Iceland in Second Place for ILGA Europe “Rainbow Map”

A new report from ILGA Europe puts Iceland in second place in Europe when it comes to the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. This marks a significant climb from even last year, and from previous years.

Well above the average

The ILGA Europe report examines and assesses LGBTQIA+ rights in European countries on a number of criteria, including legislation, social attitudes, and related factors.

“With 83 points, Iceland jumped to second place with a rise of three places as a result of the new legislation banning conversion practices and ensuring the trans-specific healthcare is based on depathologisation,” the report notes.

In fact, Iceland’s position is well above the European Union average of 46.81%, and of Europe as a whole, at 41.56%. Iceland has been steadily climbing up the ranks since 2019, when it was at just 40.2%.

Good sides, and room for improvement

The report notes that Iceland has done exceptionally well in the areas of equality and non-discrimination, legal gender recognition, and civil society space. This in large part due to the Gender Autonomy Act, which encoded a number of rights for non-binary and binary trans people, and some protections for intersex people.

Iceland could stand to improve when it comes to intersex bodily integrity and asylum, ILGA Europe says. Their recommendations include “[i]ncluding express mention to all SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics) grounds in policies designed to tackle hate crime”, “[i]ntroducing laws on asylum that contain express mention of all SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics) grounds”, and “[r]eforming the prohibition of medical interventions on intersex minors to be universal”.

The full report on Iceland can be read here (.pdf).

Iceland’s Eurovision Hopes Dashed As Controversy Swirls

Eurovision Söngvakeppnin 2020 Daði Freyr Dimma

Iceland’s Eurovision entry did not advance from the semi-finals yesterday, amidst controversies linked to the Gaza conflict. Meanwhile, a solidarity concert in Reykjavík raised funds for Gaza through UNICEF and the Red Cross.

Slim chances

Iceland’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, Scared of Heights performed by Hera Björk Þórhallsdóttir, did not advance from the first semi-final round held last night in Malmö, Sweden. Prior to the semi-finals, it had become evident that Hera’s chances of advancing were slim, having decreased from 19% to 10% with the bookies.

Yesterday, ten countries advanced to the Eurovision finals, which will take place on Saturday night.

Serbia
Portugal
Slovenia
Ukraine
Lithuania
Finland
Cyprus
Croatia
Ireland
Luxembourg

Protests, controversy

Iceland’s participation in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has not been without controversy. In January, RÚV announced that it would postpone its decision on Iceland’s participation in Eurovision until after the national Song Contest concluded and in consultation with its winner. The decision followed protests relating to Israel’s participation in Eurovision amid the Gaza conflict.

As noted by Mbl.is, many find Israel’s participation jarring due to their actions in Gaza and given that Russia was excluded from the competition two years ago following their invasion of Ukraine.

During yesterday’s semi-final, a solidarity concert for Gaza took place at Háskólabíó in Reykjavík. President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was in attendance. As noted by Vísir, all proceeds from the concert will go towards humanitarian aid for Gaza through UNICEF and the Red Cross. Performers included Ásgeir Trausti, GDRN, Emmsjé Gauti, Una Torfa, Ellen Kristjánsdóttir, Eyþór Gunnarsson, Systur, Sigríður Thorlacius, Pálmi Gunnarsson, TÁR, Svala Björgvins, and Friðrik Dór.

Two Wins for Laufey at 2024 Icelandic Music Awards

Bewitched / From the Start

The 2024 Icelandic Music Awards were held at Harpa’s Silfurberg auditorium last night. Twenty-two accolades were distributed, with Grammy-winner Laufey securing wins in two categories.

Elín Hall and PATRi!K among night’s performers

The 2024 Icelandic Music Awards were presented last night at the Silfurberg Auditorium within the Harpa Music and Conference Hall. Among those who took the stage were Elín Hall, Hipsumhaps, Bára Gísladóttir, and PATRi!K. The awards were hosted by Freyr Eyjólfsson.

A total of 22 awards were distributed, including the Honorary Award of the Icelandic Music Awards, received by organist and choir director Hörður Áskelsson, and Best Newcomer, awarded to Kári Egilsson.

Grammy-winner Laufey received two awards: Performer of the Year and Vocal Performance of the Year in the categories of Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, and Electronic.

Here is a list of the winners:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

Classical and Contemporary
Atli Heimir Sveinsson: The Complete String Quartets – Siggi String Quartet

Jazz
Innermost – Mikael Máni Ásmundsson

Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, and Electronic
Museum – JFDR

Other
BRIDGES II – Ægir

Film and Theatre
Knock At The Cabin – Herdís Stefánsdóttir

PERFORMER OF THE YEAR:

Jazz
Andrés Þór Gunnlaugsson

Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, and Electronic
Laufey

Classical and Contemporary
Sæunn Þorsteinsdóttir

Other
Mugison

VOCAL PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:

Jazz
Kristjana Stefánsdóttir

Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, and Electronic
Laufey

Classical and Contemporary
Jóhann Kristinsson

SONG AND COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR:

Other
Wandering Beings – Guðmundur Pétursson

Classical and Contemporary
COR – Bára Gísladóttir

Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, and Electronic
Skína – PATRi!K, Luigi

Jazz
Íslend­ing­ur í Uluwatu­hofi – Stefán S. Stefánsson

MUSIC EVENT OF THE YEAR:

Summer Jazz at Jómfrúin – Jómfrúin and Jakob Einar Jakobsson

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR:

I Am Weary, Don’t Let Me Rest – Snorri Hallgrímsson
Recording Directors: Bergur Þórisson, Cécile Lacharme, Hafsteinn Þráinsson, Martyn Heyne, Snorri Hallgrímsson, Styrmir Hauksson, Viktor Orri Árnason, and Þorsteinn Eyfjörð

LYRICS OF THE YEAR:

Hún ógnar mér – Vigdís Hafliðadóttir

MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:

Waiting – Árný Margrét
Director: Guðmundur Kristinn Jónsson

BEST NEWCOMER:

Kári Egilsson

HONORARY AWARD:

Hörður Áskelsson

The award for Album Cover of the Year was not presented last night, as the award, bestowed in collaboration with the Association of Icelandic Illustrators (FÍT), will be presented at the FÍT Awards on March 22.

ALBUM COVER OF THE YEAR (NOMINATIONS):

Átta – Sigur Rós: Design: Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson
v2,2 – Róshildur: Design: Þorgeir Kristinn Blöndal
Museum – JFDR: Design: Gréta Thorkelsdóttir and Dóra Dúna
Gleypir tígur, gleypir ljón – Tumi Árnason and Magnús Tryggvason Eliassen: Design: Héðinn Finnsson (Íbbagoggur)
How to Start a Garden – Nanna: Design: Davíð Arnar Baldursson and Ragnar Þórhallsson
Ást & praktík – Hipsumhaps: Design: Viktor Weisshappel Vilhjálmsson

Line-Up for Aldrei Fór Ég Suður Music Festival Announced

ísafjörður harbour

The famed Westfjords music festival Aldrei fór ég suður will be held again this year, under the auspices of a special occasion.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the festival, which was first held over Easter weekend in Ísafjörður in 2004. At that time, Iceland’s indie scene was booming, but most of the activity was centered in Reykjavík. The musician Mugison, who grew up in Ísafjörður, and his father came up with the idea of holding a music festival in the Westfjords in 2003.

Since its inception, the festival has always been free of charge.

This year’s line-up includes an eclectic mix of artists, some of whom are Icelandic classics, while others have achieved more recent fame. The full line-up is available here.

Performances will be held March 29th and 30th at Suðurgata 11 in Ísafjörður, with doors opening at 19:00 on both days.

From Goalkeeper to President? Björgvin Páll Says “Not Yet”

Goalkeeper Björgvin Páll Gústavsson

National handball team goalkeeper Björgvin Páll Gústavsson has decided not to run for the presidency of Iceland, despite a longstanding dream and public speculation about his candidacy. Björgvin cites a lack of experience and other personal dreams as reasons for not pursuing the office. Presidential elections are set for June 1.

A dream deferred

In his annual New Year’s address, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson announced that he would be stepping down from the presidency after two terms in office, having served eight years in total. Guðni had previously declared that he would only serve three terms at most. Since his decision, a handful of individuals have announced their candidacy (none of whom have been especially popular in the polls). 

Among those individuals who have been linked to the candidacy is Björgvin Páll Gústavsson, the men’s national handball team goalkeeper and player for the Icelandic club Valur. In a Facebook post today, however, Björgvin Páll clarified that he would not be running for the office of the President.

“I have many dreams, one of them is to someday become the President of Iceland,” Björgvin Páll said on Facebook. “But not now. I do not consider myself experienced enough to be president. Besides, there are all sorts of other dreams getting in the way that I need to fulfil first. These dreams are related to sports, my children, and all the other children. One is allowed to dream, and as Vigdís Finnbogadóttir put it during her inauguration in 1980: ‘We are the stuff that dreams are spun from,’” Björgvin Páll remarked.

In his post, Björgvin notes that his dream of becoming president first ignited during an admission into the Children and Adolescent Psychiatric Department of the National Hospital (BUGL) when he was just eight years old. This dream was further reinforced when he was awarded the Order of the Falcon 15 years later. Following the publication of his children’s book, A Child Becomes President, in December 2022, a poll was conducted by the media outlet Vísir and the radio programme Reykjavík síðdegis, wherein 40% of respondents said that they could envision Björgvin as president.

Presidential elections will take place on June 1 of this year and the new president’s term will begin on August 1. Among those individuals who have already announced their candidacy are entrepreneur Ástþór Magnússon, attorney Arnar Þór Jónsson, and investor Sigríður Hrund Pétursdóttir.

Eruption Has Begun North of Grindavík

Eruption from last December in Reykjanes, Iceland

An eruption has begun near Sundhnúkur, north of Grindavík, at approximately 8:00 this morning, the Icelandic Met Office reports.

Eruption occurred shortly after evacuations began

The eruption occurred shortly after Grindavík was evacuated due to increased seismic activity in the area.

Speaking with RÚV, natural hazards expert at the Icelandic Met Office Benedikt Ófeigsson said, “It is difficult to say how large this eruption will be.” He added that the fissure was lengthening actively, which he says is not unusual for eruptions that have just commenced.

Previous eruption in Grindavík last month

Coast Guard helicopters have been deployed to the area at the time of this writing. It has been determined that the eruption is closer to Grindavík than the previous eruption, which occurred in the early morning hours of December 18th.

By all accounts, the evacuation of Gridavík has gone well, with all residents of the town having left the region well ahead the beginning of the eruption.

How destructive will this eruption be?

While volcanoes are notoriously difficult to make accurate predictions about, volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson told reporters that this eruption has surfaced at “perhaps one of the worst places that an eruption can begin, and puts Grindavík in danger if it continues.”

According to the first assessments done by the Icelandic Coast Guard, the eruption has opened on both sides of the lava flow security walls that were dug out in the over the past month. That said, another volcanologist, Ármann Höskuldsson, added that this eruption may run its course quickly.

“Hopefully it will be quick,” he said. “This is exactly like the previous eruption, a continuous lava plume along the entirety of the fissure.”

Which direction the lava will flow, and whether Grindavík will be in its path, is still unknown at the time of this writing.

What will change in Iceland in 2024?

New Year's Eve Fireworks in Reykjavík, 2017.

A new year and a new beginning, so they say. 2024 comes with many changes to public price structures all over Iceland, a historic milestone in the population size and also some restructuring in leadership within the country. Here’s all you need to know about the upcoming changes in 2024 in Iceland.

Iceland’s population will reach 400,000 & election of new president

It is predicted that within the first six months of 2024, Iceland’s population will surpass 400,000 people. Currently, the population is only 1,000 people away from that mark. According to Statistics Iceland, the growth has been more rapid than expected as reaching a population of 400,000 was initially predicted in the year 2050.

Iceland’s president Guðni Th. Jóhannesson has announced that he will not run for president again, stepping down after two terms (8 years) in office. A new president will be elected in June. Currently, no one has announced their candidacy in the upcoming election.

The mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson has also announced that he will step down from his position on January 16. He was Reykjavík’s mayor for the last ten years. Progressive Party Leader Einar Þorsteinsson will take over as mayor until the next election in 2026.

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson

Pool prices and garbage disposal fees hike

Municipalities in Iceland have announced higher prices for trash collection, as a new system for sorting refuse is being implemented in the capital area. The biggest increase is in Reykjavík, where the price for two bins goes from ISK 52,600 [$389, €350] to ISK 73,500 [$544, €489]. The highest fee remains in the more affluent neighbouring municipality of Seltjarnarnes and amounts to ISK 75,000 [$555, €499]. From January 10, it also won’t be possible to collect disposable paper bags for the biodegradable trash free of charge from the supermarkets anymore. They can be picked up at the recycling centre Sorpa or the second-hand furniture store Góði hirðirinn instead and are still free of charge there.

In Reykjavík, the prices for trips to the swimming pool, museum tickets and petting zoo admissions in Laugardalur have also gone up. A single adult ticket to a public pool increased by 6 per cent and will now cost ISK 1,330 [$10, €9]. Yearly tickets go up by 5.5 per cent, while prices for towel and swimming trunk rentals also rise. 

A hike in bus fare prices for the public transport company Strætó has also been announced. Stræto operates the city buses in the Reykjavík capital region. They will rise by an average of 11 per cent with a single ticket now costing ISK 630  [$4.60, €4.20] from ISK 570 [$4.20, €3.80]. The increase has been justified by citing higher fuel prices. The buses outside the capital area are not affected by those changes.

Úlfarsárdalur swimming pool Dagur B. Eggertsson mayor

Tax rates on substances & electric vehicles increase

Municipalities have also upped the fees for some of the services they offer, while the 2024 budget, recently approved by Alþingi, heralds new taxes and adjustments to the existing ones. Tax rates on alcohol and tobacco go up by 3.5 per cent, Morgunblaðið reports. As does the licensing fee for public broadcasting and the gasoline tax. 

The litre will cost an extra ISK 4.20 [$0.03, €0.03], while the litre of diesel goes up by ISK 3.70 [$0.03, €0.02]. The vehicle tax on lighter automobiles rises by 30 per cent as well, while owners of electric cars will need to pay a new fee per kilometre, which for the average driver will amount to ISK 90,000 [$666, €599] per year. 

Owners of hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles will now need to keep track of the mileage of their vehicles and register them on island.is in the beginning of 2024. This procedure must be repeated once a year. The Icelandic government decided to implement this change due to a stark decrease in the state’s revenue from vehicles since 2018 and the ongoing need for the development of road infrastructure. The kilometre fee will be paid monthly. People concerned by this change can visit the government-run website Vegir okkar allra to find out more about this change.

Keflavík Airport
Keflavík Airport

EU travel fee not coming into effect until 2025

The by the EU announced ETIAS waiver program that was initially announced to come into effect in 2024 has been postponed to 2025. So travellers from outside of the EU are not facing registration fees of $7.70 / €7.00 just yet. ETIAS travel authorisation is an entry requirement for visa-exempt travellers who are visiting one of the thirty participating European countries. The entry requirement is valid for up to 90 days in any 180 days. Travellers intending to visit Iceland will also need an ETIAS travel authorisation to enter Iceland from 2025 on. This system will not replace visa requirements for citizens who currently require a visa to visit any EU country, like travellers from China, India and South Africa. 

A central database which will track non-EU residents when entering any EU country called the Entry/Exit system, will presumably come into force in the second half of 2024.

 

Minister Advocates for Fiscal Restraint in Iceland’s New Budget

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

In a budget briefing yesterday, the Finance Minister highlighted increased government earnings while advocating for fiscal restraint to counter inflation. He revealed a multifaceted approach for the upcoming year, which included streamlining state institutions for targeted savings of ISK 17 billion [$129 million / €119 million], revising road taxes to account for the surge in electric vehicles, and adjusting income tax brackets, all against a backdrop of a projected state treasury deficit and rising healthcare costs.

Cautious optimism tempered by financial and demographic challenges

During yesterday’s press conference on the state budget, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson underscored the significance of acknowledging a marked increase in government revenue, which had surpassed earlier projections. He advocated for continued fiscal discipline to mitigate rising inflationary pressures. The goal was to prioritise investments in infrastructure and basic services like the National Hospital and housing. He also revisited plans to streamline state-run institutions, targeting savings of ISK 17 billion [$129 million / €119 million] for next year.

On transportation, Bjarni stressed that the rise in electric vehicles, facilitated by government incentives, had negatively impacted fuel tax revenues. He announced plans for a “new, simpler, fairer, and more transparent system” based on road usage. “It’s time for electric vehicles to participate in maintaining the road network,” he added.

As noted by RÚV, the draft budget reveals a projected state treasury deficit of ISK 46 billion [$344 million / €320 million], primarily due to interest expenses outpacing interest income. However, core operational revenues anticipate a surplus of ISK 28 billion [$209 million / €195 million]. Self-sustaining state entities project a modest surplus in core operations but face a deficit once interest is considered.

Healthcare spending is set to increase significantly, up by ISK 88 billion [$658 million / €612 million] since 2017 and ISK 14 billion [$105 million / €97 million] compared to last year. Factors like tourism, population growth, and an ageing population are cited as key drivers.

An 8.5% adjustment in income tax brackets by year’s end is expected to reduce the average income tax by about ISK 7,000 [$52 / €49]. Bjarni also noted the reimplementation of the overnight stay tax in 2024 – revoked in 2020 due to the pandemic – extending it to cruise ships.

Total state expenditure for the next year is estimated at ISK 1,480 billion [$11 billion / €10.3 billion]. The budget draft shows a 22.3% increase in financial costs and a 14.8% rise in hospital services. Funding for innovation has decreased the most, by 9.7%, followed by a similar reduction in foreign affairs.

Overall, the budget suggests a cautious optimism tempered by financial and demographic challenges.

Briefly on the budget: According to constitutional provisions, disbursements from the state treasury can only be made if authorised in the annual budget or a supplementary spending bill. The budget undergoes a rigorous legislative process: the Minister of Finance introduces the draft budget to Parliament during its first autumn session, typically held on the second Tuesday in September. Following this, the draft undergoes three rounds of parliamentary debates before it is usually finalized and approved in December.

Agreement on Long-Awaited New Research Vessel Signed

Research Vessel

The Marine & Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) will receive a new research vessel in 2024. Yesterday, the institute’s director signed an agreement with government ministers and the Spanish contractor Astilleros Armón.

Plans approved in June 2018

In June 2018, on the centenary of Iceland’s sovereignty, Parliament approved a bill granting the Minister of Fisheries the authority to initiate preparations for the construction of a new research vessel for the Marine & Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI). The new vessel would replace Bjarni Sæmundsson HF-030, which was constructed in 1970. The MFRI would continue to use Árni Friðriksson, a much younger vessel, built in 2000.

Yesterday, Þorsteinn Sigurðsson, the Director of the MFRI, signed an agreement with Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson; Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir; and an unnamed representative from the Spanish shipbuilding company Astilleros Armón for the construction of the new research vessel.

“This is a milestone in the history of marine research in Iceland,” Þorsteinn stated in an interview with Mbl.is yesterday. According to the director, discussions regarding the construction of a new research vessel began around the turn of the century. At the time, a decision was made to refit Bjarni Sæmundsson, with the repairs expected to last until 2012.

Yesterday, the MFRI signed an agreement for the long-awaited new vessel. Construction is expected to take 30 months. If all goes according to plan, the vessel will arrive in Iceland in the fall of 2024.

ISK 4.8 billion tender

As noted by Mbl.is, an emphasis will be placed on fuel efficiency and environmentally friendliness in the construction of the new vessel. It will be 70 metres long and 12 metres wide. Skipasýn has spent the past three years designing the ship. It also oversaw the tendering process. The ship will be built by Astilleros Armón, which made the lowest offer of three Spanish yards that tendered for the build, or ISK 4.8 billion ($37 million / €33.5 million).