New Mayor Takes Office in Reykjavík

Einar Þorsteinsson, city counsellor for the Progressive Party, was voted in as Mayor of Reykjavík at a meeting of City Council today.

Einar is serving his first term in the council after leading his party to its best result in Reykjavík to this day in the 2022 municipal election. He formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Alliance, the Reform Party and the Pirate Party. He’s served as chair of the City Executive Council since the election. Outgoing mayor, Dagur B. Eggertsson of the Social Democratic Alliance, will take over as chair until the end of the term, when he’s announced he will leave city politics behind.

From TV news to city politics

Einar is 45 years old and had a notable career as a TV news anchor and host of RÚV talk show Kastljós before entering politics in 2022. The Progressive Party had no representation in City Council in the preceding term, but Einar’s campaign received just under 19% of the total vote and four seats. As a result, the party was in a strong position to decide on how to form a majority, opting to join up with three of the four parties that formed the previous majority coalition. An agreement was made that Dagur would step down as mayor 18 months into the term to make way for Einar.

Ten year run as mayor

Dagur is the longest-tenured city councillor in Reykjavík and has been mayor since 2014. He entered City Council in 2002 as an independent member for Reykjavíkurlistinn, the centre-left alliance that ended the conservative Independence Party’s dominance in city politics. He later joined the Social Democratic Alliance and became vice-chairman of the party during Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s term as prime minister from 2009 to 2013. He has not ruled out a further career in politics and has been rumoured as a potential Alþingi candidate in the upcoming 2025 general election.

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.

 

Mayor to Leave City Politics

Dagur B. Eggertsson Reykjavík mayor

Dagur B. Eggertsson, Reykjavík mayor for the past 10 years, will not run in the next municipal elections. He announced this in an interview with Heimildin Friday.

Dagur is the longest-tenured city councillor in Reykjavík. He entered city council in 2002 as an independent member for Reykjavíkurlistinn, the centre-left alliance that ended the conservative Independence Party’s dominance in city politics. He later joined the Social Democratic Alliance and became vice-chairman of the party during Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s term as prime minister from 2009 to 2013.

Dagur will step down as mayor on January 16 as per the coalition agreement of the majority in city council. Progressive Party Leader Einar Þorsteinsson will take over as mayor until the next election in 2026. The Pirate Party and the Liberal Reform Party round out the coalition. Dagur will become chair of the City Executive Council for the rest of the term and remain as city councillor.

May run for parliament

In the interview with Heimildin, Dagur ruled out a run for president of Iceland in the upcoming election this summer. He did not, however, rule out running for Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament. The Social Democratic Alliance has been polling strong in opposition under the leadership of Kristrún Frostadóttir, reaching up to 30 percent in polls. Were this to come to pass in next year’s elections, the party could triple the number of its members of parliament.

Dagur has been a controversial mayor, leading the city through a period of growth and change. In the interview, he said he regrets overpromising on daycare issues. The city has faced criticism for lack of kindergarten spaces as it extends eligibility down to children 12 months of age. “I feel good about what I’m leaving behind,” Dagur said. “History will record that Reykjavík has been improving on all sides. Financially as well.”

Personal setbacks

Before entering politics, Dagur worked as a medical doctor. In 2017 he was diagnosed with a type of arthritis that forced him to use a cane while walking and threatened his ability to work. In 2021, bullet holes were discovered in his family’s car and the suspect was never charged. “Fortunately, most people agree that we as a society want to be just that, a society, not a country or a city where mayors, ministers or officials need to travel with a police escort or be constantly under protection,” Dagur said.

Reykjavík to Address Short-Term Rental Market Disruption

iceland refugees

The number of apartments available for short-term rental in Reykjavík has risen sharply in recent years, paralleling the increased flow of foreign tourists into the country. Many such apartments are owned and operated by companies rather than individuals. Due to a regulatory change from 2018, companies do not have to register such units as commercial properties, allowing them to evade higher property taxes and making them harder for municipalities to track. RÚV reported first.

Short-term rentals occupy entire buildings

Kristrún Frostadóttir, chairperson of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), voiced her concerns about the impact of short-term rentals during a question period in Parliament last week. She pointed out that many apartment buildings that had been zoned as residential were largely, or entirely, occupied by short-term rentals. This has a negative impact on the real estate market, according to Kristrún. The MP also pointed out the difficulties municipalities face due to these apartments not being registered as commercial properties.

As noted by RÚV, the regulation was altered during Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir’s tenure as Minister of Tourism. Speaking before Parliament yesterday, Þórdís stated that she had considered updating the regulation but stressed the need for municipal responsibility.

“Given the recent media reports, it’s apparent that the situation is not ideal. I urge the honourable member of Parliament to consult with her peers at Reykjavík City Council about managing Airbnb activities in the capital,” Þórdís stated.

Reykjavík seeks regulatory amendment

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson described the 2018 regulatory change as problematic. He stated that it made it more difficult to track short-term rentals and enforced regulations, “especially our ban on year-round short-term rentals in residential areas. We advocate for reverting this legislation and maintain that local authorities should oversee this sector, currently managed by the district commissioner,” Dagur told RÚV.

Dagur also mentioned his intention, on behalf of the city, to formally request Tourism Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir to amend the regulation. “Addressing such issues, where regulations lead to unintended consequences, is a crucial collaborative effort,” he added.

Halli Aims to “Ramp Up” Europe – Beginning in Paris

Entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson plans to build wheelchair ramps across Europe – beginning in Paris. According to a Tweet yesterday, the effort will begin with a joint project between the City of Reykjavík and the City of Paris.

A joint project between Reykjavík and Paris

Entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson, known as Halli, posted a picture on Twitter yesterday in which he was shown attending a meeting with Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, Deputy Mayor of Paris Lamia El Araaje, and Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson. Beneath the picture, Halli wrote: “This may seem a bit wild but: We’re going to ramp up Europe!”

As suggested in his post, the effort to “ramp up Europe” – i.e. the building of wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility on the continent – will begin with a joint project between the City of Reykjavík and the City of Paris. As noted by RÚV, Halli and his collaborators have already built 500 ramps in Iceland through his Ramp Up Iceland project; the goal is to build 1,600 ramps in Iceland by spring 2026.

Read More: Staff writer Erik Pomremnke sat down with Halli earlier this year and discussed the selling of his company Ueno to Twitter; his Ramp Up Reykjavík project; among many other things.

Reykjavík Municipal Archives to Be Closed Down

Yesterday, the City Council of Reykjavík approved the mayor’s proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives. The operations of the Municipal Archives would be incorporated into the National Archives of Iceland. Historians and archivists have criticised the decision, RÚV reports.

Operations to be transferred to the National Archives

Yesterday, Reykjavík City Council approved Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson’s proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives. The mayor’s proposal was presented at a city council meeting six months ago, although its formal processing was postponed until yesterday.

The proposal was predicated on a summary authored by KPMG, which reviewed the operation of the Municipal Archives and assessed three possible options to cut down costs: one, to continue running the Municipal Archives in its current form; two, to increase cooperation with the National Archives of Iceland, which would imply the construction of a new archive; and three, to close down the Municipal Archives and transfer its operation to the National Archives. The last option was considered, by far, the cheapest.

Mayor Dagur told RÚV that the city council had made “a policy decision,” but that the matter would go before the city executive council. “The [path] that was chosen was to start discussions with the National Archives about joint digital preservation and, in effect, the merging of these institutions. That would mean that the Municipal Archives, in its current form, would no longer be an independent entity.”

According to available analyses, operational changes will not be felt over the next four years, Dagur noted. “It will depend on the progress made during discussions, on the outcome of those discussions, and the overall outcome regarding these preservation issues in the country as a whole.” On this latter point, Dagur referred to the global discussion concerning the digital preservation of documents. He hopes that museums in Iceland will unite to ensure safe and accessible document storage.

“Our discussions have solely been positive and constructive,” Dagur said of his relationship with the state. “The National Archives is, in many ways, facing the same challenges as the Municipal Archives and the city itself. If we look to other countries, we see that they’re facing similar challenges, as well.”

Dagur observed that there was no reason to believe that ensuring access to archives would not improve if matters were handled properly. The goal was to translate a lot of data into digital form so that individuals weren’t forced to look to a single place in order to access documents.

A misguided decision based on limited understanding

As noted by RÚV, the proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives surprised Svanhildur Bogadóttir, an archivist employed at the institution, when the media reported the proposal in the middle of last month. National Archivist Hrefna Róbertsdóttir further commented that, to the best of her knowledge, this would be the first time that a municipality’s archives were closed.

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, professor of history at the University of Iceland, told RÚV that the proposal was misguided and showed a limited understanding of museum issues.

Mayor Proposes Closing Reykjavík Municipal Archive for Budgetary Reasons

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed that the Reykjavík Municipal Archive be shut down for budgetary reasons, RÚV reports. Per the proposal, the archive’s primary functions would be assumed by the National Archive and the dissemination of, and educational outreach related to the archive’s holdings would become the responsibility of the Reykjavík City Museum. If the proposal is approved by the city council, Reykjavík would be the first municipality in the country to close a district archive, and perhaps the only European capital not to maintain its own archive.

The Reykjavík Municipal Archive was founded in 1954. It stores over 10,500 shelf metres of documents and has also increased its digital holdings and services in recent years.

Under Icelandic law, municipalities are permitted, but not required, to operate a district archive. Iceland’s National Archives already oversees archival duties for municipalities that do not maintain their own archives. The mayor’s proposal suggests that the capital simply follow suit, as costs of effectively maintaining an archive are only expected to increase in order to keep pace with the demands of record keeping in the digital era.

In 2022, it cost the City of Reykjavík over ISK 170 million [$1.18 million; €1.10 million] to operate its Municipal Archive. It is expected to cost an additional ISK 10 million [$69,587; €64,910] to operate the archive in 2023. According to archivist Svanhildur Bogadóttir, however, the actual cost to run the archive is relatively low; a third of their budget goes towards the rent they pay the City of Reykjavík.

Reykjavík Archive does not have resources to fulfil its mandate, says private audit

The mayor’s proposal comes in the wake of an assessment conducted by auditing and accounting firm KPMG, which states that based on current funding, the Reykjavík Municipal Archive does not have the resources to fulfil its mandate. KPMG’s assessment suggests that beyond the basic savings associated with greater cooperation between the Municipal and National Archives, this arrangement would also lend itself to a number of additional benefits: better facilities, better use of staff expertise, and improved services.

Although they were aware that KPMG was conducting an assessment related to “strategic planning” for the Municipal Archive, none of the employees had any idea that there was talk of closing their place of work all together before the mayor submitted his proposal. One plan that had been on the table was for the Municipal and National Archives to be relocated to the same building, but in that scenario, they were intended to remain separate entities.

The mayor’s proposal does not outline will happen to the Municipal Archive’s staff—nine full-time and two temporary employees—in the event that the archive is closed.

Reykjavík City Council Approves Extensive Budgetary Measures

City of Reykjavík strike

At a meeting yesterday, Reykjavík City Council approved measures intended to save over ISK 1 billion in operational costs over the coming year, RÚV reports. Among the measures are the expansion of paid-parking zones and decreased subsidies for electric-vehicle charging stations located by apartment buildings.

92 budgetary items

At a City Council meeting yesterday, the majority submitted an amendment to Reykjavík’s 2023 budget. The amendment comprises a total of 92 items, which are expected to save over ISK 1 billion ($7.1 million / €6.7 million) over the coming year.

As noted in the meeting’s minutes, City Council deems that the measures reflect “sensible financial management,” noting that the pandemic has impacted municipalities all over the country. “The reaction is natural and befitting the occasion, serving to protect front-line services and vulnerable groups.”

Among the measures are amendments to meal purchases for preschools; reduced opening hours for youth centres (which will close at 9.45 PM as opposed to 10 PM), museums, and swimming pools (during holidays); expansion of paid parking zones; and decreased subsidies for electric-vehicle charging stations near apartment buildings; among other things.

In an interview with RÚV on Wednesday, Einar Þorsteinsson, Chair of City Council, stated that the residents would “feel these changes.” These budgetary cuts were not fun but necessary in order to improve Reykjavík’s finances.

Operational losses of over ISK 11 billion

During its meeting yesterday, the City Council also reviewed an interim financial statement for the city’s operations during the first nine months of the year. The statement revealed that the city’s “A Section” – primarily funded by taxpayer money – was operated at an ISK 11.1 billion ($7.1 million / €6.7 million) deficit.

In a press release published yesterday, City Council stated that numerous factors had impacted its finances: “A new variant of COVID-19 at the beginning of the year put temporary pressure on operations, especially on the school and welfare system. The war in Ukraine, in addition to the pandemic, led to a shortage of raw goods and slowed down production time, which has negatively impacted global markets and led to increased inflation among our trading partners. The Central Bank, owing to rising real-estate prices, high inflation, and overheating of the domestic economy, raised key interest rates; all of this has had an impact.”

As noted in a press release on the City’s interim financial statement, however, the City’s A and B sections – the “B” section includes businesses in part or whole ownership of the city, such as Reykjavík Energy (OR), Associated Icelandic Ports (Faxaflóahafnir), Sopra bs. and Strætó bs., among others – produced a surplus of ISK 6.8 billion ($48 million / €46 million).

This article was updated at 11 AM.

Strætó’s Reykjavík Night-Time Service Could Resume Next Year

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed allocating an extra ISK 51 million ($361,000 / €343,000) of next year’s budget to the operations of Strætó (Iceland’s public bus service), RÚV reports. The increased allotment is intended to cover Strætó’s night-time bus service in Reykjavík during the weekends.

An unsuccessful trial period

In early July, Strætó announced that the Reykjavík night bus, Næturstrætó, would return to service on July 9 following a two-year hiatus in response to low demand during the pandemic. During this hiatus, many capital-area residents had called for its return, arguing that it provided an affordable and safe alternative to taxis.

During a trial run between July and October of this year, however – when the night bus departed downtown Reykjavík every hour and stopped at the capital area’s seven suburban neighbourhoods – demand once again proved wanting. As noted in a press release from Strætó in October, an average of 15 passengers travelled aboard the night bus during each trip, which amounts to approximately 300 passengers over a weekend:

“In light of this, and given the finances, Strætó’s board has agreed that continuing night-time service during the weekends, now that the trial period has concluded, cannot be justified. The service will, therefore, be discontinued.

The mayor takes a u-turn

At a city council meeting yesterday, however – roughly six weeks after Strætó announced that it would be discontinuing its night-time service – Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson proposed allocating an extra ISK 51 million ($361,000 / €343,000) of next year’s budget to cover Strætó’s night-time bus service.

As noted by RÚV, Strætó’s night-time bus service was a key campaign issue for the Progressive Party, which went on to form a majority coalition, during municipal elections last spring.

Sustainability Conference Centres Around Iceland’s Climate Goals

katrín jakobsdóttir prime minister iceland

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson met today with other ministers and officials for the founding of the Council for Sustainability.

The meeting was held at 14:00 today in the House of Collections.

Read more: Iceland Lagging Behind on Climate

Pursuant to Iceland’s being a signatory of the Paris Agreement, Iceland is obligated to cut greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2030. Additionally, Icelandic policy aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. Mechanisms exist to incentivize the fulfilment of these goals, and if Iceland fails in this, then the consequences may prove costly.

Although heating and electricity are covered by renewable energy, much of Iceland’s energy goes towards energy-intensive industries, such as aluminium smelting. Iceland is still also very dependent on cars, especially in rural parts of the country.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir gave a speech at the meeting, calling for a more ambitious approach to Iceland’s climate goals.

The Council of Sustainability will be chaired by the Prime Minister, and will work in cooperation with local municipalities, parliament, NGOs, and private companies.

According to Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the energy transition must be a top priority, but it must also act as a “guiding light in all areas of society.”

Read more of our coverage of Icelandic conservation efforts here