Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 10:31 UK

Iceland submits EU membership bid

Ossur Skarphedinsson shakes hands with Carl Bildt on 23 July 2009 (Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Regeringskansliet)
Carl Bildt said Iceland would enhance the EU's "Nordic dimension"

Iceland has formally applied to join the European Union, a week after the parliament in Reykjavik voted in favour of accession to the 27-nation bloc.

The Icelandic Foreign Minister, Ossur Skarphedinsson, submitted the request to his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, during a ceremony in Stockholm.

Sweden currently holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency.

The bid must now be approved by the EU, after which Iceland's people will be asked to vote on it in a referendum.

"This is the day when I have the historic duty to hand in formally the Icelandic application to the European Union," Mr Skarphedinsson said at the ceremony in the Swedish foreign ministry on Thursday.

16 July: Parliament backs bid by slim majority
23 July: Bid submitted to Swedish EU Presidency
February 2010: Entry talks may begin
Late 2011/early 2012: Bid goes to popular referendum
2013: Earliest date Iceland can realistically join
Source: Arni Thor Sigurdsson, chairman of Icelandic parliamentary committee on EU

Mr Bildt said that having Iceland within the EU would enhance its "Nordic dimension".

Correspondents say Iceland, with a population of just 320,000, has traditionally been sceptical about joining the EU. Some fear EU quotas could hurt Iceland's fishing industry.

But many people there have warmed to the idea of membership following the devastating economic meltdown, which saw the top Icelandic banks collapse in a matter of days last year.

Iceland already has close ties with Europe, being part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Schengen Area.

Arni Thor Sigurdsson, the chairman of the parliamentary committee handling EU issues, told the Reuters news agency last week he believed Iceland would not be ready to join any earlier than 2013, with a referendum due in late 2011 or early 2012.

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