Eruption Near Grindavík Remains Likely

Grindavík seismic activity and potential eruption

A volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula remains a likely outcome, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office today. Crustal uplift continues in the Svartsengi area and is now at a higher level than in early November when a magma intrusion formed under the town of Grindavík. The town’s population of over 3,000 people was evacuated November 10 and remains displaced, after seismic activity and a magma dike opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure.

Crustal uplift has slowed down over the weekend, but remains at a high level, the Met Office has confirmed. “As long as magma continues to accumulate by Svartsengi, there remains likelihood of a new magma propagation and also an eruption,” the notice states. If a magma propagation occurs, the most likely scenario is that the magma will propagate from Svartsengi into the previously formed dike that formed on November 10. The most likely place for an eruption would then be north of Grindavík, in the direction of Hagafell mountain and the Sundhjúksgígar area. Seismic activity has remained stable and low for the last few days and mostly contained near Hagafell.

Estimate of ISK 10 billion in Grindavík damages

The damage to homes and infrastructure in Grindavík could amount to ISK 10 billion [$71.4 million, €66.3 million], according to the director of the Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland. Before paying out damages, authorities must reconsider the town’s zoning plan and whether some areas will be deemed no longer safe for residential housing. 230 properties have been reported damaged.

Blue Lagoon, the popular tourist destination on Reykjanes peninsula, announced Friday that its current closure will remain in effect until Thursday, at which point the situation will be reassessed. There remains no official estimate on if or when an eruption could occur. It is also not clear when it would be safe for Grindavík residents to return to their homes.

Iceland to Support Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

Katrín Jakbosdóttir, Bjarni Benediktsson

Iceland will vote for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza at the United Nations General Assembly today confirms Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson speaking to Vísir. The United States vetoed such a move in the U.N.’s 15-member Security Council last week. However, no country has veto power in the 193-member General Assembly, whose resolutions are non-binding, but carry political weight.

Bjarni has previously brushed off the idea that Iceland sever political ties with Israel or use unilateral sanctions, as global calls for a ceasefire grow louder. Health authorities in Palestine confirm that over 18,000 people have been killed in Israel’s two-month offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Protesters glitter bombed minister

In October, the General Assembly passed a ceasefire resolution, proposed by Jordan. 120 countries supported the resolutions and 14 opposed. Iceland was among the 45 countries who abstained. The news of Iceland’s abstention caused strive in the Government coalition, as it contradicts Iceland’s foreign policy on Palestine and the policy of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s party, the Left-Green Movement. Katrín says she was not consulted on the decision and blamed the vote on a failure of communication. Protests outside Government buildings have been ongoing since and activists threw glitter on Bjarni last week as he attended an event at the University of Iceland.

As Foreign Affairs Minister, Bjarni bears responsibility for the UN vote. Bjarni resigned from the position of Finance Minister in October following criticism of his handling of the sale of state-owned bank Íslandsbanki. Following his resignation, his fellow Independence Party MP Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir took over as Finance Minister, while Bjarni took over her position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Nordic countries support resolution

Today’s vote is a result of Egypt and Mauritania calling for an emergency meeting of the General Assembly. They claim that since the U.N. Security Council has not been able to discharge its primary responsibility of maintaining global peace due to lack of unanimity, the General Assembly must step in. After a meeting of the Icelandic cabinet this morning, Bjarni told press that the Nordic countries share in their support for the resolution, along with other countries.

State of Competition in Iceland “Grave” Says Regulator

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

The Icelandic Competition Authority is not equipped to perform core duties due to budget cuts, according to its leadership. Funding has decreased by 20 percent in the last decade, while economic activity in the country has increased by around 40 percent.

As Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, debates a 2024 budget proposal, the Authority has submitted a comment on the state of its funding, calling the competition situation “grave”, Heimildin reports. The comment is signed by chairman Sveinn Agnarsson and director Páll Gunnar Pálsson. They warn that due to insufficient funding, the Authority can’t carry out its responsibilities according to law. As a result, they’ve had to prioritise and let important categories fall by the wayside. Despite a significant growth in the economy, the Authority now employs fewer people than it did in 2014, while its budget has not kept up with rising costs and wages. “At the same time, important new tasks have been added, while demands have increased, for example regarding the investigation of mergers,” they write. “These developments have gone beyond our tolerance limit.”

Lack of competition damaging to small economies

The Competition Authority goes on to argue that cutbacks to its budget are inconsistent with the reality that competition in many important Icelandic markets is lacking. The Authority has concluded many investigations that support this, many of whom have been confirmed by court rulings. Such hindrances to competition can be especially damaging in small economies like Iceland’s. Promoting competition would be the right response to the current economic situation, the Authority argues, with inflation at 8 percent. “In many of our neighbouring countries, governments have made efforts to strengthen antitrust authorities,” is stated in the comment.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the interconnectedness of the Icelandic business sector became all too apparent. The Iceland’s Competition Authority subsequently warned of threats to future competition as corporate debt was being restructured and the economy slowly recovered. In the years since, the Authority has intervened in a number of cases, including in the fishing industry and the air travel sector.

Flights Delayed as Iceland’s Air Traffic Controllers Strike

Keflavík Airport

Dozens of flights to and from Keflavík and Reykjavík airports have been delayed this morning due to industrial action by the Icelandic Air Traffic Controller Association. The strike ends at 10:00 AM, but will have ripple effects on flights throughout the day as airlines scramble to get passengers to their destinations. Many are expected to miss their connecting flights.

The airline Play has announced the disruption of 19 flights, five of them from North America and fourteen from Iceland to destinations in Europe. The arrivals of North American flights and the departures of European flights have been delayed until the work stoppage ends at 10:00 AM. Icelandair has delayed 12 flights from North America this morning along with most of European flights. In addition, a number of flights have been combined and destinations altered. A flight scheduled for London Gatwick will land at London Heathrow and a flight to Paris will end up in Amsterdam. Planned flights to Zürich and Munich will head to Frankfurt, while a scheduled flight to Stockholm is now destined for Copenhagen.

More work stoppages announced

A second round of work stoppages is expected Thursday morning if a resolution to the labour dispute is not reached before then, with further action taking place next week, according to reporting on the labour dispute. A round of negotiations between air traffic controllers and Isavia, the company that operates all public airports in Iceland, ended last night without an agreement. Al­dís Magnús­dótt­ir, the state mediator in the dispute, says discussions will resume later today. However, the parties are not close to an agreement, according to both Aldís and Arnar Hjálmsson, president of the Air Traffic Controller Association. If the dispute is not resolved, further industrial action will take place on December 14, 18 and 20.

Repeated air traffic controller strikes

The collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations have gone very slowly. This is the third air traffic controller strike in Iceland in five years. Arnar asserts that the salaries of Iceland’s 152 air traffic controllers have lagged compared to other professions in the industry in recent years. The strike makes exceptions for emergency and coast guard flights.