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.

Minister of Education Issues Strong Rebuke of Klaustur MPs

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

Icelandic Minister of Education, Science and Culture and Progressive Party MP Lilja Alfreðsdóttir had some strong words about the Klaustur Scandal MPs.

“In their conversation at the Klaustur Bar, it became clear precisely how these MPs think about women,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday morning. “It was truly sad. But even sadder is that these same [MPs] should now, eight months later, still have not come to their senses, but are rather trying to justify their comments. Disappointing that they don’t even have the decency to take a hard look in the mirror. Their comments will be to their lasting disgrace.”

Since it was published, the post has received over 850 likes and been shared 44 times.

Lilja’s post came in the wake of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee’s ruling that two of the six embroiled MPs breached parliamentary ethics with their sexist remarks about fellow politicians. The two MPs found guilty of an ethical breach were Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Bergþór Ólason, both of the Centre Party. Both men have contested the ruling.

Lilja was among several female MPs who were the target of sexist and sexually explicit comments made by Gunnar Bragi and Berþór during their recorded conversation at Klaustur Bar last November.

Centre Party MP Gunnar Bragi Returns from Leave

Centre Party MP Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson has resumed his seat in parliament after a voluntary leave of absence that he took last week. Although the reason for the leave—Gunnar Bragi’s second since he got caught up in the Klaustur political scandal in late 2018—was not given at the time, Vísir now reports that Gunnar Bragi took the leave in order to be with his son, who badly injured his foot in a tractor accident.

Gunnar Bragi is the chair of the Centre Party and his chairing duties were taken over by Bergþór Ólason when he took his leave. His seat on parliament was temporarily filled by alternate MP Una María Óskarsdóttir, who will now be stepping down with his return.

Centre Party MP Takes Second Leave of Absence

Centre Party MP and chair Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson has taken an indefinite leave from parliament, RÚV reports. Gunnar Bragi is one of the six Centre and People’s Party MPs who were embroiled in the recent Klaustur Scandal, having been recorded making sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about parliamentary colleagues at Klaustur Bar in downtown Reykjavík. This is the second leave of absence that Gunnar Bragi has taken since the scandal broke, although no reason has yet been given for his current departure.

Gunnar Bragi did not answer calls from RÚV’s news agency on Friday to give an explanation for the leave, and nor did fellow Centre Party MP and former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. (Sigmundur Davíð was also involved in the Klaustur Scandal.) Anna Kolbrún Árnadóttir, another Centre Party MP involved in the Klaustur scandal, said that she didn’t know anything about her colleague’s leave of absence except that it is being taken for personal reasons.

Anna Kolbrún continued by saying that the decision had been a quick one and that the party hoped that the party’s alternate chair, Bergþór Ólason, would be taking over that position at the start of the coming week. Gunnar Bragi’s seat in parliament will presumably be taken over by one of the party’s alternate MPs, either Una María Óskarsdóttir or Þorgrímur Sigmundsson.

Gunnar Bragi’s previous voluntary leave of absence was taken from late November, after the Klaustur scandal broke, until late January 2019.

Klaustur MPs Shun Committee Meeting

Gunnar Bragi and Sigmundur Davíð

Centre Party MPs Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson have failed to respond to repeated requests to meet with the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, RÚV reports. The committee, which was scheduled to meet with the MPs today to discuss the content of the Klaustur recordings, has thus postponed the event.

Sigmundur Davíð and Gunnar Bragi were among a group of six members of parliament caught on tape making sexist, homophobic, and ableist comments about colleagues at a Reykjavík bar. The contents of the recording have caught the attention of local and international media and led to public protest.

Political favours

The committee called the meeting to discuss specific statements made by Gunnar Bragi in the recording, specifically regarding the appointment of Geir Haarde as ambassador. In the recording, Gunnar Bragi spoke at length about the how he’d appointed former Prime Minister Geir Haarde to an ambassadorial position as a political favour that he expected to be rewarded for by current Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. Sigmundur Davíð is heard on the tape confirming the statement. Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir has stated that considering the statements, Geir Haarde’s appointment would represent corruption in public service and entail a breach of ethics.

Bjarni Benediktsson and current Foreign Affairs Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson had also been requested to attend the meeting. Bjarni had confirmed his attendance, while Guðlaugur Þór is currently abroad and would have missed the meeting.

Hindering committees’ work

Helga Vala Helgadóttir, the committee’s chairperson, says it is a serious issue if elected officials can get away with ignoring requests from standing committees of parliament. “It’s one thing to struggle with doing your own job, but another when you’re getting in the way of the work of entire committees,” she stated.

Legal action

The four MPs have hired a lawyer to represent them in the case. The lawyer has contacted the Icelandic Data Protection Authority on their behalf. The Authority has received four messages from the public asking whether they will investigate the issue. Data Protection Commissioner Helga Þórisdóttir has stated that it remains unclear whether or not the Authority will formally investigate the issue, but it will be discussed at a board meeting at the end of next week. “It’s natural that some kind of stance will be taken on the issue by the Data Protection Authority,” Helga added, saying the recordings could be investigated in relation to privacy laws.

Tape Reveals Geir Haarde Appointed Ambassador as Political Favour

The already infamous recorded conversation between former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, former foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, and four other Centre and People’s Party MPs has drawn considerable criticism across the political spectrum for the demeaning way in which the politicians spoke about their female colleagues. Stundin reports, however, that in the same conversation, Gunnar Bragi also spoke at length about the how he’d appointed former Prime Minister Geir Haarde to an ambassadorial position as a political favour that he expected to be rewarded for by current finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson.

Geir Haarde, a member of the Independence Party alongside Bjarni Benediktsson, was prime minister from 2006-2009 and left office amidst accusations of wrongdoing that led to Iceland’s financial collapse. Geir was later even tried by Iceland’s High Court on four charges of violating the constitution and was convicted of one, namely not having held cabinet meetings on important matters in the lead-up to the economic collapse.

In 2014, a few years after his trial and conviction, Geir was appointed as Iceland’s ambassador to the United States. At the same time, Left-Green MP Árni Þór Sigurðsson was appointed as Iceland’s ambassador to Finland. And according to what he says himself in the recorded conversation, Gunnar Bragi specifically appointed Árni Þór as ambassador as a way of distracting from the fact that he was also appointing Geir at the same time.

“I talked about it with the whole party,” he says in the recording. “I saw that I couldn’t appoint Geir ambassador alone, I couldn’t show favor to Geir alone; that would be too much for the parliament and everyone to swallow. So what I did was to make Árni Þór ambassador, which didn’t cost anything in reality – you must have noticed that he’s an idiot, thought he might be my cousin – and then what happens?”

“The core Left-Greens went crazy,” he continues, “but Katrín [Jakobsdóttir; then the chairperson of the Left-Greens] didn’t say a word.”

Gunnar Bragi continues that Geir thanked him afterwards, saying, “It made me crazy when you were making Árni Þór ambassador, but then all at once, I realized that the attention was all going to Árni and I was very happy.” He also credits the former Prime Minister with saying, “Thank you for that. No one criticized me.”

Gunnar Bragi, a member of the Progressive Party, apparently had personal motives for the appointment – pecifically, he’s had hopes of obtaining a position in the diplomatic service.  Sigmundur Davíð, acting as a go-between for Gunnar Bragi and Bjarni Benediktsson at the time of Geir’s ambassadorial appointment, passed these hopes along to Bjarni. Per the recording, Bjarni responded that if Gunnar named Geir Haarde as ambassador, he would “…be in with the Independence MPs.”