EFTA Surveillance Authority to Investigate Whaling in Iceland

whale Iceland hvalur

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) – which monitors compliance with European Economic Area rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – intends to investigate whaling off the coast of Iceland. The case has been expedited. The Iceland Nature Conservation Association has also demanded that the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) revoke the operating licence of the whaling company Hvalur and has reported the company to the police, RÚV reports.

Claim that operations are not up to standards

As noted by RÚV, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) awarded the whaling company Hvalur an indefinite operating licence in 2021 related to the processing, cutting, freezing, and storage of whale products. The licence is dependent on the company fulfilling the legal requirements for its activities. The Iceland Nature Conservation Association is now calling for the licence to be revoked.

Katrín Oddsdóttir, attorney for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, told RÚV that the call for revocation was predicated on the association’s belief that Hvalur had not followed laws and regulations during its processing of whale products. “We have been calling for reports from various sources, and it turns out that things are not up to standards in many regards, in terms of the hunting and processing of whale products, for example.”

Pollution prevention lacking

RÚV notes that a report from the Health Inspectorate of West Iceland published last year found that pollution prevention at Hvalur’s processing plant was inadequate. A spring near the company’s plant was unprotected, and the report stated that the water could easily be polluted. The report also notes that oil pollution prevention in the processing area was not up to standards.

“Furthermore, the hygiene in the plant itself does not seem to be particularly admirable, according to a report from MAST,” Katrín added. Samples of whale meat taken by MAST showed higher-than-permissible levels of bacteria. “Which is naturally very serious, because, of course, this is about food safety … which is why we’ve also referred the matter to the EFTA Surveillance Authority.”

ESA reviewing the case

RÚV reports that the ESA announced today that it intended to investigate Hvalur’s whaling operations and that the case would be expedited. Katrín told RÚV that she hoped that a result would be reached before the start of the whaling season, which usually begins in the middle of June. “Of course, we hope that we will get help from the outside to point out the absurdity of whaling in the modern era.”

According to Katrín, “administrative enabling” in Iceland had thus far prevented Hvalur’s licence from being revoked: “There is a tendency within the administration to overlook deviations and things that obviously do not comply with regulations. When it comes to regulations regarding drinking water and pollution prevention, the issue is serious.” As noted by RÚV, representatives of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association filed a complaint against the company Hvalur to the Police in West Iceland yesterday.

Anti-whaling protest on Saturday

As noted on IR this week, Icelandic musician Björk will participate in an anti-whaling protest in Reykjavík on Saturday, June 3. The organisers of the event are urging the Icelandic government to put a stop to whaling immediately.

Primacy of EEA Rules Does Not Include Transfer of Legislative Power, Foreign Minister States

Minister for Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

Minister Of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir has presented a bill to Parliament ensuring the primacy of EEA rules introduced into Icelandic legislation over other national legislation, meaning that in the case of conflict, EEA rules will prevail.

The bill is a response to EFTA Surveillance Authority complaints, which has issued a reasoned opinion to Iceland concerning its failure to fulfil its obligations under Protocol 35 to the EEA Agreement and Article 3 of the EEA Agreement, as there is no mention of EEA rule precedence in Icelandic legislation.

“This bill is just one sentence that would do so,” Þórdís Kolbrún told RÚV, stating that a main point was that the article only applied to EEA regulations that Parliament had already approved, thereby making it national legislation. “The changes in wording might change the way courts interpret the law but it is of course up to them to make those judgements,” she added. In response to criticism from a member of her own party, Þórdis added that “Protocol 35 explicitly states that it does not include any transfer of legislative powers to any institution of the European Economic Area. The primacy rule will only affect articles of Icelandic legislation instituted by Parliament in case of a conflict where one contradicts another.”

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.