Speaker of Alþingi Urges Centre Party to End Week-Long Filibuster

Alþingi Speaker Steingrímur J. Sigfússon called a close to Friday’s parliamentary session amid the ongoing Centre Party filibuster, asking MPs to limit or reconsider any further speeches so that other parliamentary business can be attended to before the end of the spring session. RÚV reports that the 17-hour parliamentary session, which came to a close at 9.04am after starting on Thursday at 4.00pm, had been entirely dedicated to Centre Party MPs’ speeches on the Third Energy Package. Centre Party MPs have filibustered all week long to prevent voting on this issue; a parliamentary session that began at 1.30pm on Wednesday, for instance, didn’t end for over 19 hours, with Centre Party MPs having exclusively held the podium from around 3.00pm.

Read More: Third Energy Package

The main goal of the European Union’s Third Energy Package is to strengthen the internal energy market for gas and electricity in the EU in order to decrease the cost of energy. The First Energy Package and Second Energy Package have already been agreed upon and adopted by members of the EU and EEA, including Iceland. The Third Energy Package correlates directly with Europe 2020, a strategy proposed by the European Commission intended to promote “smart, sustainable, inclusive growth” in the European Union. The strategy aims to ensure renewable energy sources supply 20% of all energy in Europe by 2020, and the release of greenhouse gases should decrease by 20%. The Third Energy Package was passed within the EU in 2009.  A decade later, Iceland is the only country that has not agreed to the package.

Centre Party MPs have monopolised the podium throughout the week in order to delay votes on the initiative, which enjoys majority support in Parliament. The first filibuster took place earlier in the month, however, on May 15, when parliament convened from 3.48pm to 6.18am the next morning, with Centre Party MPs prominent in the debate.

Testing patience

This week’s filibuster has been such that Centre Party MPs have often found themselves addressing their comments to an empty parliament in the middle of the night. It has, not unexpectedly, tried the patience of MPs from other parties across the political spectrum. Saying that Centre Party members have used their time “to congratulate each other and ask questions that they then answer in the same words,” Independence Party chair Birgir Ármannsson said that any substantive discussion of the issue ended before the filibuster began and acceded that “it isn’t very exciting to take part in this kind of debate.”

Responses from other MPs has been more pointed. Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, chair of the Left-Greens has urged for a change to parliamentary procedures and rules, while Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, the chair of the Reform Party has said that the filibuster is damaging Alþingi’s public image. Guðmundur Andri Thorsson, the alternate chair of the Social Democratic Alliance, called the filibuster an “artificial debate” and while Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, MP for the Pirate Party admitted that while filibusters can be fun, this one is not at all.

Although he has characterized the current debate as “unusual,” noting that it has consisted of the “…MPs of one party discussing the issue, only to then rebut themselves and doing this for around 18 hours,” Steingrímur has been explicit that he does not want to prevent Centre Party MPs from exercising their right to filibuster. Indeed, in order to protect this right, he has twice rescheduled the parliamentary schedule, delaying, for instance, committee meetings that were supposed to take place on Thursday and Friday.

Unfinished business

“Despite another long session about this issue, it doesn’t look like the discussion will end with this session, much to the disappointment of the Speaker,” remarked Steingrímur at the close of Friday’s session. There were still six Centre Party MPs on the list of scheduled speakers, three of whom—Centre Party chair Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Þorsteinn Sæmundsson, and alternate MP Jón Þór Þorvaldsson—have held the podium 24 different times to discuss the Third Energy Package.

Steingrímur noted that debate on the Third Energy Package has been ongoing for over 70 hours, with MPs from the Centre Party speaking for over 60 of those hours. And because so much time has been given over to this issue, Alþingi has not been able to address any other matters all week.

The rights of the few

“The Speaker has a duty to many things, among them to protect MP rights, to see that these aren’t broken in any way,” said Steingrímur. He expressed concern, however, at his ability to do this with fairness, given the current standstill. Steingrímur continued that MPs’ rights and freedom is important, but that the freedom of some MPs could not be asserted at the cost of of all others’. He reminded the assembly of the sheer number of bills still waiting to be addressed before the end of Alþingi’s spring term, which is scheduled to end on June 5. Namely, 71 bills await their first reading in the chamber, and ten await their second. Another 105 bills are in the committee stage. In addition to these bills, 113 parliamentary resolutions await parliamentary vote, and ministers have 142 pending questions from MPs to address. Not having enough time to discuss and address these pending matters would do a great deal of damage, Steingrímur said.

Steingrímur urged the Centre Party MPs to carefully consider how they will proceed, and requested that they keep any future speeches on the Third Energy Package brief so that the discussion can finally be brought to a close.

Roads to Landmannalaugar Might Open Early

If conditions are deemed to be safe, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration hopes to open the roads to the Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve in the highlands on Saturday, Vísir reports. This would be the earliest that the roads have opened in the last five years.

From 2014 to 2018, the earliest that the Landmannalaugar roads were opened was June 18 and the latest, July 1. Road Administration employees are currently checking conditions to see if it will be safe to open the roads on Saturday.

Visitors should keep in mind that Landmannalaugar can only be reached by 4×4 jeeps along the Fjallabaksleið nyrðri (F208) or Dómadalsleið (F225) roads. Road conditions and openings can be checked on the Road Administration website here.