Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘althingi’

Sexist political comments create rage amongst Icelanders

Last month, six Icelandic politicians from two political parties, the Middle Party and the People’s Party, were drinking together at a bar opposite the parliament building (where their fellow politicians were still meeting). They were there for over three hours and were making loud, derogatory, misogynist remarks about a number of their fellow women colleagues (and former colleagues) as well as boasting about corruption incidents that some of them had been involved in.

Unknown to them, another guest was so disgusted by their behaviour that he recorded the conversations on his phone and later sent them to three of the more radical media outlets, two of which – DV and Stundin – worked with the recordings.

The politicians also made fun of Freyja Haraldsdottir, a disabled activist who was an alternate politician in the Althingi a few years ago. The comments about her have enraged the disabled rights’ movement.

Two of the politicians were Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (remember him?). While he was Foreign Affairs Minister, Gunnar Bragi had set up the Barbershop “He for She” event in New York in 2015 to support non-sexist male attitudes and behaviour between men. Rather ironic really. The national committee of UN Women has said that GBS has damaged the reputation of He for She.

The two PP politicians, who made derogatory remarks about their leader, Inga Sæland, have been expelled from their party but will still be in the Althingi because they were elected as individuals. The PP now has only two members in the Althing.

The expelled members might well eventually join the Middle Party, as that was part of the conversation recorded in the bar. They have denied this, however – or at least have said that the time is not opportune to join another party. As many people have suspected, the Middle Party say that their policies are actually very similar to those of the PP party.

Meanwhile, GBS and a fellow Middle Party politician have decided to talk a break from the Althingi for an unspecified amount of time. They were “uninvited” to the traditional celebration held by Iceland’s president to celebrate Iceland’s sovereignty over Denmark, which took place on Thursday night.  The female MP politician, Anna Kolbrun Arnadottir (AKA) has said she is considering her situation (she and SDG were at the party).

In some countries, such as Sweden, politicians resign over mild scandals. But that rarely happens in Iceland.

Icelanders are enraged at the situation and a demonstration was called at short notice for today. It was expected to be attended by over 3,000 people, but was probably attended by more. The organizers are demanding that all six resign from the Althingi and get replaced by their alternates. One person said that an election should be called, as that’s the only way to get rid of them. Stay tuned.

Anyone want an article on this?

Update, December 5: There is such a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere now in the Althingi because 4 of the 6 are still present (and AKA and SDG have now both said they won’t resign) that I predict another election because the current atmosphere is unworkable.


Colossal increase in greenhouse gases in Iceland

The emission of greenhouse gases in Iceland rose by 26% between 1990 and 2015 and amounted to 4.6 million tonnes in 2014. At the same time, there was a 24% decrease for the same time period in the EU as a whole. On a per capita basis, this is equivalent to 14 tonnes of CO2 equivalents compared to 7.4 tonnes for the EU. According to a detailed report published in Icelandic by the Institute of Economic Studies last month, emissions could increase by 53-99% by 2030 or by 33-79%, if carbon sequestration by forestry and land restoration are taken into account.

These figures were the subject of debate in the Icelandic parliament yesterday, along with measures to be taken to reduce them. The Environment Minister’s report, which was basically an abridged form of the IES report and again is in Icelandic, was well received by all parties.

The high increase from 1990 is predominantly due to new aluminium smelters and other heavy industry, while new silicon metal plants and projected increases in aluminium production account for future uncertainties. Although emissions from these will come under the Emissions Trading System, they will still have an effect on the environment. Currently, 80% of electricity in Iceland is used by aluminium smelters and other heavy industry.

The policy statement of the new Icelandic government stated that they would prepare an Action Plan in line with the Paris Agreement (Iceland did not prepare one for COP21, but instead lumped themselves under the EU objectives, under something called “part of the collective delivery”). The Action Plan will include green incentives, forestry, land restoration and renewable energy in transport. However, the IES report includes around 30 measures with varying degrees of feasibility.

Iceland is known for deriving virtually all of its energy for domestic heating and electricity from renewable sources. Clearly, more needs to be done if it is to obtain its goals for 2020 and beyond.

Note that a version of this was published by ENDS Europe today.


Icelandic government on brink of taking power but could face vote of no confidence

Iceland is on the brink of getting a new ruling coalition – the Independent Party, Vidreisn (= Reform) and Bright Future. They have actually tried before to form a coalition, to no avail. But this time it’s worked. The final touches are being made today, including who the Ministers will be, but it’s clear that Bjarni Benediktsson from the Independent Party will be Prime Minister.

But there are already problems. Bjarni Ben (BB) was associated with the Panama Papers scandal, and at a meeting in Reykjavik before the elections French MEP Eva Joly said she was surprised that he and the others named at the time, Olof Nordahl and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, would even dream of standing again. But yes, they all got back in.

Last summer, BB set up a committee to look into how much money Iceland has lost from companies and individuals with assets in offshore islands such as Panama and Tortola. The committee actually reported back on September 13 but BB said that the Finance Ministry, which he headed, had actually received the report on October 13, after the Althingi had dissolved.

The report wasn’t published on the Ministry’s website until last week, though. Over the weekend BB backed down and said he’d been given a presentation of the findings in the report on October 5. He gave some feeble excuse about not remembering the exact date as he was campaigning for election at the time, but basically he lied. And people are angry.

The Pirate Party are considering calling for a vote of no confidence in the not-yet-formed government coalition because of this. Smari McCarthy, one of the Pirate MPs, said that there was very little difference in the behaviour of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was forced to resign after the Wintris scandal, and BB. Svandis Svavarsdottir from the Left-Greens has put in a written request to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about whether delaying publication of the report until after the election can be considered a breach. The Reform Party are taking the matter seriously and I can’t imagine that Bright Future are pleased either. Indeed, in a vote to agree cooperation with Reform and IP, over 25% of those voting opposed the collaboration and policy statement.

Meanwhile, sorting out who will be Ministers is posing a problem. Bright Future are supposed to get two Ministerial positions, including the Environment Ministry, but there are only 4 MPs so they will be under a lot of pressure as they will also have to take part in government committees. And BB is in trouble because he can’t find enough women with experience for the 5 Ministers his party will get. The Reform Party lacks experience too – they will get two Ministers – apart from Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir, who split from the Independent Party but was Education Minister at one time for that party. There is animosity towards her from some members of BB’s party because of her defection.

This government is headed for difficulties. It only has a one-seat majority, so it won’t take much to unseat it. We’ll see.

Update: It turns out that the IP have 6 Ministers, Reform has 3 and Bright Future 2 (including the environment ministry). Of them, only 4 have held a ministerial position previously and 3 are new to the Althingi. Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir is Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture.

Update: The government has fallen, after sitting for 247 days instead of 4 years.



Parliamentary procedures run smoothly in Iceland despite the lack of a formal government

Although no formal government has been formed in Iceland since the elections at the end of October, the parliamentary Althingi reconvened on December 6 with all its new members to discuss the Budget for next year and a few other urgent items. Around the time they met for the first time, Katrin Jakobsdottir from the Left Greens and Birgitta Jonsdottir from the Pirates both said it would be an interesting experience to see how it worked out.

And it has worked surprisingly well. The MPs have been working flat out, with one committee meeting after another, and have been looking at solutions rather than fighting each other. Major matters have been dealt with successfully one after the other without filibustering. It’s all quite refreshing actually.

Talks on who will work with whom have been postponed until the urgent business is finished. And that’s fine. Maybe the need for a way round the problem of who should work with whom has created a new way of working, more tolerance and a more open viewpoint.

Iceland’s political situation is a farce

The situation in Iceland has in many ways been farcical since the Mossack Fonseca scandal broke. First, the then-PM, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, caused utter confusion when he tried to dissolve the government but wasn’t allowed to, but later that day resigned anyway – though maybe not completely. New elections were called for but not heeded: instead, another Minister was appointed PM, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (SIJ), and SDG became a rank-and-file MP who took a long break from work soon afterwards. He returned a week ago, and caused confusion once again (see below).

Take two: There is a presidential election coming up in a month’s time. Iceland’s current president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (ORG), has been in office for 20 years and said in his presidential address at the start of the year that he wouldn’t run for president again. So around 20 people decided that they would run for presidency.

Fine, except that ORG decided soon after SDG took a holiday from politics that given the situation, Iceland needed a president who was experienced and capable – and none of the candidates were, in his mind. So he changed his mind and decided to run again. Subsequently about 5 of the presidential hopefuls decided to quit because they didn’t want to run against a sitting president. Then a few others were pressured (or so the story goes) to run for presidency and ORG decided that the new candidates DID have the required experience – and he changed his mind again and withdrew his candidacy.

One of the more recent candidates is a historian called Gudni Th. Johannesson, who ironically was almost constantly on the TV screens as a political commentator after the Mossack Fonseca scandal broke. He is also putting the final touches to a book on, yes, Icelandic presidents.

The other interesting new candidate is David Oddsson, who was a former PM of Iceland but was one of the CEOs of the Central Bank of Iceland at the time that the banks crashed (note that he’s trained as a lawyer, not an economist). He subsequently left the bank to become an editor of the newspaper Morgunbladid  – which led to a huge drop in readership of that paper as he was said to promote the interests of the big fishing companies, not to mention the right-wing Independent Party. The Special Investigation Committee decided that he was guilty of neglect in the time leading up to the bank crash.

Back to SDG – after SIJ took over and as a consequence of pressure from the public and opposition MPs, the ruling coalition acceded to an early election “in autumn, as long as we can get through our main policies without problems from the opposition”.  No date, though. But as soon as SDG arrived back, he started to question the early election, saying “we never promised that”. Since then, other Progressive Party MPs have also questioned the need for an early election (both SFG and SIJ are PP members). So what will happen now is anyone’s guess.


To round it all off: The Icelandic Althingi recently passed legislation that allows prisoners to leave prison earlier than before. Five of the 13 prisoners released early are the Kaupthing bankers, who are now at the halfway house Vernd. They have to be back at Vernd by 11 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends. Which is fine – except one of them, Olafur Olafsson, got in the news last weekend as he had taken a helicopter with 3 customers and an Icelandic pilot on a sightseeing trip and crashed in the Hengill mountains, about 35 km from Reykjavik. He’s obviously getting himself accustomed to “everyday life” again!  IMG_1653












Iceland’s ruling coalition should step down

A record number of demonstrators assembled outside the Icelandic Althingi parliament building late afternoon today to demand the resignation of Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (SDG), and his government after revelations uncovered under the name of Panama Papers last night. A record number of demonstrators turned up, to fill not only the square in front of the Althingi building but also surrounding streets.

In the programme last night, SDG walked out in the middle of being interviewed. Not good. It was also revealed that he had been lying about his involvement in his wife’s offshore company Wintris. Not good. And he had sold his shares in the company to his wife for a grand total of $1 the day before a change in the law which would have required him to disclose such interests. Not good at all. SDG has been very reluctant to talk to the press and walked out of the Althingi just after the first item on today’s agenda, unprepared questions.

The Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who has also been named in the Panama Papers, has been on holiday for 16 days and missed his flight back to Iceland this morning because of a delay in his connecting flight. Why he arranged to travel back to arrive in Iceland to arrive around 6.30 a.m. on the day the Althingi starts functioning again after Easter is another question that hasn’t been answered. He will be questioned thoroughly tomorrow.

Other politicians have also been shown to have assets in tax havens.

In most countries, when a politician is involved in a scandal of some kind, he/she resigns. But it doesn’t look like that will happen in Iceland. At least not at the moment. The government opposition have proposed a vote of no confidence and want the government to resign but at the moment that hasn’t been put on a forthcoming agenda.

UPDATE April 5: It now appears that the Althingi will dissolve sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, another demonstration has been called for today. And the Prime Minister has decided to hand over his position to Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson (SIJ), vice-chair of the Progressive Party. Which isn’t much consolation, as SIJ was pretty disastrous as “environment” minister.

Reykjavík Media, which researched Iceland’s part in the Panama Papers scandal, says that the around 600 Icelanders have links with 800 companies in tax havens like Panama. It will be interesting to see whether any of the Presidential candidates (13 at present) have links to these.

Icelanders demand referendum over EU negotiations

The Icelandic government’s decision three weeks ago to abandon EU negotiations without a  referendum has met with continuous protests from Icelanders. Like the “pots and pans” revolution five years ago which brought down the Icelandic government after the crash, Icelanders have been protesting outside the Althingi building, banging pots and pans (or the police barricade when that was up!) and demanding a referendum as to whether to continue negotiating or not. Originally, the idea had been to complete the process and then ask Icelanders whether they want to join the EU or not.

Three demonstrations have been held on Saturdays and 50,464 people (so far) have signed a petition calling for a referendum. That’s a lot of people, considering that the total population of Iceland is about 326,000, and a sizeable proportion are too young to vote. One of the newspapers, DV, published an article in the current edition that showed that some of the Althingi members currently in the ruling coalition had said, in a pre-election survey of candidates, that they favoured a referendum. But these politicians have stayed quiet. Still, the Independence Party chair and Finance Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, has now murmured that a referendum might be possible.

Admittedly, it will be difficult for the government to continue if the general public vote to keep negotiations ongoing while neither of the coalition parties want to do so. But that’s their problem. They shouldn’t have promised a referendum if they didn’t intend to have one.