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Iceland begins long road to join E.U.

Stephen Beard Jul 27, 2009
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Kai Ryssdal: By way of introduction to today’s next item: a poll result. The Gallup organization says the Federal Reserve came up dead last in a survey of consumer confidence in nine different government agencies. Perhaps that explains why Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is taking his case straight to the American people. The Newshour on PBS taped a town hall with Mr. Bernanke this weekend, complete with questions from the audience. There was a glimpse of the personal side during the start of the financial crisis last fall.

BEN BERNANKE: And those were some long nights spent on the sofa in my office as we tried to keep the financial system running.

And questions about the bailouts, too.

BERNANKE: Nothing made me more angry than having to intervene in situations where wild bets took companies to the brink of bankruptcy. Nothing made me angrier. Why did we do it? Because if that company has collapsed during a crisis it could have brought everything down.

You can see the whole thing tonight through Wednesday on the Newshour on PBS.

As tough as Mr. Bernanke’s had it dealing with the U.S. economy this year, I bet he’s thankful he doesn’t run Iceland’s central bank — 2008 was all about banks there imploding and the national economic model being turned upside down. But there was good news today. Iceland cleared the first hurdle on the road to membership in the European Union. But as our European correspondent Stephen Beard reports it could be a long road.


STEPHEN BEARD: The hurricane that hit Iceland’s economy last year has sent people scurrying for shelter. Benedict Johannesson is a magazine publisher. He says the kroner has halved in value. Living standards have slumped. Many Icelandic politicians are looking enviously at the safety of euro.

BENEDICT JOHANNESSON: People see that it’s almost impossible for a small nation like us to have our own currency. People are thinking more about taking up the euro and that can only done by applying for membership of the European Union.

The EU says that Iceland will have to wait its turn behind other applicant countries. But Dragana Ignatovic of IHS Global Insight says Iceland should qualify quicker than Turkey or Balkan countries like Serbia.

DRAGANA IGNATOVIC: Issues such as democratic transition which the Balkan countries and Turkey are struggling with very much — and human rights — are not an issue for Iceland.

But she warns Icelanders have always resisted membership in the past, fearing they would have to surrender control of their most prized resource: fish.

IGNATOVIC: One of the major issues for the government right now will be winning over the fishermen to the idea of membership because since the virtual economic collapse fishing is once again Iceland’s biggest industry.

Icelanders will decide whether to join in a referendum in two or three years time. Everything will then depend on the argument about fish, and whether the economy has recovered,and whether the country still feels the need for a safe haven.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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