Iceland Could Become a Trans-Atlantic Bridge Builder

Heidi Hautala, the Schuman lecturer of this year at the University of Reykjavik on Tuesday 11 May, is a member of the Finnish Parliament (Green) and a previous member of the European Parliament (1995-2003). Among other things, Hautala functioned as the chair of the Interparliamentary Delegation for Relations with Switzerland, Iceland and Norway (2002-2003). Her speech tries to place Iceland in relation to the European Union, at the threshold of the European enlargement and the finalizing of the future EU Constitution.[:]

According to Hautala, Iceland could be an important bridge builder in the Trans-Atlantic relations at this crucial point of time. Iceland, an ardent supporter of multilateralism, a Nordic stronghold, and, at the same time, a loyal member of NATO, could help to bring the EU and the USA to the right wavelength in order to strengthen international law.

Actual challenges include a common approach to global security in which, says Hautala, the EU cannot compete with the US with military capacities but with diplomacy, conflict prevention and a coherent action in the field of development policies. The EU and the US must also find a settlement in the difficult balance of international action against terrorism and the defence of the civil liberties. The EU must show the way forward in climate policy. Sharing views with the US is unavoidable, as the both super powers are the biggest polluters of the world today.

Hautala says that climate policy is likely to reappear strengthened on the global political agenda. The chances for the enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol have never to date been better than now as the EU-Russia Summit to be held in Moscow on 21 May is getting closer. The EU-Russia Cooperation Agreement has been successfully extended to the new EU Member States, and the EU seems to want to promote Russian accession in the WTO. As a part of an overall agreement, Russia seems to be willing to make some concessions to the EU, notably the long sough-after ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

The enlargement of the EU is bringing new energy to the arctic cooperation, crucial to the Icelandic interests. Several Northern European countries have just joined the Union, strengthening its Northern Dimension which includes also an “Arctic Window”. The political architecture of Northern Europe deserves to be strengthened, and Iceland could play an even more important role on this field. Among other things, the EU must be convinced to channel more attention and active interest in the cooperation forms and players of the Northern Europe, such as the Arctic Council.

Politically Iceland may face a rough time in trying to exercise its right of “decision-shaping” in the European Economic Area. The future Constitution – to be finalized maybe already in the meeting of the EU foreign ministers on 17-18 May – is likely to diminish the chances of the EFTA EEA partner countries to influence EU decision-making. Firstly, the EU will assume a more political role, especially in its external actions, reaching again further away from the internal market, which is the essence of the EEA. Secondly, co-decision between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, will again be extended. This means that shaping of the decisions in the auspices of the European Commission will be even more difficult than to date.

Heidi Hautala is interested in supporting Iceland to find new ways to participate in the political life of the EU. She points out that the cooperation of the EU national parliaments – and with the European Parliament – will be amplified within the new Constitution. Why couldn’t Iceland and other associated countries try to become observer members of COSAC, the permanent Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union? “Whether Iceland is in or out is a too important question for many EU visitors to this country. Meanwhile, we should use our imagination and look for new ways of sharing our common interests and objectives”, Hautala proposes.

For more info: Heidi Hautala (mobile) +358-50-511 3129, (tel.) +358-9-432 4129