Skip to navigationSkip to content
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

It’s us or the fish, EU tells Iceland. Iceland chooses the fish

Workers processing fish in Reykjavik, Iceland, February 1971.
AP Photo
Goes way back.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Iceland sent a letter to the president of the European Union on Thursday, formally withdrawing plans to join the bloc. The letter (pdf) will have come as no surprise. Iceland had terminated negotiations aimed at bringing itself into union in 2013, when a new government came to power.

One divisive issue that kept the two sides from reaching an agreement: mackerel.

The EU has long called on Iceland to reduce its mackerel catch, and abide by quotas to which EU members like the UK must stick. The “mackerel wars” raged from 2010, when some countries upped their catch rates, to 2014. Then, in March last year, the other main quota-refusing territories–Norway and the Faroe Islands–came to an agreement with the EU.

Iceland held out. Fishing and fish-processing are central to its economy, particularly since a foray into finance ended disastrously in 2008. The following year, it applied for membership of the EU. Accession talks collapsed after five years, and before the quotas were discussed.

Iceland has said that, as a fishing nation, it is better placed than any faraway bureaucracy to judge how much fish it can safely take from its own waters. It has accused the EU of “an ongoing campaign of threats” related to fishing, after the bloc imposed sanctions on the Faroe Islands. The EU countered that Iceland is overfishing, and quotas are needed to protect fragile stocks.

This week’s letter made it plain that the door on any more discussion was totally, and formally, shut. “The Goverment of Iceland has no intentions to resume accession talks. Furthermore, any commitments made by the previous Government in the accession talks are superseded by the present policy,” it said.

Icelanders have never been keen on the idea of joining, with the majority of citizens opposed in opinion polls.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.