Will Iceland leave Schengen?

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. Photo: Árni Sæberg

The question whether Iceland should remain a member of the borderless Schengen Area has been at the heart of a growing debate in the country following the migrant crisis in Europe and the terrorist attacks in Paris, France. Both the President and Prime Minister of Iceland are among those who have in recent weeks aired doubts about the country's membership of the cooperation.

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson last Sunday said in an interview with Iceland's national broadcaster RUV that the Schengen Area had failed in the run up to the terrorist attacks in Paris. He said the Schengen external borders were not working properly and that it was only natural for Icelanders to reconsider their Schengen membership in light of the circumstances.

The PM never in favour of Schengen

Previously Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson had said as early as September to a local radio station that the situation within the Schengen Area naturally raised serious questions about its future as participating countries were "not even checking people into the area anymore. Then the idea which the cooperation is based on, these external borders, then it has collapsed."

On Thursday Gunnlaugsson said to the daily Morgunblaðið that raising Iceland's borders was being considered if deemed necessary. He added he had personally never had strong conviction for his country's Schengen membership. Responding to the Prime Minister's comments Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said Iceland's participation was under reconsideration.

Government policy remains the same

Speaking to the Icelandic parliament on Thursday Interior Minister Ólöf Nordal said Icelanders should not be afraid to discuss openly both the pros and cons of their Schengen membership. She stressed, however, that the policy of the government was still to remain part of the borderless area. She added that it would be decisive how the Schengen crisis would be addressed in the near future.

Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, Nordal's predecessor who now heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday that although it was necessary to discuss Iceland's Schengen membership she believes the pros to be far more than the cons. Especially regarding security issues. “I believe security levels in Iceland will fall if we leave Schengen,” she said to mbl.is.

Schengen's failures must be discussed

Some opposition MPs have criticized President Grímsson and Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson for their comments on Schengen. During a parliament debate on Thursday Árni Páll Árnason, chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance ('Samfylkingin'), accused the PM of believing the Schengen cooperation was useless saying he was alone among European leader to have that opinion.

Árnason's comments were directed at Interior Minister Nordal who responded by pointing out that Gunnlaugsson was far from being the only European leader to have aired doubts and worries about Schengen. Iceland was still in Schengen and while there were currently no intentions to change that Icelanders had to discuss the cooperation's failures and how to respond to them.

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President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Photo: Golli / Kjartan Þorbjörnsson

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