Iceland stepped into terra incognita today, veering left for the first time to hand a parliamentary majority to social democrats, socialists and greens and humiliating the rightwingers who have dominated for generations. Venting their fury at a government that presided over Iceland's transformation from one of the world's wealthiest countries into the biggest victim of the global financial meltdown, voters in an early election gave strongest support to the social democrats, who are pushing for Iceland to enter the European Union.
The Left-Greens, an alliance of old-style socialists and younger environmentalists never previously voted into power, got The leftwing coalition is assured of a three-seat majority and will need to embark on an austerity drive, swingeing spending cuts, and probably tax rises for the rich to try to rescue an economy that came crashing down last October when the three main banks collapsed and the country teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.
Unemployment, inflation, and mortgage repayments are soaring as a result of the crash, which has saddled Iceland with levels of debt running to tens of thousands for each of the population of , and necessitating a 10bn-dollar bailout programme led by the International Monetary Fund. Public bitterness at the sudden collapse of a quality of life that was among the highest in the world fuelled fears that voters would stay at home on Saturday in protest at the entire political system. In particular, the application of Katzenstein's arguments is of interest.
The country's partial engagement in economic aspects of European integration can be accounted for by the existence of greater external economic pressures when compared to those arising from the social or security aspects. Such approaches explaining Iceland also need to 'dig deep' and take account of Icelandic domestic structures to explain its reactions to the EU. Above all, the accommodation of other aspects-the size and characteristics of the national administration and the role and attitudes of particular leaders-may add insights into Icelandic policy towards European integration.
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Read preview. Synopsis Why has Iceland not sought membership of the European Union? Furthermore, already during the s and s, the environment created by poets and students in Copenhagen laid the foundation for the development of nationalism among all of those that were born and nurtured in the Danish empire, including the Icelandic nation- state. Accordingly, Iceland constructed itself as distinctive exemplar of a Nordic nation- state, while Norden as a whole maintained its transnational appeal Hansen Moreover, the existing bonds between the Nordic states, positioned Iceland within Norden.
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When investigating the way in which the constructed identity of the Nordic community is employed in the debates on European integration, one could argue that the category of Norden might function as an intermediate category between the national and the European level Hansen Against this background, the special relationship between Iceland and the other Nordic states and their efforts to strengthen the Nordic community through a number of agreements and cooperation measures sets them apart from most other European countries, which are more directly confronted with the EU.
On the other hand, Iceland has in the past also been very observant about how its Nordic neighbors behaved toward European integration. They will be explained below. In accordance to what was explained above, the Nordic and Icelandic identity mix and interconnect each other. However, the concept of the nation-state does not underlie one systematic definition, but rather has to be defined for each country individually through concrete empirical textual work.
In Iceland, national identity results from a very tight connection of the ideas of nation and state. Since the foundation of the Republic in , the ideas of independence from foreign powers and state sovereignty have both created the basis of the Icelandic nation-state. Again and again, it was underlined by the political elites that for the first time it was the Icelandic people, who finally ruled their own nation.
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Iceland was regarded as an institution with roots deeply embedded in Icelandic history, culture and ideas; its national identity defined the future political agenda, on which sovereignty; nationalism and independence were to be put up on the highest rank. However, in , Iceland applied for EU membership.
Against this background, the meaning of size, particularly for small states, has become an important and influencing variable in the study of European integration and will therefore be explained in the following.
Iceland and European Integration: On the Edge
When writing about Iceland, the academic field of small state studies must not be neglected. There are a number of arguments and justifications for why it is important to engage in small state studies. This academic field brings small states into the centre of research and analyzes their specific impact on international relations or political economy. Nevertheless, it is not the purpose of this work to engage into the wider discussion about small states and European integration, rather a short insight into the topic shall be provided.
According to Katzenstein , the vulnerability of small states derives from the fact that they are too small to have a major influence on economic changes beyond their own borders.
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Due to their heavy dependency on free international trade, political and economic elites in small states do not have convincing alternatives than to allow a free market. In this context, policies of protection and structural transformation are avoided, which again leads to liberal and flexible adjustment strategies Katzenstein Altogether, small European states can adapt easily to incidents and change on the global market Katzenstein In addition, Katzenstein emphasizes ideology as an explanatory construct and argues that the historical evolution of small European states can be regarded as reason for their specific political strategies.
Baldur Thorhallsson adds that the specific response of small states to European integration can be explained by their domestic characteristics and specific interests. As has been argued above, the size of a nation can affect the considerations of the political elites on EU integration. In an interview with the author of this work, EU administrator Willem No , underlined that he could understand the fears of a small island like Iceland, of being marginalized in such a big union consisting of many different states:.
Of course Iceland in population turns out to be the smallest, but still not that much smaller than countries like Luxembourg or Malta. So many of the perceptions and fears that [ It can either promote or hinder the process of EU accession. Altogether, many different factors contribute to the considerations and decision making of the political elites when it comes to the question of EU membership.
However, opinions on these issues are not irreversible.
Under which conditions, such a change is possible or even likely, will be examined below. Depending on their rhetorical choices they have the power to either promote or condemn EU membership by for example rhetorically committing to the values and ideas of the EU Risse This means that by presenting how the idea of Europe could strengthen, or at least not threaten, the idea of the nation-state, political elites can for example argue in favor of EU membership Hansen 2.
Consequently, political elites can influence whether individuals feel more or less attached to the European Union and thus legitimize their actions as regards European integration policy Nissen In other words, political elites have the power to construct nation-state identity.
Iceland Will Not Join the European Union - Fair Observer
According to Marcussen et al. However, change does not occur frequently, which, explained by social psychology theory, results from the fact that individuals are not capable of constantly adjusting their cognitive schemes to complex and changing signals from their social environment. Marcussen et al. First, new visions of political order need to resonate with pre-existing collective identities embedded in political institutions and cultures in order to constitute a legitimate political discourse. Third, once nation-state identities have emerged as consensual among the political majority, they are likely to be internalized and institutionalized, as a result of which they become resistant to change.
Nation- state identities are only in so far exploited and constructed by political elites as they rationalize and legitimize the taken for granted preferences of actors, namely economic, political and security interests. If political concepts are perceived as obsolete or even as having failed, the political elites will search for alternative options and start to promote new ideas regarding the political order and nation-state identity, hoping that these new ideas will meet present challenges.
With regard to the promotion of new ideas in the context of European integration, social constructivists emphasize that states interested in becoming a member of the European Union have to oblige the liberal principles of the EU, such as the social and political order, the rule of law or democratic participation Risse ; In addition, political elites can and should prove their willingness to comply with the obligation of the European Union by arguing openly in favor of the ideas and norms of the European Union.
However, the important role of the electorate in this matter should not be neglected. Since the early s, the importance of the civil society in the decision making processes at EU level has been increasingly discussed Saurugger Only when a wide audience can be convinced of new ideas can a change in nation-state identity be negotiated Marcussen et al. Accordingly, it could be said that through the interaction of several actors a certain nation-state identity or reality can be created or also changed.
Once this nation-state identity has become consensual, it is likely to be internalized and institutionalized. In the context of European integration, several factors have to be taken into account in this process of institutionalization. To what extent the diffusion of EU norms has an impact on the creation of identities and the institutionalization process itself, will be clarified in the following.
Within the process of European integration, the acceptance and incorporation of EU norms is of considerable importance. According to Risse , the EU as an emerging polity itself can influence how nation-states define their interests and even identities, with the ultimate goal that countries no longer see themselves only as European nation-states but EU states defined by their EU membership.
Today, central fields of domestic policy, e. Due to the diffusion of norms, a number of actors on the national and EU level have become involved in the decision making process, particularly regional and national parliaments as well as the EU institutions, all connected through some kind of interdependence Peters and Pierre In addition, interest groups and the civil society are also able to exert influence on the decision making process. As mentioned previously, this concept of multi-level-governance is typical of the European Union and has constantly strengthened the decision making process on the European level, instead of in the member states themselves.
Nevertheless, the time period as well as the country and precise content researched in this work are different. For further reading on the democratic deficit compare Hix Collective ideas can be either expressed directly, in interaction or discourse, or indirectly, through the use of codes, signs and symbols e. However, the Faroe Islands and Greenland can also be considered part of the Nordic countries. Warming up for the EU. J K Julia Kaute Author.