Iceland postpones withdrawal of EU application

Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, minister for foreign affairs of Iceland, addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - Iceland has postponed plans to withdraw its application for European Union membership, the government said on Monday, after protesters called for a referendum.

The government drafted a bill earlier this year to withdraw Iceland's 2009 EU membership application without holding a public vote, but thousands of protesters gathered in March and April outside parliament, calling on the ruling parties to honor election promises to put the EU issue to a referendum.

Foreign Affairs Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson did not promise that. "I expect that parliament will return to the issue after the summer recess. I only consider it a formality," he said.

"The government is not in any negotiations with the EU and does not intend to hold any."

Around 55,000 people in Iceland signed a petition calling for a referendum on EU membership. Opinion polls indicate a majority of Iceland's 320,000 people want such a vote.

In a opinion poll conducted earlier this month, 37 percent of Icelanders said they want to join the EU, the highest level since the country put in its application. The poll showed 49 percent of Icelanders were against joining.

(Reporting by Robert Robertsson; Editing by Simon Johnson and Robin Pomeroy)