Parliamentary Resolution on the Icelandic Language Introduced

The Icelandic government has published a parliamentary resolution, consisting of 18 actions formulated by five ministries, to protect and bolster the Icelandic language. The plan has been uploaded to Samráðsgátt (the government’s online consultation portal) and emphasises supporting the Icelandic language, particularly in relation to children and young people, immigrants, and within digital spaces.

“A big change in attitude” towards Icelandic needed

Yesterday, the government’s parliamentary resolution for the protection and bolstering of the Icelandic language was made available for presentation and comment on the government’s online consultation portal (i.e. Samráðsgátt). There are a total of 18 actions formulated in cooperation between five ministries, whose goal is to prioritise the government’s projects in the years 2023-2026 when it comes to the protection and development of the language.

“The agreement of the governing parties emphasises support for the Icelandic language with attention being paid to supporting children of foreign origin and their families. I am very happy with the priorities in this action plan because they are in line with what we proposed when we formed the government. I am convinced that increased support for all those who move here and want to live here results in an increased quality of life for everyone,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is quoted as saying in a press release on the government’s website.

Read More: Nothing to Speak Of (On the Shortcomings of Icelandic Education Policy)

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The press release also quotes Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs: “We need a big change in attitude towards our language – Icelandic itself. Together, we need to unravel that apathy and that misplaced sense of obligingness that has given precedence to the English language. We have this language – this lifeline – which is part of our identity, expression, and our understanding of history. With these actions, we are sharpening priorities in favour of the Icelandic language. I encourage everyone to delve into the issue.”

Strengthening Icelandic in the digital world

As noted in the press release, a ministerial committee on the Icelandic language was set up in November 2022 at the Prime Minister’s proposal: “The committee’s role was to promote consultation and cooperation between ministries on issues relating to the Icelandic language and to ensure coordination where issues overlap. In addition to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs; the Minister of Education and Children’s Affairs; the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market; and the Minister of Education, Science, and Innovation have permanent seats on the committee.”

The press release goes on to say that in parallel with the meetings of the committee, work had been done to formulate actions related to the issues of the Icelandic language, taking into account the review of Icelandic language policy that took place at the level of the Icelandic Language Committee between 2020 and 2021 in addition to the progress of actions in parliamentary resolution no. 36/149, on promoting Icelandic as an official language in Iceland (approved in June 2019).

“Icelandic is a valuable resource that should be a creative and fruitful part of the environment. It is specifically noted that attention needs to be paid to the teaching of Icelandic to children and young people, adult immigrants, and Icelandic students in order to meet the changing conditions in society. Work must also continue to strengthen the position of Icelandic in the digital world with an emphasis on language technology.”

Key actions in the programme include:

  • Job-related Icelandic learning for immigrants alongside work.
  • Improved quality of Icelandic teaching for immigrants.
  • Introduction of electronic assessment tests in Icelandic.
  • Joint distance learning in practical Icelandic as a second language.
  • Icelandic for all – requirements should be made for immigrants to acquire basic skills in Icelandic and incentives to do so strengthened.
  • Strengthening the Icelandic language skills of staff in kindergartens and primary schools and after-hours activities.
  • A web portal for sharing electronic learning materials for all school levels.
  • Coordinated procedures for receiving, teaching and serving children with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds with a special emphasis on Icelandic as a second language.
  • Regular measurements of attitudes towards the language.

The proposed legislation will be open for comment on Samráðsgátt until July 10.

Organised Crime, Sexual Offences Priority in New Action Plan

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Extensive changes will be made to the handling of sexual offences and organised crime in Iceland, according to a new action plan introduced by the Ministry of Justice yesterday. Dozens of new police officers will be hired to meet increased demand. The National Police Commissioner told Vísir that there is “room for improvement in many areas.”

A four-fold plan of action

During a press conference held yesterday, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson, alongside the National Police Commissioner, the Commissioner of the Capital Area Police, and the District Prosecutor, unveiled a new comprehensive plan for law enforcement. This plan, which has been in development for over a year, consists of four key components: strengthening general law enforcement, improving police officer training, implementing a new action plan for sexual offences, and significantly enhancing measures against organised crime.

According to Vísir, the plan involves the creation of 80 new positions to bolster law enforcement efforts. These positions will be distributed as follows: 10 new police officers to be stationed throughout the country, 10 specialists to carry out various police duties, 10 additional border guards, 10 officers dedicated solely to combating organised crime, and 10 officers tasked with investigating and prosecuting sexual offences.

In discussing the plan, Jón Gunnarsson emphasised the importance of optimising human capital and improving coordination between police departments in order to ensure the most effective and efficient use of resources. “There are challenging times ahead of us,” he noted, “but we remain committed to getting the best possible outcomes for the people we serve.”

Room for improvement in many areas

National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir expressed her satisfaction with the news of an increase in police officers. For years, she noted, the police force has been understaffed, which has severely impeded their ability to carry out their duties. “There is a lot of room for improvement in many areas,” she added.

Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson echoed Sigríður’s sentiments, telling Vísir that while progress in some areas of law enforcement may be seen as early as this year, others will take more time. He emphasised the importance of educating and training police officers, but also highlighted the immediate results already achieved in cases of sexual offences and violence.

“We have taken the first steps towards building a stronger police force,” Jón Gunnarsson said, “which will ultimately make our citizens safer and better protected.”

A new action plan for sexual offences

A comprehensive plan to tackle sexual offences has also been put in place, including an increase in the number of people investigating and prosecuting such crimes, as well as a bolstering of the system itself. According to Jón, the results have been “unquestionable.”

“The fight will probably never end, but it starts with society becoming involved in the fight against violent and sexual crimes: that we show concern as opposed to looking the other way – and help and report if we become aware of something untoward.”

Over the past year, the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the police and other interested parties, launched a campaign to raise awareness about sexual offences. The aim of the campaign was to increase the number of reports. According to the National Police Commissioner, this campaign has proven successful:

“We are hoping that this does not mean an increase in the number of cases, but that the number of people reporting on these cases is increasing. With the increase in the number of reports, however, it means that more officers are needed so that the rate of cases can become acceptable,” Sigríður told Vísir.

The expediting of sexual-offence cases

As noted by Vísir, the processing time of sexual offences in Iceland has long been criticised, although that time has reportedly been shortened over recent months:

“We want, of course, to expedite these cases as much as possible, but we must not forget that technical research also needs to be done: phones need to be studied, biometrics, etc. There are all kinds of things that simply take time. This will never be something you handle in a few days, but we can do much better and plan to do much better,” Sigríður stated.

It is not only the investigative aspect of such crimes that has taken a long time, however, but court proceedings, as well. District prosecutor Ólafur Þór Hauksson stated that such a thing was not limited to sexual offence cases.

“We’ve been criticised, as far as other offences are concerned, for taking too long, but when we examine the processing of such cases abroad, we see that they also take quite a long time. There has, however, been a special effort to expedite the processing of sexual offences,” Ólafur remarked.

Organised crime on the rise

As far as organised crime is concerned, the response of law enforcement is being greatly bolstered. The district attorney will chair a special steering committee for the establishment of interdepartmental investigative teams. They are meant to analyse and prioritise organised-crime cases.

“The number of these cases has been increasing so that more work, more hands, has been required. And this increase that is being announced [in this plan] is primarily aimed at increasing the number of staff so that this can be done faster and that the system has more capacity,” Ólafur observed.

The Minister of Justice stated that big steps were being taken in dealing with recent, worrying trends:

“These are issues that extend beyond the borders, which show no respect for borders, and require a lot of expertise. We cooperate with foreign police authorities, and this requires a lot of cooperation between police departments, and even with the tax authorities, and other parties, within the country,” Jón observed.

Government Publishes First-Ever Joint Policy on Land Reclamation and Reforestation

Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has released the Icelandic government’s first-ever joint policy on land reclamation and reforestation. This per a press release on the government’s website on Friday.

The plans for land reclamation and reforestation look ahead to 2031, but the primary action plan covers 2022-2026 and will shape the government’s priorities in these areas for the coming years. The action plan calls for research on the impacts of land reclamation, reforestation, and the restoration of biodiversity in the wetlands, as well as the creation of new quality criteria for reforestation land selection, and an evaluation of carbon balancing for emissions accounting. Another primary objective aims to restore the ecosystems of disturbed lands, wetlands, and both natural and newly cultivated forests.

In her capacity as Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s focus is on the protection, proliferation, and integrity of Iceland’s ecosystems, reads the press release. She also seeks to promote nature-based solutions in climate matters, as well as solutions that are in line with international agreements, support sustainable land use, increase knowledge, cooperation, and public health, and promote sustainable development in rural Iceland.

“I place a lot of emphasis on food production that’s based on sustainable development, whether that’s at land or at sea,” remarked Svandís. “With this plan, land reclamation and reforestation both contribute to sustainable development of communities all around the country. There will be employment opportunities in richer natural resources and development will be built on a sustainable foundation.”

See Also: New Report Examines Food Self-Sufficiency in Five Nordic Island Societies

The policy has been prepared in accordance with recent laws on land reclamation, forests, and reforestation and outlines the government’s vision for the future in these areas, as well as its core values and attendant priorities. The policy is also guided by developments at the international level and Iceland’s international agreements with the United Nations and other global organizations.

It has been in the works since 2019, when project boards were appointed with the task of formulating proposals for both a land reclamation and a national forestry plan. The two boards presented their proposals at an open forum in spring 2021, after which, the proposals were submitted to the Ministry along with an environmental assessment and a summary of the main comments received. The full policies, both the long-term 2031 plan and the 2022-2026 action plan, are available on the government website.

Icelandic Government Aims for 35% Lower Emissions By 2030

Dalasýsla náttúra

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir presented the government’s updated climate action plan today. Its 48 actions are projected to bring down Iceland’s carbon emissions by 35% by the year 2030, a bigger drop than the country’s international agreements call for. Iceland’s government has set the goal of making the country carbon neutral by 2040.

The plan involves an ISK 46 billion ($333 million/€294 million) investment from the government in 48 actions intended to reduce emissions, 15 of which are new. The actions are varied, including carbon capture from heavy industry, increased domestic vegetable production, and subsidising low emission rental cars. Emphasis has been placed on implementing the measures immediately, and thus 28 have already been launched.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral By 2040

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, stated that the plan has turned over a new leaf in Iceland’s climate policy. “With the actions that we have taken and intend to take, we will achieve far more success than international commitments under the Paris Agreement require of us.”

The plan has been uploaded to the Government Consultation Portal, where the public have until September 20 to submit comments and suggestions.

The video below (featuring English subtitles) introduces the updated plan.

Government Presents Second Phase of Economic Response Package

At a press conference yesterday, the government presented the second phase of its economic response package to the COVID-19 crisis. The package is worth an estimated ISK 60 billion ($412,000,000 / €380,000,000) and focuses on support and protections for small enterprises, innovation, and vulnerable groups.

Protect jobs, look to the future

Yesterday, at the Culture House in downtown Reykjavík, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, and Minister of Transport and Local Government Sigurður Ingi Jóhannson introduced the second phase of the government’s economic response package to the COVID-19 crisis. The first phase of the package was introduced on May 21.

“In recent weeks and months, Icelanders have shown solidarity, resilience, and flexibility in the face of this unprecedented pandemic. Today’s announcement reflects our priorities to protect jobs, embrace our people, and look to the future,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated.

The package includes, among other things, wage enhancements for healthcare workers; additional contributions to innovation and higher reimbursement for research and development; subsidies to businesses that have been forced to close; support to vulnerable groups, job seekers, and students; and special protections to media companies and travel agencies.

Wage enhancements for healthcare workers

The package will award front-line healthcare workers, who have been “under additional strain and are at elevated risk of contagion,” a one-off bonus in acknowledgement of their service. The bonus is worth an estimated ISK 1 billion ($6,867,690 / €6,325,199). The implementation and allocation of the bonus will be in the hands of healthcare institutions.

Innovation prioritised

The package calls for the prioritisation of innovation, involving additional contributions to companies investing in growth, and the increase of reimbursement ratios and caps on research and development (contributions to the Kría Venture Capital Fund will likewise be increased). The government also aims to expedite reimbursements for research and development expenses in 2019. The measures equal just under ISK 4.4 billion ($30,234,446 / €27,848,948).

Iceland’s food production sector will also receive greater support and funding for the arts will be increased to allow an additional 600 projects to be supported in 2020.

Subsidies to businesses forced to close

The plan will also grant so-called “closure subsidies” of up to ISK 2.4 million ($16,489 / €15,190) to companies forced to halt their operations for health reasons during the pandemic. Non-indexed support loans of up to ISK 6 million ($41,226 / €37,966), offered at the Central Bank of Iceland’s seven-day term deposit rate (1.75%), will also be available to these companies.

The total expenditures for the two measures are estimated at roughly ISK 30 billion ($206,143,950 / €189,890,529). Companies will also be authorised to carry forward up to ISK 20 million ($137,438 / €126,584) in foreseeable year-2020 losses to offset income tax on 2019 profits.

Support for vulnerable groups

The response package includes measures to support vulnerable groups, job seekers, and students. A total of ISK 2.2 billion ($15,115,081 / €13,925,053) will be used to create “3,000 temporary summer jobs for students aged 18 and over.” A total of ISK 300 million ($2,061,147 / €1,898,871) will be used to support “innovation among young entrepreneurs” through the Icelandic Student Innovation Fund. A further ISK 8.5 billion will be allocated to social measures to support “vulnerable groups, work against violence, (to) counteract social isolation among the elderly and disabled, (to) support job-seekers, and (to) ensure that children from low-income families have the opportunity to participate in recreational activities.”

Priority will be given to increased access to mental health services and telemedicine for these groups.

Special protection to media companies and travel agencies

The response package also includes support for media companies, which have seen significant cutbacks in ad budgets, and travel agencies, faced with a wave of cancellations:

“In order to support pluralism and diversity in Iceland’s media, privately-owned media operations will be guaranteed special operational support during the current year, reflecting their sustained significant losses at a time when demand for their services has increased … travel agencies’ losses will be addressed with statutory amendments authorising them to reimburse certain trips by issuing credit vouchers.”

Mixed reviews

The government’s plan of action was met with mixed reviews. Ásdís Kristjánsdóttir, Head of Economics at the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, stated that the response package would mainly benefit small companies and microenterprises.

“The support loans, which are perhaps the most significant economic measure in the package, will have a positive impact on these companies. But in terms of revenue, the operations of these companies only account for 15% of the business in the economy. This leaves out the other 85% who cannot apply for these loans.”

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) also expressed its disappointment with the second phase of the government’s response package. In a statement published yesterday on ASÍ’s website, the confederation criticised the government’s focus on companies:

“Once again, the government directs its support not to people but to companies, who according to some vague rules can dig into the public’s pockets for funding, regardless of whether these companies maintain jobs, adhere to wage agreements, or contribute their fair share to society.”

Helga Vala Helgadóttir, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, worried that the response package was not comprehensive enough.

‘We worry that the response is still too focused on companies, even though it’s important to maintain employment levels. But we certainly fear that enough isn’t being done, in our opinion, to respond to the decline in household income.”