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Iceland's parliament set to vote on EU bid

Wed, 15th Jul 2009 15:16

REYKJAVIK, July 15 (Reuters) - Iceland's parliament looked set to vote on
Wednesday on whether the tiny north-Atlantic nation should start negotiations with the European Union on joining the bloc.

The head of the foreign affairs committee, Arni Thor Sigurdsson, told Reuters members of parliament had agreed to wind up heated debates that stretched to midnight on Tuesday as soon as possible, with the aim to start voting by 1800 GMT.

The issue of EU membership shot to the top of the political agenda following an economic meltdown on the rocky island of just 320,000 inhabitants which stood out even by world standards for its speed and scale.

If approved, the parliamentary motion would pave the way for an application to be sent to Brussels later in July, giving the coalition of the pro-EU Social Democrats and more EU-sceptical Left-Greens a green light to negotiate an accession deal.

The Icelandic government wants to put the question on actual membership before voters in a referendum once a deal with the 27-nation bloc is concluded.

Icelanders have warmed to the European Union but remain protective of their sovereignty and worry about losing control of vital fish stocks.

A Gallup poll in May showed 61.2 percent in favour of EU talks and 29.6 percent against. But those polled were evenly split over the issue of actual membership.

Joining the European Union was scarcely on the agenda before the volcanic island nation was cast into the centre of the global financial storm as its top three banks collapsed in a matter of days last year.

(Reporting by Mia Shanley; Editing by Robin Pomeroy) Keywords: ICELAND/EU

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