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Iceland heading to court over European Economic Area aircraft rules

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The members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) get to be be part of the EU’s Single Market without having actually joined the European Union. But in return, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have to follow EU rules without being part of its law-making process. Iceland now finds itself heading towards a hearing in the EFTA Court for not toeing the line on aircraft accident investigation.

Not only is there an EFTA Court in Luxembourg as well as the EU Court but in Brussels, there’s the EFTA Surveillance Authority. EU law doesn’t have direct effect in non-EU countries but the Surveillance Authority is there to make sure that EFTA members pass the necessary legislation.

Iceland is a small country with a population of just 400,000 people. It could probably manage just fine without the full panoply of European legislation but that’s not an option. The Authority has pounced because Iceland has failed ‘to establish written procedures between relevant authorities involved in [aircraft] safety investigations’.  
 
Infringement proceedings against Iceland for failing to fulfil its obligations under the EU regulation on investigations of accidents and incidents in civil aviation began in 2021. The aim of the regulation is to improve aviation safety by ensuring a high level of efficiency, expediency and quality of civil aviation safety investigations. 

During its investigation of the case, the EFTA Surveillance Authority identified two breaches of the regulation. First, Iceland had not put in place advance arrangements between investigation authorities and other authorities likely to be involved in a safety investigation, such as judicial authorities, civil aviation or rescue teams. Second, Iceland did not fulfil its obligation to lay down rules on penalties in case of infringement of the regulation. This second issue has since been rectified by Iceland.  

‘Despite dialogue with Icelandic authorities, the issue of advance arrangements between relevant authorities remains unaddressed’ according to the Authority. It will now be up to the EFTA Court to rule on the matter.

There’s another case in the pipeline as well. The Surveillance Authority has sent a formal notice to Iceland for failing to fulfil its obligations under the European Economic Area Agreement to establish an effective and appropriate system of official controls for food, feed and veterinary matters. 

This is based on repeated findings from the Surveillance Authority’s food and veterinary audits in Iceland since 2010. ‘A particular shortcoming concerns the lack of coordination when more than one competent authority is involved and insufficient consistency in the official controls carried out. This has resulted in gaps and duplications in official controls, and a serious risk to human and animal health’ the Authority has warned.

Iceland seems to have got the message after 14 years, as the Authority states that it has been informed plans to address the issue, which will include a substantial reorganisation of the system of official controls in Iceland. ‘How the system will be reorganised or when this process will be completed has yet to be clarified’ the Authority complains. Iceland now has two months to respond before facing another trip to court.

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