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EU kick-starts Iceland accession process
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21:29, July 27, 2009

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European Union (EU) foreign ministers kick-started Iceland's accession process Monday by asking the European Commission to draft an opinion on the readiness of the island country to join the 27-nation bloc.

"The commission is invited to submit to the Council (of foreign ministers) its opinion on this application," the ministers said in a conclusion at their monthly gathering in Brussels.

Iceland formally handed in its application for EU membership last Thursday after the country was hard hit by the financial crisis.

The decision marks the first move taken by the EU to consider Iceland's membership bid.

On the basis of the commission's assessment, EU governments can take a political decision on whether to launch entry negotiations with Reykjavik, but under EU rules, there is no time limit for the commission to produce its assessment and entry negotiations usually take years.

Analysts said Iceland is well placed for a quick accession to the EU since the island country has a long history of similar democracy and follows many of the EU's rules as a member of the EU's borderless Schengen area and the European Economic Area.

But some EU member states fear that a quick accession for Iceland will make Balkan candidate countries feel frustrated, which analysts warned would not help the region maintain stability.

Croatia and Macedonia are the only official candidates for EU membership in the Balkans, but Croatia's accession talks are hindered by a maritime border dispute with Slovenia, which joined the EU in 2004, while Macedonia has not even started its entry talks.

Ahead of Iceland, Albania handed in its membership application three months ago, but the country is still waiting for the EU to take the first move of starting technical assessment. The delay is officially due to uncertainty over the outcome of the country's elections last month.

While ruling out the possibility of giving Iceland any privilege over other candidate countries, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, predicted a shorter track entry for the island country.

"There is no fast-track for Iceland but rather a shorter track because they are already a part of the single market and the Schengen area," Bildt told reporters ahead of the meeting with his EU counterparts.

In the conclusion, EU foreign ministers tried to reassure the Balkan countries of their EU future.

"The Council seizes this opportunity to reiterate its full support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans, and stresses that it will return to Albania's application for membership once the Albanian election procedure has been completed," they said.

Source: Xinhua

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