Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson began his policy address last night with a poem by farmer-poet Guðmundur Ingi Kristjánsson, of Kirkjuból in the West Fjords, expressing the essence of the Icelandic character. In his speech Halldór said, “The Icelandic character which refuses to be deterred by the reality of being a small nation in a big world, but instead emphasizes that we are a nation among other nations, and concentrates on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.”
In his address, Halldór painted a rosy picture of Iceland, quoting a survey by the United Nations that Iceland is the second-best country in the world to live in. He said that economic growth in Iceland exceeds that of neighboring countries; unemployment is lower in Iceland than in any other country; purchasing power of households has increased; and wages have also increased.
He said that when the Progressive and Independence parties began their coalition partnership, following the parliamentary elections in 1995, the situation was quite different and much less favorable.
He called the debate on economic affairs in Iceland “amazing” saying, “at times one might think that everything had gone to rack and ruin here, that practically everything was in a mess. Yet a brief glance abroad is enough to see just how well we are situated.”
He said that the government has made economic stability a priority.
Halldór announced a special initiative called “Simpler Iceland” aimed at “simplifying the administration and making it more effective and more in tune with the times.” Halldór said that although the Icelandic administration has recently been chosen the third most efficient in the world, there was still much room for improvement. He said that the goal of the initiative was to simplify the regulatory framework, diminish paperwork and increase efficiency.
Halldór said that one of the most important tasks for the Althingi, and the nation as a whole was the revision of the constitution.
He said that the nation stood at a major crossroads in health care and recounted the government’s decision to allocate one-quarter of the funds received from the sale of Iceland Telco to the construction of a new, “high-tech” hospital.
Halldór said he had high hopes for the work of the “family committee” that has researched the standing of the family in Iceland.
He also said that in Iceland discrimination should not be tolerated; whether on grounds of color, religion or sexual orientation. He said a bill to advance the rights of homosexuals would be introduced in Althingi .
He cautioned the nation to think carefully before financing consumption with loans which he said had become “increasingly evident lately”. He continued to say that “Moderation is always a virtue.”
He ended his address on with the following words, “The heartbeat of the nation is strong. The politician’s role is to listen and interpret this heartbeat and to clear the way to harness this power.”