Cost of Hosting Council of Europe Summit Exceeded ISK 2 Billion

Iceland spent over ISK 2 billion ($14.6 million / €13.5 million) to host the Council of Europe’s leadership summit last May, attracting 37 national leaders, representatives from 46 member states, and nearly a thousand guests. The meeting, which saw higher attendance than initially expected, led to significant security and logistical costs.

An inquiry from Inga Sæland

The total cost for Iceland hosting the Council of Europe’s leadership meeting in May last year amounted to over ISK 2 billion ($14.6 million / €13.5 million), RÚV reports. This was disclosed in a response from Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to an inquiry from Inga Sæland, the leader of the People’s Party.

As noted by RÚV, the meeting was well attended, with 37 national leaders and prime ministers, along with representatives from 46 member states of the Council of Europe, 65 foreign delegations, and nearly a thousand guests arriving. During the meeting, a resolution was adopted to create a register of damages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to the Foreign Minister’s response, the expenses exceeded ISK 2 billion ($14.6 million / €13.5 million). The initial cost estimate was ISK 1.325 billion ($10 million / €9 million), based on expectations of a smaller scale event, as it was initially anticipated that only the foreign ministers of the countries would attend.

Costly security measures

The security measures enforced by the police incurred costs of ISK 1.56 billion ($11.4 million / €10.5 million). The meeting itself was estimated to cost ISK 843 million ($6.1 million / €5.7 million), with various other expenses, including the purchase and rental of equipment for ISK 369 million ($2.7 million / €2.5 million) and training for ISK 123 million ($900,000 / €830,000)

The cost for law enforcement exceeded initial estimates, partly owing to the fact that the foreign delegations were larger than expected and stayed in Iceland longer than planned. The Foreign Ministry incurred costs of ISK 423 million ($3.1 million / €2.9 million). As noted by RÚV, the most significant expenses were related to the meeting’s framework and the cost of renting and purchasing necessary equipment and interpreter services, each accounting for just over ISK 100 million ($730,000 / €675,000).

Isavia, which manages Keflavik and Reykjavik airports, reported expenses of ISK 22 million ($160,000 / €148,000) related to the arrival of the delegations.

More Measures Against Human Trafficking Needed in Iceland

Icelandic authorities should take more steps to tackle human trafficking according to a new report. These measures include improving the identification of victims, stepping up investigations and protections, and ensuringe that victims are not forcibly returned to countries where they risk being re-trafficked. These are the conclusions of a newly-published report from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) on human trafficking victims’ access to justice and effective remedies in Iceland.

This is GRETA’s third evaluation report on Iceland and assesses the developments since its second report was published in 2019. GRETA welcomes the progress Iceland has made in tackling human trafficking in several areas, including the amendment of the provision criminalising human trafficking, the adoption of the third National Action Plan for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, and the setting up of a police advisory group on human trafficking.

Should pay increased attention to asylum seekers

However, GRETA also “urges Iceland to take further steps to improve the identification of victims of trafficking by setting up a formalised National Referral Mechanism which defines the procedures and roles of all frontline actors who may come into contact with victims of trafficking,” according to a press release. “The authorities should pay increased attention to the identification of victims of trafficking among asylum seekers and ensure that victims are not forcibly returned to countries where they risk being re-trafficked.”

New legislation strips asylum seekers of services

New legislation on immigration passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring states that asylum seekers whose asylum applications have received a final rejection will be stripped of essential services unless they consent to deportation. As a result, dozens of asylum seekers unable to leave Iceland for reasons personal or political are being stripped of housing and services, leaving many of them on the streets. Authorities disagree about who is responsible for providing for the group’s basic needs.

One asylum seeker impacted by the legislation is Blessing Newton, who came to Iceland five years ago to escape sex trafficking in Italy. Her spokespeople say that she is at risk of becoming a victim of sex trafficking again if she is deported from Iceland.

GRETA’s full report on Iceland’s combating of human trafficking is available online.

A Matter of State

Evrópuráðið Harpa Reykjavík Pólítík

It’s a cold spring day in Reykjavík and winds buffet optimistic tourists in flip-flops. Above, the sky hangs low, an endless expanse of grey. Normal enough for May. Today, however, bulletproof, black limousines loiter in front of Harpa and reports of cyberattacks filter out of Alþingi. A helicopter belches shimmering-hot wakes of exhaust as it […]

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Deep North Episode 28: A Matter of State

council of europe summit reykjavík

It’s a cold spring day in Reykjavík and winds buffet hopeful tourists in flip-flops. Above, the sky hangs low, an endless expanse of grey. Normal enough for May. Today, however, bulletproof, black limousines loiter in front of Harpa and reports of cyberattacks filter out of Alþingi. A helicopter belches shimmering-hot wakes of exhaust as it lists over Reykjavík rooftops. And on these rooftops, men on radios armed with binoculars and high-powered sniper rifles scan the city below.

For most Icelanders, these are sights only seen in the movies. This is the fourth-ever summit of the Council of Europe, and it’s likely the most important event hosted in the small island nation since the 1986 meeting of Reagan and Gorbachev.

Police to Keep Firearms from Council of Europe Summit

Jón Gunnarsson Alþingi

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that the firearms bought for the Council of Europe Summit last week will not be sold. The capacity of the police had taken a leap after the summit, both in terms of training and equipment.

“No reason to sell”

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated that he saw “no reason” to sell the firearms that were purchased for the police ahead of the Council of Europe summit last week: the police would be “better set” in the event that another meeting of this magnitude was to be held in Iceland.

“Who’s to say that there won’t be another big event like this here at some point, sooner rather than later; no one knows,” Jón Gunnarsson told RÚV.

As noted by the National Broadcaster, Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir, member of Parliament for the Pirates, was the first to draw attention to the issue in Parliament yesterday. She inquired of the minister what would happen to the weapons, now that the meeting was over. Jón replied that the authorities did not intend on selling the firearms.

“I’ve made the analogy that it’s akin to how newcomers to the national team gain a lot of experience by playing big national matches. This was our big national match on this stage,” Jón remarked on the floor of Parliament yesterday.

Significant improvement in police’s capacity

In his interview with RÚV, Jón stated that he didn’t believe there was “any reason” for the police to sell these weapons. “There is a big change in the capacity of the police after this meeting, in terms of education, training, and equipment,” Jón remarked. “I believe we’ve added three to five police motorcycles. We’ve also purchased a lot of clothing and protective equipment,” Jón added, citing the renewal and increase in police vests as an example.

When asked about the exact costs of purchasing this new equipment, Jón was unwilling to say, referring the matter to the police, who possessed information about which equipment was purchased and how much it cost.

Asked if the guns would be “put in a box and thrown into the attic” until the next meeting was held, Jón responded thusly: “Again, you’ll have to ask the police. I don’t think they have an attic, but they definitely have some storage room down in the basement, where a lot of equipment is kept.”

As noted by RÚV, data regarding the cost of purchasing equipment for the summit is not yet available, although it may be available later this week.

Zelenskyy to European Council: “Is There Anything We Can’t Do?”

Reykjavík Summit

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, delivered a remote address at the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council yesterday. After Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had formally opened the meeting, Zelenskyy related how the Ukrainian armed forces had successfully thwarted a Russian missile attack and thanked European leaders for their support.

Three primary objectives

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir opened the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council at the Harpa  Music and Conference Hall yesterday. She began by laying down the agenda for the meeting, stating that the summit had three primary objectives: to reiterate support for Ukraine, to renew commitments to human rights, and to take on challenging tasks around the world.

“Standing by our values,” Katrín summed up.

Katrín also struck a somewhat ominous tone following her preamble: “We are not gathered here to celebrate but in the shadow of war. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is the most serious attack on peace and security in Europe since World War II. In addition to massive casualties, it has led to bloodbaths, rapes, and murders of civilians.”

Katrín then addressed Ukrainians and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy: “We have enormous respect for your determination to fight back. We will continue to stand with you,” Katrín declared, prior to once again calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine as a “first step to end the war.”

“This senseless war on our continent goes against all the values ​​we united around when we founded this Council; it is a serious attack against the values ​​that make Europe something bigger than just a continent but a common cause.” On Monday, it was reported that Parliament had proposed a resolution to authorise the Foreign Minister to secure the purchase of a mobile emergency hospital for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy “takes the stage”

Following Katrín’s opening remarks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the audience remotely from Ukraine. He began by relating how Ukraine’s air defence system had intercepted 18 Russian missiles of various types – including types that have been deemed unstoppable – on the night after Monday.

Zelenskyy added that no one had died in the Russian airstrikes and referred to the air defence operation as a “historical result.” He then thanked European leaders for their part in strengthening the country’s air defence system. Zelenskyy also noted that the success of the night would not have been possible a year ago.

“Is there anything we can’t do?”

“If we are able to do this, is there anything we can’t do when we are united – and determined to protect lives? The answer is that we in unity will give 100% in any field when we have a rule to protect our people – and our Europe,” Zelenskyy observed.

Despite this historical result, the Ukrainian president admitted that much remained to be done, given the size of Ukraine’s territory. In order to make the success of the night a rule throughout the country, the country’s air defence system would need to be further improved. The president then called for missiles, fighter jets, and other weapons.

“100% should be our benchmark. We must give 0% to the aggressor. 100% of the success of defence operations is guaranteed by weapons and training of our soldiers, and I thank everyone who strengthens our defence,” Zelenskky remarked.

Iceland’s Free Emissions Allowances Extended Until 2026

Ursula von der Leyen

At a press conference yesterday, PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that the European Union and the Icelandic government had reached a preliminary agreement on Iceland’s emissions; Iceland will continue to receive free emissions allowances up to and including the year 2026, Vísir reports.

New and tougher emissions regulation

The Icelandic authorities have sought exemptions from new and tougher European regulations (the so-called “Fit for 55” package, in reference to the bloc’s new climate target of a 55% emissions reduction by 2030.) intended to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from air transport. An agreement was reached on this legislation within the EU last December and is due to enter into force at the end of next year. It will then subsequently be included in the EEA Agreement.

As noted by Vísir, the rules include, among other things, changes to the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), which would now require airlines to pay for emission allowances in a progressive measure (airlines have, until now, received them mostly for free). “The EU’s intention is that free emission allowances for airlines will decrease by a quarter by 2024 and by half by 2025. They will be completely eliminated after 2026,” Vísir notes.

The Icelandic government has been open about its belief that the rules harm the competitive position of Icelandic airlines and fail to take into account Iceland’s geographical location, which makes its citizens more dependent on air transport than other residents of the mainland.

Subject to approval

Prior to the Council of Europe summit yesterday, Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir met bilaterally with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. At a press conference after their meeting, both leaders stated that a special solution to Iceland’s emissions allowances had been reached, which was compatible with the EU’s goals for the aviation sector.

Von der Leyen stated that the Icelandic government would be invited to receive free emissions allowances that they can distribute to airlines in both 2025 and 2026, noting that it was important that the country could give the allowances to all airlines in order to ensure fairness.

“I am pleased that we have found a solution that fits your circumstances and is consistent with our integrity in relation to the single market. First and foremost, this agreement also respects our long-term climate protection goals,” Von der Leyen remarked.

“The EU and Ursula have shown a great understanding for our views and our geographical situation. So our common view is that a solution to this should take into account Iceland’s specific geographical situation but also address the fact that green solutions in aviation have not emerged. But I would like to make it completely clear that Iceland wants to contribute to the common goal of reducing emissions.”

As noted by Vísir, the agreement is subject to the approval of the member states of the European Union, the Icelandic government, and Parliament.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir told Mbl.is in March that the proposed EU legislation on aviation allowances was Iceland’s biggest interest since the EEA Agreement’s incorporation. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has embarked on an unprecedented effort to try to influence EU legislation,” the outlet reported.

Cyberattacks on Icelandic State Institutions

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

Update: Pro-Russian hacker group NoName057 has claimed responsibility for the cyberattacks on Icelandic sites.

The website of Iceland’s Parliament, Alþingi, is currently down. Ragna Árnadóttir, the secretary-general of Alþingi, told Vísir that both the public website and the institution’s intranet are currently down. Some parties have warned of cyberattacks in relation to the Council of Europe Summit that began in Reykjavík today and continues until tomorrow.

The website of Iceland’s Supreme Court is also down as of the time of writing, but it is not confirmed whether the two site failures are connected. Icelandic Police stated this morning, however, that cyberattacks are being aimed at Icelandic sites and while the source has not been confirmed, there are some theories as to where the attacks are coming from. The Icelandic Ministries’ website and the Court of Appeal website have also reportedly been difficult to access this morning, though they are currently up as of the time of writing.

“I can confirm there are ongoing attacks on some websites,” stated Detective Superintendent Rúnólfur Þórhallsson of the National Police Commissioner’s Office. He adds that the number of cyberattacks on Icelandic sites has been steadily increasing in the days leading up to the European Council Summit. “Our emergency security team, CERT-IS, is leading our defence against this. They are well connected with cyber security experts in all institutions and companies. So there are broad defences that are activated when something like this happens.”

Delays to and from Keflavík Airport Next Week

Taxis at the airport

Travellers are recommended to expect delays to and from Keflavík Airport next week due to the Council of Europe Summit on May 16 and 17. Getting to the flight gate may take longer than usual as well: RÚV reports that passport control will be tightened and passengers on domestic flights will be searched for weapons. In Reykjavík, a large part of the city centre will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Most of the state heads who will be attending the summit will be travelling by private jet. They will receive police escorts to and from Keflavík Airport, which is expected to cause delays in traffic along Route 41 (Reykjanesbraut). For security reasons, the flying of drones along Route 41 and in the centre of Reykjavík will also be banned from 8:00 AM on May 15 to 12:00 PM on May 18.

Read More: Armed Police and Snipers in Reykjavík for Council of Europe Summit

The periods with the most delays will be on Tuesday next week between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM and from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM on Wednesday, when leaders will travel to and from the airport with police escorts. As the escorts pass, roads will be closed to the public temporarily, then reopened. Travellers can expect delays to last up to one hour.

The area in light pink below will be closed to motor vehicles, while the area marked in bright pink will be fully closed to the public throughout the summit.

 

Armed Plain-Clothes Police and Snipers in Reykjavík for Council of Europe Summit

The Council of Europe summit that will be held in Reykjavík, Iceland next month will not only bring European officials to the streets of the capital, but also hundreds of armed police as well as snipers. RÚV reports that around 300 police officers have received special training in the use of firearms in preparation for the event. Some 250 suits have been purchased so that officers can be on duty in plain-clothes during the event.

Armed police officers are a very rare sight in Iceland, as ordinary police officers do not carry firearms on their person. Police vehicles are equipped with a firearm, and special forces do carry firearms on their person, but they are only called out for violent incidents. Such extensive security and law enforcement as is being prepared for the summit has never been seen in Iceland.

All streets around Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, where the summit will take place, will be closed to vehicular traffic May 16 and 17 during the event, though they will be open to pedestrians and cyclists. Drivers can expect delays across a broader area as heads of state will receive police escorts when they are travelling by car. In total, 44 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the event.

Iceland has around 850 active police officers and most of them will be involved in the summit in one way or another. According to the Ministry of Justice, the cost of law enforcement for the event will be around ISK 1.4 billion [$10.3 million, €9.3 million].