In a landmark decision, the EFTA Court on 28 January 2013 dismissed all claims brought by the EFTA Surveillance Authority against Iceland in the Icesave case. The Authority had alleged that Iceland had breached its obligations under Directive 94/14/EC on deposit guarantee by failing to compensate Icesave depositors and had violated the prohibition on non-discrimination in the Directive and Article 4 of the EEA Agreement by prioritising payments to domestic savers. The court, referring to the collapse of the Icelandic banking system as an “enormous event” (para. 161), found that Iceland was not responsible for the liabilities of the Icelandic deposit insurance scheme that was overwhelmed with claims following the collapse of Iceland’s three major banks.
Icesave refers to two branches of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki that accepted deposits offering comparatively high interest rates in the UK and the Netherlands. Deposits in these branches were primarily the responsibility of the Icelandic Depositors’ and Investors’ Guarantee Fund (TIF). Following the wholesale collapse of Iceland’s banking system in October 2008, savers in the UK and the Netherlands lost access to their deposits on 6 October 2008. The Icelandic Parliament adopted emergency legislation on the same day to split Landsbanki into a good and a bad bank. By virtue of the same legislation, it gave priority to depositors as compared to other creditors (for further background on the Icesave dispute, including the unsuccessful negotiations between Iceland and the UK/Netherlands, see my ASIL Insight Iceland’s Financial Crisis – Quo Vadis International Law).