17 Jul 2009

Iceland parliament clears way for EU bid

8:05 am on 17 July 2009

Iceland's parliament has backed a government plan to begin talks to join the European Union.

After a final round of debates lasting almost a week, members of parliament voted 33-28 on Thursday in favour of an application. Two MPs abstained.

The government needed 32 votes to gain approval.

Membership of the 27-nation bloc is still years away.

The island's economy has been wrecked by the global financial crisis. Its top three banks collapsed in a matter of days last year.

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir sees joining the EU as key to Iceland's recovery.

The government will now put the question to voters in a referendum.

Opponents say EU fishing quotas could be a risk to Iceland's fishing industry.

A Gallup poll in May showed 61.2% in favour of EU talks and 29.6% against. But those polled were evenly split over the issue of actual membership.

Iceland has a population of 320,000.