The Bumpy Road to Europe


The Bumpy Road to Europe

It is always good to return to Iceland after a long stay in Germany. The fresh and cool air is the first sign that you’re home. The second sign is the Icelandic customs officers. They never fail to give me problems.

Published in the 2012 October-December issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.12. By Jóhannes Benediktsson. Photos by Páll Stefánsson.


There they stand, sizing up everyone.

“You there,” they say, pointing at me. “Do you have anything to declare?”

Then they notice the little pink bike I bought for my four-year-old niece. “Well, well, well… What do we have here? A bike! Did you buy it in Germany?”

I strive to keep cool and answer: “Erm… I bought it in Iceland. I swear.”

The customs inspectors exchange skeptical looks. They’ve heard these words a thousand times before. “Then tell me this,” one of them presses. “Why does it say Wunderkind on the side?”

I have no credible answer.

“Nice try, buddy,” they smirk, breaking into evil laughter. “The tariff is ten percent and VAT 25.5 percent. Have a nice day!”

I have to suck it up and pay.

I know they are only doing their jobs, but I can’t help questioning the rules they enforce. Why is there a tariff on bikes? No one in Iceland is making bikes, so there is no need to protect the business.

So, why?

The answer is: just because.

The Debate

One of the reasons why Iceland should join the European Union (EU) is the elimination of customs tariffs, its supporters say. That way, imported goods, including food, become a lot cheaper.

Icelandic farmers can’t compete with cheap imports, those against the EU respond. It would damage domestic agriculture, forcing a high number of farmers to close down their farms. Do we want that?

Consumers say: “Yes, please!” Farmers and fishing vessel operators say: “No, thanks!” Those two professions are the most prominent groups advocating against joining the EU in their writings in Icelandic newspapers.

To tell the truth, the debate suffers from ignorance. A ‘debate’ is not even a good term for what is going on in the media. It pretty much sums up to this: someone pours his heart out over how miserable and unfair the EU is. In response, someone else raves about how wonderful the EU is. This is repeated ad nauseam.

You can read the remainder of the article in the 2012 October-December issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.12. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review & Atlantica brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country’s majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.