By Martin Banks - 18th March 2010
It is all about a power game between the parliament and government in Germany
The start of talks on Iceland's bid to join the EU are set to be delayed, it has emerged.
It follows a ruling by the German constitutional court that the country's parliament must first be allowed to debate the issue before any negotiations commence.
Most observers expected next week's EU summit in Brussels (25-26 March) to consider whether to accept Iceland as an official candidate country, following a favourable opinion issued by the European commission.
But it now seems certain any decision will be put off by at least a month to give the German parliament time to examine the commission opinion.
This comes after the German court ruled last June that while the Lisbon treaty was compatible with the country's law, its parliament must participate fully in adopting EU laws on matters of major importance such as enlargement.
Several German parliamentary committees must be consulted.
The issue of Iceland's EU bid is the first time that such a consultation has taken place.
Reacting to the news, German Socialist deputy Jo Leinen said, "While I agreed in principle with the court ruling you have to say it may lead to some difficulties."
Leinen, a former chairman of parliament's constitutional affairs committee, said, "Basically, it is all about a power game between the parliament and government in Germany.
"[The German] parliament, in future, wants to be involved at the start, not the end, of important EU-related issues, such as enlargement.
"There is no doubt that some people here are trying to play on the scepticism towards the issue of enlargement that currently exists both within the EU and outside.
"This is a test case which we are following very closely. I have no idea when a decision is likely as the procedure could be slow or quick.
"In this case, however, I do not think it will be more than procedural."
Iceland's possible EU membership is further complicated by the issue of whether it should reimburse the UK and the Netherlands for €3.9bn lost by British and Dutch savers in the Icesave crash.
However, members of parliament's foreign affairs committee said after a recent meeting with EU enlargement commissioner Štefan Füle that this is a bilateral matter and should not prevent EU leaders from giving their go-ahead for the start of EU-Iceland accession negotiations.
Some MEPs are sceptical about whether Reykjavik really wishes to join the EU.
Icelandic voters recently overwhelmingly rejected a deal to repay debts to Britain and the Netherlands for their losses in the 2008 collapse of Iceland's private online bank, Icesave.