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Iceland’s contested European Policy: The Footprint of the Past - A Small and Insular Society. Jean Monnet Occasional Paper 01/2013

Thorhallsson, Baldur (2013) Iceland’s contested European Policy: The Footprint of the Past - A Small and Insular Society. Jean Monnet Occasional Paper 01/2013. UNSPECIFIED.

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    Introduction. Iceland’s domestic politics and foreign affairs are undergoing drastic changes. After an economic crash, violent protests on the streets of Reykjavik for the first time in Iceland’s history contributed to the defeat of the government. The party system has been altered. A turn has been taken towards Europe after the United States left the island, first by closing its military base in 2006 and then by its clear stance not to assist the country in its economic difficulties. The former close relations with the superpower are unlikely ever to be restored. The EU membership application is placing severe constraints on political parties which are split on the issue and has put in jeopardy the unity of the first left majority in the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi. Society is in a state of flux after an unprecedented economic downscaling and the collapse of almost its entire financial sector – which had boomed rapidly beginning in the mid-1990s. The credibility of politicians, the parliament and the media is in ruins. Iceland’s smallness and its location on the geographical map – one could also say the geopolitical map – has had a profound influence on its domestic and foreign affairs. Iceland is closely associated with the other Nordic states and has adopted many of their domestic characteristics, with important exceptions. On the other hand, the country has come under American influence – geographically, it straddles the Mid-Atlantic rift – and has limited its participation in the European project. Its geographical location in the middle of the North Atlantic has led to a notion that the country’s culture is unique and should be protected by all available means. Politicians continue to play the ‘nationalistic uniqueness’ card with considerable success even though the country has been swept by globalization. Rapid modernization (which only really began in the Second World War with British and American occupations) and sudden engagement with the outside world (which only extended to the general public in the last quarter of the twentieth century) are still slowly but steadily making their mark on the country’s foreign policy. The country’s political discourse and foreign policy still bear the hallmark of the past, i.e. of a small and insular society This paper will address the political developments in Iceland since the 2008 economic crash and place it in a historical context. The aim is to understand Iceland’s present foreign policy and, in particular, the highly contested decision by its government in 2009 to apply for membership of the European Union. The paper is divided into five sections in addition to this introduction and the concluding remarks. First, it starts by explaining the importance in Iceland of a political discourse based on the concept of independence which dates back to the historical narrative of the settlement period. This section will also examine Iceland’s close relations with the other Nordic states – despite important differences between it and the others. Second, the paper will analyse the importance of the party system, i.e. the dominance of the centre-right in Icelandic politics, and the changed nature of the system. Third, it examines how Iceland further distinguishes itself from the other Nordic states in many important features. Fourthly, the paper analyses the country’s three main foreign policy priorities in the post-war period, i.e. extensions of the Exclusive Economic Zone, firm defence arrangements with the US and membership of NATO, and the drive for better market access for marine products – including a partial engagement in the European project. Fifthly, the paper examines how the country’s smallness, in terms of its central administrative capacity, has affected its domestic and foreign policy-making. The concluding section summarizes the main findings concerning the political and historical obstacles that the Social Democratic Alliance faces in its hard-fought battle to change the country’s European Policy.

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    Item Type: Other
    Subjects for non-EU documents: EU policies and themes > Treaty reform > enlargement
    Countries > Iceland
    EU policies and themes > Policies & related activities > economic and financial affairs > financial crisis 2008-on/reforms/economic governance
    Subjects for EU documents: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Series and Periodicals: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Annual Reports: UNSPECIFIED
    Series: Series > University of Malta, Institute for European Studies > Occasional Papers
    Depositing User: Phil Wilkin
    Official EU Document: No
    Language: English
    Date Deposited: 18 Nov 2014 11:17
    Number of Pages: 20
    Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 12:17

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