Minister for Foreign Affairs Praises Iceland’s EEA Involvement

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, praised the country’s EEA involvement in a forum at the University of Reykjavík earlier today. In his address he stressed the importance of Iceland’s deal for the country’s economy and denounced its opponents.

The forum, dedicated to the 25 year anniversary of Iceland’s involvement in the European Economic Area, saw many speakers, including Michael Mann representative for the European Union in Iceland and Guðlaugur Þór amongst others.

“In the beginning many assumed that our EEA deal would be temporary,” Guðlaugur said in his address. “Today it has become clear that the deal is a powerful platform for equal participation of Europe’s inner market for those countries that choose to stand outside the European Union. If we look to the continent and all the countries that benefit greatly from cooperation with Europe, it is safe to assert that the EEA is a valuable tool that ensures successful relations.”

Furthermore, Guðlaugur Þór maintained that the deal has caused important reform in law-making in Iceland, in addition to making the country’s markets more competitive, something that Icelanders might take for granted, as well as creating opportunities in the fields of science, research and education.

The minister also took special aim at proponents of the EU, whose rhetoric, he said, often centres around the fact that Iceland is forced to implement “about 80 to 90% of EU legislation, posing the question ‘Why not just join the EU then and try to influence policy making from within?’ That number, 80 to 90% has been repeatedly stated,” Guðlaugur said. “In my first year as Minister for Foreign Affairs I researched this, only to find out that since joining the EEA in 1994 until the end of 2016, we Icelanders were made to implement only 13.4% of EU legislation.”

“Math has never been my strong field,” Guðlaugur Þór added jokingly, “but I think we can all agree that there’s a big difference between 80 to 90% and 13.4%.”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs also pointed out that opponents of the EEA deal for the sake of joining the EU had in recent times gained unexpected reinforcement from those who want Iceland to remain outside the EU.

“If those disparate groups would succeed in their plans to squash Iceland’s EEA involvement,” Guðlaugur Þór said, “we would be forced to choose between two options: We would either be forced to join the EU with everything that would entail, or try to make a bilateral deal with the EU. We can see how the fifth largest economic area in the world, the UK, is managing that these days.”

Reykjavíkurdætur Blast Secret Solstice Business Practices

Reykjavíkurdætur.

Feminist rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur has a bone to pick with Icelandic music festival Secret Solstice, Vísir reports.

According to a recent Twitter post, Secret Solstice still hasn’t paid the band for their performance at last year’s festival. They have now been offered a non-paying slot at next summer’s event, opening up for notorious Russian feminist punk activists Pussy Riot.

Víkingur Heiðar Arnórsson, the new manager of the festival has now responded. He says that while the festival has struggled financially, it has plans to pay the remaining artists they owe money in due time.

A new company, Live Events, has been founded to run Secret Solstice. The company is registered to Guðmundur Hreiðarsson Viborg, an economist who resides in the Canary Islands. Guðmundur initially explained to Vísir that paying old debts was the job of the old managers. But current manager Víkingur’s statements seem to contradict this, as his plans are to pay the artists owed before the sixth installment of the Secret Solstice festival, scheduled to be held next summer between June 21 and 23.

Víkingur admits to having offered Reykjavíkurdætur a non-paying slot but adds that opening up for Pussy Riot, one of the main attractions for this year’s festival, is worth a great deal in and of itself. In his view, Reykjavíkurdætur would be playing one of the most valuable slots, with peak attendance all but secured. According to Víkingur, this is his way of making up for last year, when Reykjavíkurdætur were unhappy with their slot.

He adds that he personally told the band that if they didn’t approve the deal he would be willing to meet with them again and find them a paying slot earlier in the day.

This article has been updated.

Members of the Pirate Party Silently Protest in Parliament

Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir and Björn Leví Gunnarsson, members Iceland’s Pirate Party, silently protested the return of the Klaustur scandal MPs yesterday by silently standing on either side of the podium at parliament wearing hats denouncing violence against women. The rambunctious MPs were chided by Alþingi’s vice president Bryndís Haraldsdóttir.

The performance came as Bergþór Ólason, one of the infamous Klaustur scandal MPs was delivering a speech at the podium. Þórhildur and Björn briefly flanked the disgraced MP before returning to their seats.

The hats the pair wore bear the initials “FO” which stands for “Fokk Ofbeldi” (“Fuck Violence”). The hats are a part of UN Women’s campaign that denounces violence against women.

Bergþór Ólason is one of the MPs that made headlines recently as he was secretly recorded at hotel bar Klaustur making sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks alongside other members of parliament. Bergþór and others took a brief leave of absence before eventually returning to Alþingi.

Bryndís Haraldsdóttir was quoted saying that “incidents of this nature are not appropriate and in this room people should express their views from the podium.”

Ice and Snow Falling from Rooftops

Snow in Reykjavík

After extreme cold and snowfall in Iceland over the last few weeks, temperatures have begun rising again, causing ice and snow to loosen and fall from rooftops, RÚV reports. 

People are asked to stay safe and under no circumstances should they try to go up on their roofs in attempts to remove the snow and ice.

An ice-filled gutter came loose in Hlíðar recently, causing the ice to fall to the ground, completely demolishing a wooden park bench sitting beneath.

“There’s an awful lot of ice on the city’s rooftops and most of it will eventually come down,” says Sigrún A. Þorsteinsdóttir, specialist in preventive measures for insurance agency VÍS. She says it’s important that people be mindful of what rests beneath rooftops and gutters. “People should definitely not go up on their roofs and get themselves in trouble, but they still need to react. They should seal off danger areas, if they find way to get the snow and ice down from the roofs.”

Fewer Tourists in Iceland This January Compared to Last Year

Keflavík Airport

Fewer tourists visited Iceland in January 2019 compared to last year, according to a recent survey by the Icelandic Tourist Board and Isavia. The decrease in tourists is estimated to be around 5.8%.

English and American visitors are still the biggest Icelandophiles by far, with about 34.700 Britons leaving Iceland via Keflavík International Airport at the beginning of the year, and about 29.500 Americans. Combined, those two countries made up 46.2% of all departures.

The biggest relative increase came from countries as diverse as India, Italy, Switzerland and China.

Numbers also suggest that tourists in 2018 spent more money on average than their 2017 counterparts, with tourist expenditure increasing by 9.4% between years. For example, tourists in Iceland last December spent about 14 billion ISK during their holiday visit, while the overall increase in Christmas travellers from 2017 was just 1.5%. This means that each tourist spent about 12.9% more last Christmas compared to those who visited the year before that.

This can partly be explained by the weakening of the Iceland króna, whose devaluation made expenditure more easy for visitors. But curiously, tourists also spent more of their own country’s currency.