Uber and Lyft May Become a Reality in Iceland if Bill Passes

Rideshare apps, such as Uber and Lyft, may become legal in Iceland if an impending bill on taxicab driving and licensing passes.

The bill was initially proposed in 2019 but did not pass during the last electoral term. It was a response to an investigation of the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) in 2017, which led to the conclusion that due to restriction of access to the taxi driver profession  embedded in Icelandic legislation, there was a possibility that Icelandic law did not conform to EEA law.

“Current practice in Iceland limits the number of taxi licenses available in certain districts. Requirements for awarding new licenses in those districts are not objective, effectively favouring existing taxi operators over new entrants. This has the potential to deter and prevent new operators from establishing businesses. The current legislation also requires taxi operators in certain districts to be connected to a dispatch central and to have taxi driving as a principal profession,” ESA states.

Since Iceland did not respond to ESA’s findings by amending the law, the authority announced last January that it had taken action against Iceland for restrictions in the taxi-services market. ESA’s letter of formal notice was the first step in an infringement procedure against Iceland.

The bill, which will be discussed in the Parliament in January, may determine the future of rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber in Iceland. Currently, Uber operates in over 785 metropolitan areas in 85 countries. Iceland is one of few countries in Europe that hasn’t welcomed the service.

Iceland to Buy 550,000 COVID-19 Vaccinations

Iceland will purchase 550,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available at the end of this year or beginning of 2021, RÚV reports. According to Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir, this will make it possible for around 75% of the nation to be inoculated against the virus and achieve so-called ‘herd immunity.’ Each person who is vaccinated will receive two doses of the vaccine.

On Thursday, the European Union signed an agreement with the Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to buy the vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been licensed for sale, but is in the final stages of testing and it’s hoped to be ready for general use within the coming months. The EU is also negotiating with other vaccine manufacturers. Although it was previously announced that the Swedish government would mediate sales of the vaccine to both Iceland and Norway, it’s now been decided that Iceland and other EEA countries will receive a proportionally equal amount of vaccines as EU countries.

Svandís asserted that international cooperation is vital to ensure that countries around the world have equal access to the vaccine, as well as the importance of all countries that are able contributing to vaccine development efforts. Through its collaboration with WHO, GAVI, and CEPI, Iceland has already donated half a billion krónur [$3.63 million; €3.05 million] to vaccine development and distribution to developing nations.

Greece Cheesed Off About Icelandic Feta

MS Iceland Dairies will no longer be selling cheese branded as ‘feta,’ following a complaint made to the European Parliament by Greek MP Emmanouil Fragkos, RÚV reports. Greece holds protected designation of origin (PDO) rights to feta, meaning that it is the only country in Europe that can claim to sell this product.

In April, Emmanouil Fragkos made a formal request to the European Parliament that MS Dairies stop branding various cheese products as feta. He noted that feta is a specific, local Greek speciality; to carry the name feta, a cheese must be made from Greek goat or sheep’s milk, grazing along Greek rivers, and that there are already various regulations in place that dictate that similar kinds of cheese produced elsewhere cannot be called ‘feta.’ (Vermouth, champagne, stilton cheese, and prosciutto di Parma are all examples of famous beverages and foodstuffs that have PDO protection.)

PDO is one of the EU’s “quality schemes,” which aim “at protecting the names of specific products to promote their unique characteristics, linked to their geographical origin as well as traditional know-how,” explains the European Commission website. “Recognised as intellectual property, geographical indications play an increasingly important role in trade negotiations between the EU and other countries.” Iceland is not a member of the EU, but it is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), which means that it is subject to “the laws of the single market (except for agriculture and fisheries laws).” Indeed, Iceland entered into an agreement with the European Union regarding PDO protections on May 1, 2016, and the European Commission recognized this when responding to Fragkos’ complaint.

MS Dairies sells numerous products branded as feta, including whole blocks of crumbly, white cheese and oil-marinated jars of salty white cheese curds, all of which resemble the Greek speciality. (MS Dairies also sells ‘Greek yoghurt’ but this wasn’t a subject of the official complaint.)

Communications director Sunna Gunnars Marteinsdóttir says that MS intends to change the names of its products promptly. In lieu of feta, the names ‘salatostur’ (‘salad cheese’) and ‘veisluostur’ (‘party/feast cheese’) will be used.

Temporary Travel Ban for Tourists from Outside EEA and EFTA

Icelandair airplane Keflavík airport.

As of Friday, Iceland is temporarily closing its borders to tourists from countries outside of the EEA and EFTA, RÚV reports. Travellers from outside these areas will not be allowed to enter Iceland unless they can demonstrate that they are coming on “urgent business.” These new restrictions are in line with the EU’s March 17 recommendation that all EU and Schengen countries limit the entry of third-country nationals in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The travel ban is expected to last for 30 days and is not expected to have significant impact on tourist arrivals, as tourism to Iceland has already been significantly curtailed in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.

The EEA (European Economic Area) includes Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Iceland is part of EFTA (the European Free Trade Area) with three other countries: Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Per an announcement on the Icelandic government’s website, citizens of the above-named countries will still be able to freely enter Iceland. The travel ban also stipulates that foreign nationals from outside the EEA and EFTA who reside in Iceland will also be permitted to enter the country. Professionals in certain fields are also exempt from the travel ban no matter their nationality, for instance healthcare workers and those involved in cargo transportation.

Parliament to Vote on Third Energy Package on Monday

iceland parliament

The final parliamentary meeting on the Third Energy Package finally concluded at 9.00pm on Thursday evening after beginning at 11.30 that morning. Vísir reports that voting on the package will take place on Monday.

Thursday’s debate was slightly more moderate in tone than it had been even the day before, Centre Party MP Ólafur Ísleifsson told reporters. The meeting was the last in a special late summer session to allow parliament to conclude debate and vote on the issue, which has been delayed multiple times throughout the spring term and the subject of multiple Centre Party-led filibusters, some of which have run for as long as 134 hours.

Read More: Third Energy Package

The main goal of the European Union’s Third Energy Package is to strengthen the internal energy market for gas and electricity in the EU in order to decrease the cost of energy. The European Union’s First Energy Package and Second Energy Package have already been agreed upon and adopted by members of the EU and EEA, including Iceland. The Third Energy Package was passed within the EU in 2009.

A decade later, Iceland is the only country that has not agreed to the package. Adopting it has proved controversial among Icelanders, some of whom believe it constituted handing over control of Iceland’s energy to European authorities. However, Iceland is not connected to Europe’s energy network and specialists in European law agree that it would not jeopardise the country’s sovereignty over publicly owned energy resources.  Refusing to sign the agreement would be unprecedented and likely jeopardise Iceland’s membership in the European Economic Area.

Based on their speeches, it’s expected that MPs in the Centre and People’s Parties will vote against implementing the Third Energy Package. In addition, Pirate Party MP Jón Þór Ólafsson has also previously stated that he will not vote in favour of the initiative.

Centre Party Delays Vote on Third Energy Package

Gunnar Bragi and Sigmundur Davíð

Centre Party MPs filibustered through the night to delay Parliament voting on the Third Energy Package, Vísir reports. A parliamentary session that began at 1.30pm yesterday was finally ended at 8.40am this morning, over 19 hours later, Centre Party MPs having exclusively held the podium from around 3.00pm. Parliament resumes session at 3.00pm today.

The main goal of the European Union’s Third Energy Package is to strengthen the internal energy market for gas and electricity in the EU in order to decrease the cost of energy. This is the second time Centre Party MPs monopolise the podium to delay votes on the Third Energy Package, which enjoys majority support in Parliament. On May 15, parliament convened from 3.48pm to 6.18am the next morning, with Centre Party MPs prominent in the debate.

Read More: Third Energy Package

Only five sessions are left in the spring term, which is scheduled to end on June 5. Meanwhile, seventy-one bills await their first reading in the chamber, and ten await their second. Another 105 bills are in the committee stage. In addition to these bills, 113 parliamentary resolutions await parliamentary vote, and ministers have 142 pending questions from MPs to address.

A controversial package

The European Union’s First Energy Package and Second Energy Package have already been agreed upon and adopted by members of the EU and EEA, including Iceland. The Third Energy Package was passed within the EU in 2009.  A decade later, Iceland is the only country that has not agreed to the package. Adopting it has proved controversial among Icelanders, some of whom believe it constituted handing over control of Iceland’s energy to European authorities. However, Iceland is not connected to Europe’s energy network and specialists in European law agree that it would not jeopardise the country’s sovereignty over publicly owned energy resources.  Refusing to sign the agreement would be unprecedented and likely jeopardise Iceland’s membership in the European Economic Area.

Some 300 individuals under 40 were featured in an ad in Fréttablaðið this week in support of the Third Energy Package. Its slogan reads: “Don’t play with our future. We support Iceland’s continued membership in the EEA Agreement. We want a free, open, and international society and stand together against isolationism.” The ad supporters span across the political spectrum.

In Focus: Third Energy Package

This February, the Icelandic parliament will vote on whether to agree on the European Union’s Third Energy Package. The matter has caused much debate among politicians as the package plays an important role in Iceland’s relationship with the rest of Europe and its membership in the European Economic Area (EEA). Some believe agreeing to the […]

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