Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 14:37 UK

No shortcut for Iceland, says EU

Scene north of Reykjavik (file photo)
Some Icelanders fear EU membership would threaten their traditions

The EU's enlargement commissioner says Iceland is already deeply integrated with the EU, but insists "there is no shortcut to EU membership".

Olli Rehn's comments came in a speech at the University of Reykjavik on Wednesday. He is in Iceland for talks on the country's EU membership bid.

Mr Rehn has given Iceland's government a huge questionnaire to fill in.

Iceland - reeling from the collapse of its major banks - submitted its EU application on 23 July.

Iceland's responses to the European Commission questionnaire will help shape a commission opinion on the membership bid. That opinion will then be presented to the EU member states - a necessary step before accession negotiations can begin.

Well-established ties

The North Atlantic island, home to 320,000 people, is already in a club called the European Economic Area and applies about two-thirds of EU laws. Icelanders can also travel without restrictions across the EU.

Iceland map

Mr Rehn said "the remaining distance to be covered will be shorter than for other countries that do not have such strong ties with the EU".

"Yet the remaining distance may not necessarily be any easier," he cautioned. "There is no shortcut to EU membership. All candidates need to meet the same conditions."

The head of Iceland's parliamentary committee handling EU issues, Arni Thor Sigurdsson, has said Iceland is unlikely to be ready to join any earlier than 2013, with a referendum due in late 2011 or early 2012.

The EU questionnaire consists of 2,000 questions and 33 chapters.

Iceland's Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, said "we are well prepared and believe we will be able to submit our answers to the EU within a reasonably short time".

In his speech Mr Rehn said "it is important that the accession objectives will also gain the broad support of all involved".

"And that is where communicating the accession process accurately and openly becomes imperative.

"In Iceland, the politicians and the media face the task of explaining in clear terms what EU membership means for Iceland. In the EU, we have to show our people that - even during a severe economic recession - enlargement is not a part of the problem, but can even be part of the solution."

Seven Balkan countries are currently on the list for eventual EU membership. Croatia and Turkey started accession talks in 2005.

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