REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - More than 80 percent of Icelanders want the government to ask them directly in a referendum before it breaks off European Union membership talks, a survey indicated on Friday.
The zealously independent north Atlantic island with a population of 320,000 only began to consider EU membership seriously after a credit crunch brought down its three biggest banks in the space of a week in 2008, sending the economy into meltdown.
But Europe’s own debt problems have now eroded Icelanders’ interest in joining the bloc. The government that came to power last May has frozen negotiations and is keen to scrap them altogether, and parliament is now considering whether to do so without a referendum that the ruling parties had promised.
“We are deceiving 28 nations in the EU membership talks when there is no whole-hearted intention behind them,” Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, leader of the center-right Independence Party that rules in coalition with the Progressive Party, said this week.
However, pro-EU Icelanders have demonstrated outside parliament this week to demand a vote, and more than 40,000, or a sixth of the electorate, have signed an online petition.
In the opinion poll, conducted on February 26 and 27 by Frettabladid newspaper and Channel 2 television, 82 percent of the 805 people surveyed said they wanted a referendum.
A parliamentary spokeswoman said debates were likely to continue next week, and that the resolution would also be discussed by the Foreign Affairs Committee next week.
Reporting by Robert Robertsson, writing by Mia Shanley; Editing by Kevin Liffey