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In March 2015, Iceland announced it was dropping its bid to join the EU in line with pledges made two years prior by its then-new eurosceptic government. Iceland first applied for EU membership in 2009 but its foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, said in a statement that the centre-right government had the European Commission of its decision to drop the application. Mr Sveinsson said on his website: “Iceland’s interests are better served outside the European Union.”
When the government in Reykjavik started the application, Iceland was coming out of an economic crisis that saw the Icelandic krona lose almost half its value, making eurozone membership an attractive prospect.
However, in a row that is reminiscent of the UK’s ongoing Brexit talks, Iceland and the EU clashed over fisheries.
Fishing represents an important part of the Icelandic economy, and it was never made clear how differences between Brussels and Reykjavik could be patched over on the subject.
Iceland isn’t the first country to cut its application for the bloc short.
Switzerland began its application to join the EU in 1992, but this sparked over two decades of chaotic relations and recurring blows to the bloc’s ambitions.
Months after the process started, Switzerland had a referendum on whether to join the European Economic Area (EEA) where the country narrowly decided to reject the idea.
The result sent shockwaves through Europe, as 50.3 percent voted against the idea of joining the EEA, leaving the EU’s hopes of expansion dashed.
Not only did the Swiss public reject the EEA, but it also meant the country’s application for the EU was suspended.
After years of tense negotiations between Brussels and Bern regarding their future relationship, Switzerland held another referendum in 2001.
The Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for immediate membership talks with the European Union.
Members of the “New European Movement Switzerland”, which launched the initiative, expressed disappointment at the result.
They said they had not expected such a low “yes” vote.
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Fifteen years later, the EU’s plans were finally dashed.
Not only did the UK vote for Brexit in June 2016, but a week before this politicians in Switzerland voted to withdraw the country’s application for membership of the EU.
Hannes Germann, representing Schaffhausen, compared the symbolic importance to Iceland’s decision to drop its membership bid in 2015.
He said: “Iceland had the courage and withdrew the application for membership, so no volcano erupted.”
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