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Europe

Government split puts Iceland's fast-track EU membership on hold

Lawmakers in the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, reconvened a marathon debate on Monday to decide if the Reykjavik government should formally apply for membership of the European Union.

Reykjavík coastline with EU stars in the sky above

Icelanders in the capital Reykjavík are split over EU membership

Iceland's wish to join the European Union received a setback on Sunday when five Green party members sided with the conservative opposition to block a resolution giving approval to the government proposal. The Greens have hinged their support on the coalition government giving the green light to a national referendum on EU membership.

Social Democrat Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is opposed to idea of a referendum delaying accession talks and wants a quick vote so she can deliver Iceland's application on July 27 when Sweden's Foreign Minister Össur Skarphédinsson will be hosting a meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Sweden assumed the EU presidency on July 1 and has raised the possibility of Iceland getting favorable treatment becasue of its strong ties to the 27-member bloc.

All politicians agree that once accession talks have been concluded with Brussels, the country's 250,000 eligible voters should have the final say.

In the meantime lawmakers are locked in a bitter, long drawn-out debate with the conservative opposition concerned about Iceland's fishing rights.

Sigurdardóttir says EU membership is the best way to stabilize the island's economy after its banking industry collapsed in the autumn under the weight of the financial crisis.

The eurosceptics seem to have gained the upper hand at the moment and together with Green party defectors have a majority in parliament.

EU officials have said that, if an application is made, Iceland could probably become a full member between 2010 and 2012.

nrt/dpa

Editor: Neil King

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