Presidential Hopefuls to Discuss Election Campaign on Vísir’s Panel

icelandic language icelandic flag

Presidential candidates Baldur Þórhallsson, Jón Gnarr, and Halla Hrund Logadóttir will discuss recent poll results and campaign dynamics on Vísir’s panel show Pallborðið today. Former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who is polling strongly, will not attend the panel due to prior commitments.

Presidential race heats up

Presidential candidates Baldur Þórhallsson, Jón Gnarr, and Halla Hrund Logadóttir will be guests on a panel discussion at Vísir’s Pallborðið today. During the panel, they will discuss recent poll results and the first few weeks of the election campaign.

Read More: How Do I Become President of Iceland

As noted by Vísir, a recent survey conducted by Maskína found that former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir leads the race with 31.4% support, enjoying a statistically significant advantage over Baldur Þórhallsson. (Katrín was invited to participate in Vísir’s panel discussion but could not attend due to prior commitments.)

The survey further found that 24% of respondents support Baldur Þórhallsson, 18.9% support Jón Gnarr, and 10.5% back Halla Hrund. As noted by Vísir, there are signs that the race is heating up; there have been reports of a smear campaign against Baldur Þórhallsson and Jón Gnarr recently criticised Katrín, accusing her of abandoning the Prime Minister’s office during a job half-done.

Pallborðið will be broadcast live on Vísir and Stöð 2 Vísir at 1 PM today. Presidential elections in Iceland will be held on June 1.

Icelandic Women’s Strike of 1975 Revisited in New Documentary

The Women’s Day Off protest in 2016 at Austurvöllur square.

The documentary The Day Iceland Stood Still, exploring the 1975 “Woman’s Day Off” strike in Iceland, will premiere at the Canadian Hot Docs Festival in late April. A trailer for the documentary was recently released online.

Country brought to an effective standstill

Earlier this week, the trailer for the documentary The Day Iceland Stood Still was released. As noted by Variety, the documentary delves into the famous “Woman’s Day Off” strike in Iceland on October 24, 1975, “when some 90% of Iceland’s women refused to work, cook, or take care of the children.” The country was brought to an effective standstill.

The documentary revisits the event, interviewing Icelandic women about its significance: “We loved our male chauvinist pigs,” one of the activists recalls in the trailer, Variety notes. “We just wanted to change them a little!”

It also includes an exclusive interview with Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as a head of state, who assumed her role just five years post-strike, alongside current president Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who shares an anecdote about his father’s ill-fated effort to prepare dinner during the strike.

The Day Iceland Stood Still will premiere at the Canadian Hot Docs documentary festival on April 29 and is directed by Emmy award-winning U.S. filmmaker Pamela Hogan in collaboration with Icelandic producer Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir.

Read More: Iceland Review looks back on Woman’s Day Off in 1975

Icelandic Nature Key Attraction for Foreign Visitors, Survey Finds

Kirkjufell mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

A recent survey by the Icelandic Tourism Board found that in 2023, nature was a key attraction for foreign tourists, influencing 97% of their decisions to visit. Popular destinations included the capital region and Southern Iceland, while recreational activities like natural baths and spa treatments were highly utilised by visitors.

Nature the primary attraction

A recent survey conducted by the Icelandic Tourism Board revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that foreign tourists primarily visited Iceland in 2023 for its nature, Morgunblaðið reports. Most visited the capital region and Southern Iceland, while 13% travelled to the Westfjords.

Furthermore, 97% of respondents said that nature had a significant or some influence on their decision to travel to the country. Interest in the Arctic influenced 84.6%, and nature-related activities influenced nearly 80% of respondents. Nearly 60% had received recommendations from friends or relatives to travel to the country.

Shorter stays than before

As noted by Morgunblaðið, tourists stayed an average of seven nights in the country, which is slightly shorter than the year before.

As far as the distribution of tourists in Iceland is concerned, 90% of respondents had visited the capital area, four out of five travelled around Southern Iceland, two out of three around the Reykjanes Peninsula, nearly half around the Western region, nearly a third around the Northern region, almost 30% around the Eastern region, and 13% in the Westfjords.

The survey also indicates that seven out of ten responded that their visit to Iceland exceeded their expectations. Foreign tourists appear eager to utilise a variety of recreational options. 56.2% visited natural baths, 40% used spa or wellness treatments, 34% visited museums, 33% took bus tours, and 21% went swimming.

Tyre Change Season Heats Up Though Icelandic Winter Lingers

driving in reykjavík

Despite the official end of the studded tyre season on April 15, Icelandic police have not started issuing fines due to ongoing winter conditions, including ice on mountain roads. Tyre shops are, however, seeing increased activity as the season shifts.

Mountain roads remain icy

According to Icelandic regulations, the period for studded tyres ends on April 15 each year.

As noted by RÚV on Monday, however, winter weather has severely affected the country over the past few weeks in many areas, and the police have not yet announced when they will begin issuing fines for studded tyres; there is still ice on mountain roads in many parts of the country, conditions which are taken into account by law enforcement, who commonly afford drivers some leeway for changing tyres into the spring.

Nevertheless, activity at tyre shops has begun picking up. In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, Þórður Þrastarson, at the Klettur tyre workshop on Hátún in Reykjavik, characterised the spring season as bracing: “It’s an invigorating challenge, and the days are often long,” Þórður remarked.

“Given that there’s been some snow cover in the town, things have slowed down a bit at our workshop, but it will quickly pick up again,” Þórður noted. He estimated that about a quarter of the vehicles in traffic are on all-season tyres. In his opinion, however, it is best to switch tyres between summer and winter. Many drivers still prefer studded tyres, though environmental considerations are increasingly leading to their decline.

Civil Ceremonies Surpass Church Weddings for First Time in Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church in Iceland

In 2023, more Icelanders were married by officiants at the offices of the District Commissioner (43%) than by priests belonging to the National Church (33.9%), according to Registers Iceland. This is the first time that marriages conducted by District Commissioners outnumbered those performed by the National Church.

2,095 individuals married via District Magistrate

In 2023, of the 4,870 individuals who entered into marriage according to Registers Iceland, 43% (2,095) were married by the offices of the District Commissioner, surpassing the 33.9% (1,650) who were married by the National Church. This is the first time in history that the number of marriages conducted at the offices of District Commissioners outnumbers that of the National Church. Additionally, 12% of marriages were conducted by other religious groups, and 11% of individuals chose to marry abroad.

Regional data also reveals that per 1,000 residents, East Iceland saw the highest number of marriages, followed by Northwest and Northeast Iceland.

(The data used in the report were derived from marriage registrations in the national registry; marriages involving an individual without a national ID number [kennitala] were not included in the statistics.)

Briefly concerning marriage in Iceland

As noted on Registers Iceland, authorised marriage officiants in Iceland include district commissioners, priests of the national church, and heads of registered religious and secular philosophical organisations (lífsskoðunarfélög). If a marriage ceremony is conducted at the offices of the district commissioner, a fee of ISK 11,000 [$78 / €73] is charged. The specific district commissioner’s office where the marriage takes place determines where the payment should be made.

In civil marriage ceremonies, it is not necessary to exchange rings. Guests may be brought along, subject to the capacity of the premises at each location. The district commissioner’s office can usually provide witnesses for the ceremony, if requested.

According to Icelandic legislation, prospective spouses must be at least 18 years old, must be legally competent, and must have concluded any financial settlements, divorces, or estate distributions if they were previously married. Additionally, one prospective spouse cannot be a descendant of the other, and they must not be siblings. The same applies to stepparents and stepchildren unless the adoption has been legally annulled.

Extended Breaks Threaten Learning, Says Union Chair

iceland education

The Chair of the Teachers’ Union warns of educational setbacks due to the rising trend of extended school breaks for students. A high teacher turnover rate calls for better support and improved working conditions to retain educators.

Extended breaks becoming more common

In an interview with RÚV published today, Magnús Þór Jónsson, Chairperson of the Iceland Teachers’ Union (Kennarasamband Íslands), maintains that extended school breaks for compulsory schoolchildren (primary school) can strain both the children and their educational progress; it is now more common for parents to take children out of school for several weeks. He emphasised the importance of children continuing their studies during such breaks.

“Increased instances of students missing school for weeks underscore the importance of maintaining continuous educational engagement,” Magnús Þór stated, adding that modern technology makes it possible for students to maintain studies and contact with schools from anywhere in the world, although that responsibility rests on the shoulders of parents and students.

Read More: Iceland’s School System Explained

School principals may report significant school absences due to family travels to child protection authorities if it affects the child’s education.

Magnús Þór also noted a similar trend among upper secondary school students, where such breaks could delay their graduation. “Secondary school has been condensed and involves significant effort,” he remarked. “If you’re aiming to graduate in three years, we’re expecting students to work overtime every week, so any break of a week or more means a lot of stress and hard work.”

A Trend of Early Departures Among Teachers

As noted by RÚV, a recent survey indicated that over a quarter of kindergarten and elementary school teachers do not foresee staying on in their positions in five years’ time. In this regard, Magnús Þór highlighted the importance of better supporting newly graduated teachers to help them settle into their roles. “We are seeing a number of teaching students who only stay briefly,” he observed.

Magnús Þór stressed the necessity of creating a better work environment for teachers to prevent dropouts from the profession. He noted that it’s becoming more common for teachers to leave their positions after only a year or two.

“We’re seeing people come into the profession, work for one to two years, and then leave, and this is a new development,” he stated. “It’s not enough just to increase the number of teacher students if they don’t stay in the job. We need to ensure that the environment is welcoming and that we better support our newcomers.”

Magnús Þór also stressed the importance of improving the framework of the teaching profession. The complex makeup of student groups at all educational levels requires more support: “The biggest task is better integrating students arriving from abroad. We need greater support in that regard.”

Interacting with parents can be challenging as students have diverse needs and challenges, and student groups are larger than before.

Financial Hurdles and Land Shortages Stifle Housing Growth

Miðborg Reykjavíkur - tekið úr byggingakrana

The Housing and Construction Authority (HSM) reports that new apartment construction has decreased by 9.3% compared to last year, and only 56% of the estimated housing need will be met next year. The CEO of a local construction company has attributed the shortfall in housing to governmental inaction, high financing costs, and insufficient land availability.

Only 56% of housing needs met

As noted in a recent report by the Housing and Construction Authority (HSM), construction has commenced on 9.3% fewer apartments compared to the same period last year. The scope of new projects has also contracted by a third year-on-year while the number of apartments is at the same stage of progress as they were a year ago. Furthermore, HSM expects 3,020 fully completed apartments this year and 2,768 apartments next year, which would only meet 56% of the estimated housing need.

In an interview with the evening news on Stöð 2 yesterday, Gylfi Gíslason, the CEO of the construction company Jáverk, traced this state of affairs to governmental inaction in matters of housing; high financing costs and a lack of land availability were slowing down construction.

As noted by Gylfi – and substantiated by HSM’s recent report – it is necessary to build twice as much as is currently being done to meet housing needs, and, due to this, significant price increases are expected soon. Indeed, HMS has for several months highlighted that not enough is being built in the country relative to population growth, Vísir notes. Gylfi added that this situation was anticipated.

“Land is needed to build houses, and the cost of capital has been too expensive due to interest rates. Furthermore, a decision was made, over a year ago, and without prior warning, to increase taxation – vis-a-vis a reduction in the VAT refund on new buildings. All of this has had an impact. In the long term, we just need a greatly increased supply of land,” Gylfi remarked.

Asked about the government’s actions over the past months regarding the situation, Gylfi replied that little had happened: “An increased supply of land has not yet materialised. Interest rates are at their highest. Everyone in this market predicted it would be like this. Perhaps it is only now becoming a reality.”

When asked if government action was coming too late, Gylfi replied thusly: “Yes, yes. Or maybe we just want it this way. That’s quite possible. There was a desire to reduce economic overheating. It was criticised that this was happening on both the supply and demand sides. It was done, and I believe that these consequences are becoming visible if these forecasts prove correct,” Gylfi concluded.

Residential property prices risen by 5.2%

As noted in a recent article on the HMS website, over the past twelve months, residential property prices have risen by 5.2%, with the annual increase reaching 5.7% in February.

The new residential price index rose by 0.8% month-on-month in March, compared to a 1.9% increase in February. Since the start of the year, residential prices have been rising faster in rural areas than in the capital region.

In March, single-family homes in the capital region increased by 1.1% month-on-month and have now risen by 4.6% over the last twelve months. Multi-family homes in the capital region increased by 0.6% month-on-month and have risen by 4.9% over the past twelve months.

New Arena Needed for Iceland’s 2031 Handball Host Role

Iceland crowd

Iceland is set to co-host the 2031 Handball World Championship with Denmark and Norway. Iceland’s ability to host hinges on the completion of a new national arena by 2031, without which it would have to withdraw, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Handball Federation has noted.

A new national arena a prerequisite

As noted by IR yesterday, Iceland will host the 2031 Handball World Championship along with Denmark and Norway. A new National Arena is deemed essential for Iceland to be able to host the event.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Róbert Geir Gíslason, General Manager of the Icelandic Handball Federation (HSÍ), noted that Iceland would have to withdraw from hosting the tournament in the event that the new national arena was not completed in time.

“We know the arena is currently in the tendering process. Regarding the design, we are promised that it will be ready by 2028 or 2029. We fully trust that this timeline will hold,” he observed. When asked if there was a contingency plan if the new national arena failed to materialise, Róbert responded that Iceland would have to withdraw its participation.

As noted by RÚV, the government has committed to erecting a new arena by 2028 or 2029. In September 2023, the completion was scheduled for late 2026, but that date has now been pushed back.

“I believe that if we do not have a national arena – if it’s not ready by 2031 – we will somehow have to withdraw. It’s clear. It is an absolute prerequisite for us to meet the tournament’s minimum requirements. The national arena is what we need to meet those,” Róbert explained.

A total of 21 games to be played in Iceland

Iceland will host two groups during the group stages of the tournament along with hosting an intermediate round. RÚV notes that 21 games in total will be played in Laugardalur, Reykjavík, with Iceland playing eight games at home if everything goes as planned. The other six groups will be played in Norway and Denmark, and three intermediate rounds will be played in these countries as well.

“We didn’t have the option to host this alone,” Róbert explained. “We will host two groups and one intermediate round here. So we are getting eight nations here, or seven including us. That’s big enough for us for now.”

As noted by RÚV, Iceland has previously hosted a major tournament, namely the 1995 World Championship. Thirty-six years will thus have passed since Iceland last hosted a World Championship by the time the 2031 World Championship comes around. Róbert observed that being chosen to host the event was a significant recognition for Iceland as a sporting nation.

“We are very proud. This is great news and a significant recognition for us as a sporting nation. A great acknowledgement of the work of HSÍ and the clubs across the country.”

HSÍ has been working on the project with the government and the Icelandic Tourism Board.

“This has been a long process and we are very grateful to the government and the Icelandic Tourism Board for their help. It has been a lot of work both for them and us, in close cooperation with Denmark and Norway.”

Svandís Svavarsdóttir Pushes for Stricter Scooter Regulations

Former Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The Minister of Infrastructure has introduced a bill to parliament to regulate small vehicles such as electric scooters. The legislation addresses safety concerns, as drunk driving and accidents have become common with their increasing popularity.

A speed limit of 25 km per hour

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the newly appointed Minister of Infrastructure, presented a bill in the Parliament yesterday proposing amendments to the traffic laws specifically addressing small vehicles such as electric scooters, RÚV reports.

The proposal suggests the introduction of a new vehicle category for small vehicles within traffic legislation. It stipulates that these vehicles should not be designed to travel faster than 25 kilometres per hour and that any vehicle exceeding these limits would not be permitted in traffic.

Drunk driving, accidents common

As noted by RÚV, with the growing popularity of electric scooters – especially short-term rentals, such as Hopp and Zolo – there has been significant discussion about the challenges associated with these vehicles, such as drunk driving and accidents. The bill proposes that it should be a punishable offence to operate such a vehicle if the alcohol concentration in the blood exceeds 0.5 promille or if the breath alcohol content exceeds 0.25 milligrams per litre.

If the bill is passed, children under the age of thirteen will not be permitted to ride small vehicles and those under sixteen will be required to wear helmets.

Modification of speed settings prohibited

There have been instances of modifications to the built-in speed settings of electric scooters and electric bikes. Such alterations allow riders to exceed the maximum speed indicated by the vehicles. The bill proposes a ban on modifying these settings on motor-powered small vehicles, lightweight motorcycles, and electric bikes.

The bill also proposes that small vehicles be allowed to operate in general traffic on roads where the speed limit does not exceed 30 kilometres per hour.

The proposal does not suggest that operating small vehicles under the influence of alcohol should result in the revocation of a driving licence, RÚV notes.

Online Petition Against New PM Sparks Public Debate

bjarni benediktsson finance minister

Approximately 37,000 people have signed a petition indicating their lack of support for Iceland’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson. This petition, which ranks as the eighteenth most signed in the nation’s history according to RÚV, appears to have sparked significant public debate.

Eighteenth most signed petition in Iceland’s history

Over 37,000 people have signed a petition to the effect that Bjarni Benediktsson does not enjoy their support as Prime Minister, a position he recently assumed. As noted in the latest episode of the Iceland New Review podcast, published today, the petition is not a legally binding referendum but an exercise in democratic participation. The growth of signatures has slowed but saw a significant increase yesterday following media coverage.

In a response to the petition on Wednesday, Bjarni Benediktsson observed that Icelanders were free to protest and sign petitions: “It must be considered a part of the normal functioning of democracy in Iceland that not everyone holds the same opinion. Even if a few thousand people sign a petition, or even ten times more vote for another party, that’s just how it is,” Bjarni remarked. He also pointed out that the Independence Party had received the most votes in the last election and that he had entered parliament with the highest number of votes of any MP.

RÚV maintains that this petition ranks eighteenth in terms of the most signed in Iceland’s history. The record is held by a 2016 petition demanding 11% of GDP for healthcare, signed by 87,000 Icelanders. Subsequent notable petitions include a 2008 protest against the UK’s use of anti-terrorism laws against Iceland and a 2013 campaign against relocating Reykjavik Airport, garnering 83,353 and 69,637 signatures respectively.

The petition against the Prime Minister will remain active until April 23.

Critical of the petition

Former Minister Björn Bjarnason – a relation to Bjarni Benediktsson – recently criticised the fact that the website Island.is had been transformed into an official messaging channel for anonymous individuals who “seek to undermine constitutional elections and democratic rules.”

“Media outlets blindly compete to report how diligent people are in signing the petition. If one visits the website, a large number of those signing the petition, which is reported on by the media, appear to be anonymous, as if it were a secret ballot,” Björn recently wrote on his blog.

Brynjar Níelsson, deputy MP from the Independence Party, agreed with Björn, characterising the petition as digital harassment. “There’s a government. There are elections. What’s wrong with people? Why are they doing this? This is as sensible as a petition to make me a spokesperson or host at Eurovision,” Brynjar stated during an interview with the radio programme Bítið yesterday morning.

The rapper Emmsjé Gauti, who was also a guest on Bítið, reacted to Brynjar’s comments by stating that it was only natural for people to express their dissatisfaction in this manner, observing that the petition did not demand Bjarni’s resignation. Gauti caveated his statement by noting that people should, nonetheless, communicate respectfully.

A secure online platform for petitions

As noted on Island.is, individuals can create petitions on the website to which the public can add their names using digital authentication.

“The purpose of these petitions is to provide a secure online platform where people can support causes. Creating a petition involves collecting names and signatures to demonstrate support for specific goals or issues. These petitions must adhere to national laws and the Icelandic constitution, and the content must be presented respectfully and decently, avoiding any defamatory statements,” the website notes.

First cabinet meeting this morning

Bjarni Benediktsson’s new government convened for its first cabinet meeting this morning. The government was introduced on Tuesday, and the official handover of keys took place on Wednesday morning.