Iceland clears first hurdle

European foreign ministers have asked the commission to evaluate Iceland’s suitability for EU membership, the first step in the entry process.

The decision came swiftly, less than two weeks after Iceland submitted its application, reflecting the country’s strong credentials.

The commission will now prepare a detailed study on Iceland’s economic, legal and political systems.

These studies often take more than a year to complete, but Iceland may not have to wait as long as some countries, as it already has an advanced market economy and stable, democratic institutions, two key conditions for membership.

Once they have received the report, the European council and parliament will decide whether to accept Iceland as an official candidate. Only then can formal negotiations begin on the terms of membership, a process that could take another year or two. If the EU accepts Iceland, the country will hold a referendum on the question.

Until recently, the North Atlantic island nation of 320,000 was reluctant to join the EU.

But after its biggest banks collapsed in October, sending the krona currency tumbling, Iceland turned to EU membership and the euro currency as a means of stabilising the economy.