Decision on Whaling Broke Law

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The decision made last summer by Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir to stop whaling was not in accordance with the law, the Alþingi Ombudsman has concluded. The conclusion is likely to threaten Svandís’ position as minister and possibly the coalition government as a whole.

Svandís announced in June that she would temporarily stop whaling due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). She argued that in light of the opinion, she would have no choice but to postpone the start of whaling season. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups.

Whaler sues for damages

Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Iceland’s only active whaling operation, Hvalur hf., told Morgunblaðið that he would sue for damages. “She lets her own political views guide her with no regard for other interests if they don’t align with hers,” Kristján said of Svandís after the Ombudsman published their conclusion. “Of course Hvalur will ask for compensation because of the enormous harm that’s come to the company and its staff.”

Svandís’ decision last summer was met with fierce opposition by her coalition partners in the Independence Party. Svandís is a member of the Left-Green Movement, who along with the Progressive Party, make up the coalition government spanning from centre-left to centre-right. Mbl.is reports that MPs from the Independence Party are already speculating on the possibility that she will be forced to resign or offered a similar route to Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson. Last fall, the Ombudsman issued a conclusion criticising Bjarni’s handling of the March 2022 sale of Íslandsbanki as Minister of Finance, in which a group of “qualified investors” were given priority to purchase bank shares. Among these qualified investors was Benedikt Sveinsson, Bjarni’s father. Bjarni then swapped ministries with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some expect Svandís to swap ministries in this way or else risk the future of the coalition.

Svandís told Mbl.is that she has not considered resigning and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.

Mayor to Leave City Politics

Dagur B. Eggertsson Reykjavík mayor

Dagur B. Eggertsson, Reykjavík mayor for the past 10 years, will not run in the next municipal elections. He announced this in an interview with Heimildin Friday.

Dagur is the longest-tenured city councillor in Reykjavík. He entered city council in 2002 as an independent member for Reykjavíkurlistinn, the centre-left alliance that ended the conservative Independence Party’s dominance in city politics. He later joined the Social Democratic Alliance and became vice-chairman of the party during Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s term as prime minister from 2009 to 2013.

Dagur will step down as mayor on January 16 as per the coalition agreement of the majority in city council. Progressive Party Leader Einar Þorsteinsson will take over as mayor until the next election in 2026. The Pirate Party and the Liberal Reform Party round out the coalition. Dagur will become chair of the City Executive Council for the rest of the term and remain as city councillor.

May run for parliament

In the interview with Heimildin, Dagur ruled out a run for president of Iceland in the upcoming election this summer. He did not, however, rule out running for Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament. The Social Democratic Alliance has been polling strong in opposition under the leadership of Kristrún Frostadóttir, reaching up to 30 percent in polls. Were this to come to pass in next year’s elections, the party could triple the number of its members of parliament.

Dagur has been a controversial mayor, leading the city through a period of growth and change. In the interview, he said he regrets overpromising on daycare issues. The city has faced criticism for lack of kindergarten spaces as it extends eligibility down to children 12 months of age. “I feel good about what I’m leaving behind,” Dagur said. “History will record that Reykjavík has been improving on all sides. Financially as well.”

Personal setbacks

Before entering politics, Dagur worked as a medical doctor. In 2017 he was diagnosed with a type of arthritis that forced him to use a cane while walking and threatened his ability to work. In 2021, bullet holes were discovered in his family’s car and the suspect was never charged. “Fortunately, most people agree that we as a society want to be just that, a society, not a country or a city where mayors, ministers or officials need to travel with a police escort or be constantly under protection,” Dagur said.