Iceland resisted pleas to decide speedily whether it wants to join the European Union, as long-simmering disputes over North Atlantic fishing quotas flared up again.
Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson affirmed Iceland’s suspension of its EU entry bid and said the new government isn’t in a hurry to ask the country’s voters if they want to join the 28-member bloc.
“A decision has not been made on a date for a referendum,” Gunnlaugsson told reporters after meeting EU officials in Brussels today. “We agree on the importance of cooperation but will have to wait a while to see what form that cooperation takes.”
Unpopular with Iceland’s 320,000 people from the start in 2009, the entry quest ran until January when, in the heat of the election campaign, it was downgraded by the pro-EU government that initiated it. Contacts about entry terms continued until Gunnlaugsson’s new coalition halted them.
European Commission President Jose Barroso pressed for rapid “clarity” on Iceland’s course, saying “the clock is ticking and it is also in the shared interest of us all that this decision is taken without further delay.”
Gunnlaugsson’s Brussels trip was clouded by a push by to limit Iceland’s catch of North Atlantic mackerel, the latest incident in decades of strife over the depletion of fishing stocks.
Ireland, Britain, France and Spain called yesterday for sanctions to punish Iceland for making an “unsustainable and irresponsible” claim to 22.7 percent of the 2013 mackerel catch, up from less than 5 percent in 2006.
Gunnlaugsson said sanctions would violate international law. Both sides said they will pursue a negotiated settlement.