Icelanders Protest Government Decision to Withdraw EU Application Without Vote, Want to Vote it Down Themselves

Democracy and accountability


they're protesting

For the last three weeks, protesters in Iceland have demonstrated against the government's decision to retract Iceland's application for membership in the European Union. The government promised in elections last year to hold a referendum on the membership application. 21 percent of eligible voters in Iceland have signed a petition demanding the government keep its promise.

But the protests aren't necessarily pro-European.  A recent Gallup poll in Iceland shows that while more than 70 percent of Icelanders want to hold a vote on E.U. membership, only 37 percent say they want to join the E.U., a dismal number that's nevertheless an improvement over the 27 percent that said they wanted to join the E.U. in 2010. Half a year before that poll, the Icelandic government voted to apply to the E.U. without a referendum, despite an earlier promise by the finance minister that no decision would be made without a vote by the people. Iceland's experience with letting banks fail and the antagonism toward that path displayed by several E.U. member states contributed to the broad lack of interest in joining the club.

Elections aren't something the E.U. is especially good at. In the mid-2000s, an effort to pass a European constitution bypassed popular voting in 14 member states. Of the four countries that voted on the Constitution, only voters in Spain supported ratifying the constitutional treaty by a supermajority (76 percent). Voters in Luxembourg approved it by a thirteen percent margin, while voters in France and the Netherlands voted against the constitutional treaty, effectively killing it. Nevertheless, the E.U. got most of what it wanted in the Lisbon Treaty, set up as a series of amendments of previous treaties in order to bypass the need for popular votes. Some realpoliticking Eurocrats in Brussels may be looking at the rushed vote in Crimea and wondering if there are any lessons for their inner tyrants to draw.