More Icelanders in Favour of EU Membership Than Against

Danish Embassy

More people are in favour of Iceland joining the European Union than opposed, according to a new survey conducted by Maskína, RÚV reports. The result is consistent with another survey conducted by Gallup last year.

Surveyed attitudes since 2011

More people are in favour of Iceland joining the European Union than against, according to a new survey that Maskína – a research company based in Reykjavík – conducted for Evrópuhreyfingin (i.e. the European Movement), RÚV reports. A total of 40.8% of respondents stated that they were in favour of membership, while 35.9% stated that they were against it. More than a fifth of the respondents were undecided.

This is the first time that a survey conducted by Maskína – which began measuring the nation’s attitude towards EU membership in 2011 – in which a greater number of respondents stated that they supported rather than opposed membership to the EU.

The survey was conducted between February 3 and February 7, and there were 1,036 respondents. The survey was submitted to participants via Maskína’s Þjóðgátt (i.e. national portal), which randomly selects respondents from the National Register.

As noted by RÚV, Gallup also surveyed the nation’s attitude towards EU membership in March of last year, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In that survey, the number of proponents also outnumbered opponents. The difference then was even more decisive than that of the latest Maskína survey.

Parliamentary Resolution Reignites EU Membership Debate

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

A parliamentary resolution that proposes a referendum be held to determine whether Iceland should continue membership negotiations with the European Union has the full support of every MP in the Social Democratic Alliance, Reform Party, and Pirate Party, but has been met with staunch opposition from members of the People’s Party, RÚV reports.

See Also: Foreign Minister: Iceland’s EU Membership Off the Table (March 2015)

On July 16, 2009, Alþingi passed a parliamentary resolution instructing the government to submit an application for Iceland’s membership in the EU, after which it was supposed to hold a referendum on the resulting membership agreement. In March 2015, however, then-Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson sent a letter to the European Union stating that Iceland was no longer interested in membership.

See Also: Icelandic Government’s Letter to EU Gets a Reply (April 2015)

Proponents of the current resolution say the 2009 resolution still stands and should be honoured. They submitted their resolution, proposing a referendum on continued EU membership negotiations, to Alþingi on Thursday. The undersigning MPs want a vote to be held on the issue before the end of 2023.

In the event of such a referendum, Icelandic voters would be asked to vote yes or no on the following question: “Do you want Iceland to pick up negotiations with the European Union with the goal of developing a membership agreement that would be submitted to the nation for approval or rejection?”

Says number of Icelanders opposed to EU membership has only grown since Brexit

People’s Party chair Guðmundur Ingi Kristinsson pushed back against the resolution immediately, saying that the majority of the nation does not want Iceland to join the EU. He said that Iceland’s anti-EU contingent has only grown in the wake of Brexit.

Within days of the new resolution’s submission, the People’s Party had submitted a resolution of their own, namely that Iceland should withdraw its application for membership to the EU entirely. The proponents of the counter-resolution are all People’s Party MPs. They have submitted the same resolution for the last three legislative sessions.

Iceland Likely to Procure Monkeypox Vaccine, Deems General Inoculation Unnecessary

Iceland will likely participate in the European Union’s joint scheme to purchase and procure doses of Imvanex to use in cases of monkeypox infection, RÚV reports. At time of writing, no cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed in Iceland. After exploring its procurement options, the Ministry of Health says it monkeypox vaccinations would be administered to people who have been exposed to the virus and perhaps other select groups, but says that general vaccination against the virus is unnecessary.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “there is a multi-country outbreak of monkeypox affecting the UK, EU/EEA states, and North America. This is the first time that chains of transmission are reported in Europe without known epidemiological links to West or Central Africa.” As perhaps obvious from the name, monkeypox was first found in monkeys and is spread through close contact, although it is not typically spread easily amongst humans.

The current outbreak (roughly 200 cases globally) extends to 20 countries in which monkeypox is not endemic, and is causing concern because the virus rarely spreads outside of West and Central Africa. Its symptoms include fever, headache, chills, exhaustion, asthenia, lymph node swelling, back pain and muscle aches.

Luckily, existing smallpox vaccinations are effective against monkeypox. Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic is one of the few in the world to have approval for its smallpox vaccine, known as Imvanex in Europe and Jynneos in the United States. Iceland would receive a proportional allocation of the vaccine that the EU purchases for countries participating in the scheme, just like it did with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Eurostat: House Prices Risen Most Sharply in Iceland Since 2010

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses square

According to a new report by Eurostat, house prices have risen most sharply in Iceland over the past decade when compared to other European countries. Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2021, house prices in Iceland increased by ca. 140% and the cost of rent rose by almost 70%.

Estonia the only country that compares

Yesterday, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, released a new report on the prices of homes and the cost of rent within the EU (and among members of EFTA). The report indicates that house prices have risen most sharply in Iceland compared to other European countries, or approximately 140% between 2010 and the first quarter of 2021. The cost of rent in Iceland has risen by almost 70% over the same period. Compare this to the building-cost index, which has increased by approximately 57% since 2010. The consume-price index has remained relatively stable.

The only other European country that has seen a similar increase in the prices of homes is Estonia, where cost has risen by approximately 130%. In Sweden and Norway, house prices have increased by 80% compared to ca. 50% in Denmark. The average rise in house prices over the past decade in Europe is approximately 35%. Only four countries have seen homes decrease in value over the past decade: Greece, Italy, Spain, and Cyprus.

The cost of rent has generally seen a more minor increase in Europe over the past decade, when compared to house prices, or approximately 15%. In a few countries, however, rent has risen faster than the cost of homes, e.g. in Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania. In Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, the increase in the cost of rent is much lower than in Iceland, or approximately 20%.

Interest rates raised and mortgage regulations tightened

Iceland Review reported on Wednesday that the Central Bank had raised key interest rates by 0.25%, bringing the rate to 1.5%. This change marked the Bank’s third interest rate hike since May, indicating a shift in direction as the economic forecast has improved.

Throughout last year, the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) consistently lowered interest rates in response to the pandemic recession but now says it expects the domestic economic recovery to continue. The Central Bank’s key interest rate reached a historic low of 0.75% in November last year. In comparison, rates in January 2020 stood at 3% and in January 2019 at 4.5%.

The Central Bank also tightened mortgage regulations at the end of September, stating that rising real estate prices had “gone hand-in-hand with increased household debt.” The move, which entails instituting a maximum debt-to-service ratio of 35% for borrowers (40% for first-time buyers) is intended to support stability in the housing market.

May put some families in a “tight spot”

As reported this summer, this increase in key interest rates will likely have the most significant impact on those who signed non-indexed mortgages with variable interest rates. A report from Landsbankinn this summer demonstrated a 1% increase in variable interest rates for a non-indexed mortgage of ISK 30 million could result in an ISK 25,000 rise in monthly payments.

Read more about Iceland’s housing market below:

Icelandair Implements Regular Drug Testing of All Staff

Keflavík airport Icelandair

New EU regulations that take effect in February require all airlines flying within the European Union to conduct regular drug tests of flight and security staff. Icelandair will apply this regulation to all staff, including those in administrative positions, starting this month. Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir, Icelandair’s Public Relations Officer, told Fréttablaðið the company will emphasise education, prevention, and support alongside the new testing procedures.

Under the new EU regulation, certain airline staff working within the union’s member states will be required to undergo regular testing for “psychoactive substances,” defined as “alcohol, opioids, cannabinoids, sedatives and hypnotics, cocaine, other psychostimulants, hallucinogens, and volatile solvents, with the exception of caffeine and tobacco.” The regulations stipulate that in cases of “reasonable suspicion,” alcohol tests may be carried out “at any time.” Flight crew or cabin crew may be suspended from duty if they refuse to co-operate during tests.

Icelandair Extents Testing to All Employees

“As a company in aviation where safety is always a priority, we have decided that this policy will apply to [all staff], but procedures will differ between groups. Icelandair strives to create a safe and healthy workplace and this is one aspect of that, and there will be great emphasis on education, prevention, and support in this project,” Icelandair’s PRO told reporters.

Icelandair staff will attend a short workshop later this week where the new regulations will be presented to them. At the end of the month, they will be sent an amendment to their employment contracts concerning the new testing procedures.

Legal Framework for Drug Testing Unclear in Iceland

Iceland’s Parliament has not passed any legislation regarding drug testing of employees. A 2013 opinion from the Data Protection Authority stated there was no legal authorisation for the collection of samples for drug testing from employees of companies or institutions in Iceland. In addition, the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlitið) did not have sufficient legal authority to respond to such cases.

EU Opposes Iceland’s Border Opening Proposal

Icelandair plane Keflavík

Iceland’s government would like to open borders to more countries in July, but the decision could be affected by its membership in the Schengen Agreement, RÚV reports. The Icelandic government is waiting for the European Union to publish a list of countries from which it will allow travellers into the Schengen Area. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says Iceland’s proposal to take a more liberal stance toward border opening did not enjoy support within the EU, which hinted that if Iceland did not adhere to the Union’s decisions, it could be closed off from the Schengen Area.

Though Iceland is not a member of the European Union, it is a member of the European Economic Area and the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area’s outer borders have been closed since late March, but plans are in place to reopen the area to outside travellers from July 1.

Unlikely EU Will Open to US Travel in July

EU member states are presently working to define the criteria that countries must fulfil in order to be considered safe destinations for EU residents. The criteria will take into account the number of COVID-19 infections per capita, among other factors.

“It can be considered very likely that the United States will not be on [the list of safe countries] considering the situation today,” Áslaug Arna stated in a radio interview this morning. She expressed her disappointment that the US had not opened its borders to Icelanders, as she had been hoping it would be possible to open Iceland’s borders to US citizens from July 1.

Iceland in Unique Position

In talks with the EU, Áslaug Arna says Icelandic authorities have stressed the country’s unique position – it has relatively few entry points and arriving travellers have the option to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. “We have reiterated that we’re screening everyone [for COVID-19 at the borders] at this time,” Áslaug stated. Iceland’s representatives have also proposed that Iceland can conduct border control for travellers proceeding to other Schengen Area countries and thus enforce its travel restrictions while still being exempt from them.

The European Union has, however stressed that it expects Schengen Area member states to adhere to its forthcoming list of safe countries in their own travel regulations. “It hasn’t been well received that we have been calling for […] more opening. It has been hinted that borders within this area could be closed to us.” Icelandic authorities have yet to decide whether they will comply with the impending EU list.

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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