The political scene in Iceland in 2019 was chaotic like it most often is. Even though the political scene isn’t large by any means, with 63 MPs in the Icelandic Parliament and 23 seats in the Reykjavík City Council, the close quarters lead to intense fighting. Often, the only saving grace for Icelandic politicians is the fact that Icelanders move on to the ‘next scandal’ extremely quickly. Yesterday’s news becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of days. That’s why we have a recap such as this one. From Eurovision scandals and Mike Pence’s controversial visit to nefarious Namibian dealings, and everything between. Step into the tumultuous political scene in Iceland with us.
Fallout from Klaustur
The year started with the fallout from the Klaustur Scandal, where six MPs made sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about their colleagues at the Klaustur bar in downtown Reykjavík. Even though the scandal took place in 2018, the case rattled Icelanders so that ripples were felt through the new year. The court case of whistle-blower Bára Halldórsdóttir came to an end as Miðflokkur (The Central Party) MPs had charged her for invasion of privacy. Bára was made to delete the recordings. Meanwhile, The Central Party became the second-largest party in Iceland, polling at 14.8% of voters in October.
Third Energy Package
The Third Energy Package sounds like something you would guzzle down while running a marathon, but it’s anything but. The matter split opinions at the beginning of the year as politicians and the public alike debated it hotly. The Third Energy Package was approved by the EU in 2009, and was to be adopted by EU and EEA member states. Ten years later, Iceland was the only country not to have approved the package. Many believed Iceland would give up a part of its sovereignty, and force Iceland to build up a power link to the EU. Eventually, the package was approved in September by a Parliamentary vote of 46 to 13.
Strikes, strikes, strikes
The gap between the lowest and highest earners of society has led to wage disputes and strikes. The spring of 2019 saw tourism industry workers strike for higher wages, with hotel staff striking and bus drivers following in their wake. Later in 2019, journalists striked to demand fair wages. That debate is currently still ongoing, but newspaper Morgunblaðið saw it fit to have part-time staff members violate the strike as well as laying off fifteen journalists.
On a happier, yet still, somewhat grim, note – the youth in Iceland took part in the global youth climate strike movement led by Greta Thunberg. Minister of Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with protesters.
Flags and dishwashing brushes
Anti-capitalist, BDSM wearing, industrial techno band Hatari represented Iceland at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel and managed to stir the pot. Band members held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes, much to the displeasure of Israeli officials. Eventually, national broadcaster RÚV received a fine and the flag-scene was removed from the official Eurovision DV.
In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.
Bills, bills, bills.
Bills, bills, bills is not only a Destiny’s Child song but also what the Parliament started to approved in droves in the spring- and summertime. A new plan was approved to build up tourism infrastructure, while a plan to ban single-use plastics was approved, a widely supported move.
In May, the Government passed an abortion bill which legalises the termination of a pregnancy within the first 22 weeks regardless of circumstances. Abortion was previously legal within the same timeframe, however, a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy after the 16th week required approval by a committee. That decision is now solely in the hands of the pregnant person.
This June, the Directorate of Health proposed a sugar tax on soft drinks and sweets to work towards long term goals in public health. The Icelandic Dentist’s Association has yet to release a statement on the matter. Later that summer, calls for stricter regulations on foreign land ownership started to rear their head. It’s an oft and long-discussed subject which appears to be stuck in political purgatory. But what should be done, and who’s land is it anyway?
USA – Iceland and Mike Pence
This summer, the Iceland – USA relationship was a hot talking point. US military presence is returning to Iceland, as the US Air Force and US Navy will construct facilities at Keflavík airport. The Air Force had facilities there from 1946 to 2006 and is going to spend ISK 7 billion ($56.2 million/€49.5 million) on military infrastructure. Meanwhile, Iceland increased its defence budget by 37%, due to “…increasing temporary presence of NATO forces at Keflavík Airport due to worsening security conditions in Europe, including in the North Atlantic.”
Vice President’s Mike Pence’s official visit to Iceland in August hit the news. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir originally intended to miss the meeting due to commitments at the convention of Nordic trade unions. Eventually, Pence extended his stay to speak to Katrín about Arctic issues as well as defence matters. His visit was controversial and proved to somewhat unpopular with road closures, high cost and last but not least it was protested by numerous organizations due to his pro-war and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
The public has called for the government to make major improvements to the handling of asylum seekers in Iceland. In August, authorities’ handling of two Afghan families seeking asylum in Iceland were heavily criticized. Later, in November, the Directorate of Immigration deported an asylum seeker who was just shy of 36 weeks pregnant. Both cases were met with outrage, as they were considered inhumane.
Move the clock – or not?
Few issues have garnered as much attention – and feedback – as the contentious suggestion to move the Icelandic clock back one hour to better align with solar time. Should Iceland move the clock?
Last but not least are the Fishrot Files. Icelandic fishing company Samherji is accused of tax evasion and bribery in Namibia to ensure access to fishing quotas in the country. Samherji is one of Iceland’s biggest companies and the fallout has been according to that. The government issued additional funding to investigate Samherji’s wrongdoings, and Icelandic tax authorities have opened an investigation into the case. Namibian ministers have resigned, as well as the CEO of Samherji. The case is still being resolved.