people prior to Iceland's financial meltdown, put opposition to membership at 27 percent with 24 percent undecided.
The Icelandic government is a coalition of two parties, the Social Democrats and the Independence party. The Social Democrats are the only party that officially supports EU membership.
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