Minister Won’t Comment on Whaling License

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture and fisheries

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, the new minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, will not comment on whether a whaling license will be issued this year, Morgunblaðið reports.

“I will not tell the press what I plan to do until I’ve made my decision,” she said this week. “And I don’t yet have all the necessary information that I need to make that decision.”

No hope of whaling, said CEO

As noted by Iceland Review last weekend, Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur, Iceland’s only whaling operation, said that there was “no hope of whaling this summer” as things stand. On January 30, the company applied for a whaling license after its previous one had expired. The ministry did not respond until the middle of March, when it requested clarification from Hvalur on whether the company followed certain laws and stipulations.

Hvalur’s response was submitted on March 21 and the company has not heard back from the ministry since. Kristján has said that Bjarkey’s party, the Left-Green Movement, was methodically trying to “destroy the industry”.

No time limit stipulated

Kristján said that Bjarkey’s ministry, which was headed by her Left-Green colleague Svandís Svavarsdóttir before a cabinet reshuffling earlier this month, was only open to granting a one-year license, which would effectively make it impossible for the industry to operate, in his opinion. He added that without a license in hand at this point in time, the company can’t start hiring people or buying supplies for this summer’s whaling season.

Bjarkey added that the matter is being handled in a proper ministerial process and that there’s nothing in the law on whaling that sets a time limit for processing licenses.

Pirates and People’s Party Challenge Coalition Government

Cabinet of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Inga Sæland, leader of the People’s Party, has submitted a motion of no confidence directed at the coalition government of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. The motion is co-signed by MPs from the Pirate Party.

The entire cabinet is the object of the motion, which also includes a clause calling for new elections for Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this September.

Ministers not held accountable

“In our view, ministers have not been held accountable when they swap cabinet positions instead of resigning and admitting their violations in office,” Inga told Vísir. She added that Bjarni, who became prime minister last week after Katrín Jakobsdóttir resigned to run for the office of president, had left the ministry of finance last fall after failing to confirm to guidelines during the privatisation of Íslandsbanki bank.

“We also think it’s in bad taste that Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who as minister of food, agriculture and fisheries violated law and maybe even the constitution itself, has been promoted as well and is now minister of the interior,” Inga said.

Little hope of success

Inga said that she expects most, if not all, MPs from opposition parties to support the motion and hopes that it will be scheduled for debate as soon as tomorrow. She admitted, however, that the chances of the motion carrying were low.

“They have 38 MPs and they’re not going to vote themselves out of power,” she said of the coalition MPs from the Independence Party, Progressive Party and Left-Green Movement. Members of parliament in Alþingi are 63 in total.

She said that the motion was a symbolic gesture first and foremost. “Behind it stand some 40 to 50 thousand voters who have signed a petition to protest Bjarni Benediktsson becoming the head of the entire executive branch in the country,” Inga said, referring to an online petition started following the cabinet reshuffling.

78% Disapprove of New Prime Minister

Bjarni Benediktsson, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

Nearly four of every five people surveyed said they disapproved of Bjarni Benediktsson, leader of the Independence Party, ascending to the office of the prime minister. According to a new poll by Prósent, only 13% said they approved of Bjarni, Heimildin reports.

Coalition reshuffling

Bjarni became prime minister a week ago following a cabinet reshuffling. Katrín Jakobsdóttir had resigned as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement a week earlier to campaign for the office of president. Bjarni was prime minister briefly in 2017, but had otherwise been finance minister from 2013 to 2023. The Progressive Party rounds out the three-party coalition with elections set for next year when the term ends.

Online petition

78% of those surveyed by Prósent said they disapproved of Bjarni, with young people more likely to disapprove than older people. Women were also more likely to disapprove than men. In addition, 73% of those surveyed said they disapproved of the coalition government reshuffling. 14% said they approved.

An online petition was started after Bjarni’s return as prime minister, which has now been signed by 41,240 people expressing their disapproval of him. The number of signatures amounts to approximately 15% of all voters in Iceland.

Presidential Candidates Katrín and Baldur Neck and Neck

Bessastaðir, official residence of the President of Iceland.

The field of candidates for the office of president of Iceland is becoming clearer, with elections set for June 1. The frontrunners are neck and neck, according to pollster Gallup, with former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir polling at 30% and Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science, at 26%.

Vísir reports that this survey shows that Katrín and Baldur are statistically equal. Comedian and former mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr is in third place with 18%, the only other candidate in double digits.

Political turmoil after Katrín’s announcement

The race was shaken up by Katrín’s announcement that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to run for president, a mostly ceremonial position that comes with limited political powers. Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson took over as prime minister as other cabinet positions were reshuffled. Katrín remains a popular politician, even though her coalition government has lost public support during this term.

Other candidates are polling at lower numbers. Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of B Team, polls at 7%, with lawyer Arnar Þór Jónsson and Halla Hrund Logadóttir, director general of Iceland’s National Energy Authority both at 4%.

Age and gender divide

According to Gallup, older people are more likely to vote for Katrín, while Jón gets most of his support from younger people. Women are also more likely to support Baldur, Halla Tómasdóttir and Katrín, with men more likely to support Jón.

The deadline to confirm candidacy is in two weeks and the election takes place on June 1. The current president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, announced on January 1 that he would not run again after serving two terms.

No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Update April 17: At the time of writing, the whaling license is still pending. Kristján Loftsson’s statement to the effect that whaling will not take place this summer is not to be perceived as their lack of intent to whale. Rather, his statements are a critique of government action. It is currently still undecided whether Iceland will resume whaling this summer. Iceland Review apologises for the misleading headline, but presents the original article below, unaltered.

Whales will not be hunted in Icelandic waters this summer, according to Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only whaling operation. “As it stands right now, we have no hope of whaling this summer,” he told Morgunblaðið.

Opposition from the Left-Greens

The company applied to the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries for a whaling license on January 30. The ministry has not responded and a new minister was appointed last week, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement. Her fellow party member, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, had been the previous minister and was set to face a vote of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, for temporarily stopping whaling last summer. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that her decision to stop whaling on animal welfare grounds had not been in accordance with the law.

“It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a license will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

Controversial practice

Kristján added that the ministry had only been willing to issue a license for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. The company has requested damages for the shortened whaling season of last summer.

Whaling remains a controversial practice in Iceland and is protested both domestically and abroad.

Bjarni Returns as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the centre-right Independence Party, will become prime minister in the reshuffled coalition government following the departure of Katrín Jakobsdóttir from the office, RÚV reports.

Katrín announced last week that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to campaign for the office of president, with presidential elections scheduled for June 1. This threw the future of her party’s coalition with the Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party into uncertainty. A parliamentary election is scheduled for September next year, but the opposition has called for a snap election in light of these developments.

Bjarni’s return following privatisation scandal

At a press conference in Harpa concert and conference hall today, Bjarni announced that he would become prime minister. Bjarni was previously prime minister during a short-lived coalition in 2017 and finance minister for most of the period from 2013 to 2023. He resigned as finance minister in October of last year after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that his role in the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank, which had been nationalised after the 2008 banking collapse, had not confirmed to guidelines.

He became minister for foreign affairs instead, with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir becoming finance minister in his stead. Þórdís will now move back to the ministry for foreign affairs, where she served previously.

Embattled Svandís switches ministries

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, leader of the Progressive Party, will now become finance minister. Embattled Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who was set to face a motion of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this week, will become minister of infrastructure. In January, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily banned whale hunting last summer.

Her fellow Left-Green Movement MP, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, will take her place in the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries.

The changes will be formalised at a meeting of the cabinet with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at 7 PM tonight.

Coalition Government in Flux After PM Decision

government coalition

The future of the coalition government is uncertain following yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir that she would leave her post to run for the office of president.

Katrín’s Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party and the Progressive Party make up the coalition, but it is unclear if it will continue until the elections set for next year. It has not been announced who will take over from Katrín as prime minister or if new elections will be called ahead of schedule.

Unclear who will be prime minister

According to Morgunblaðið, the leaders of the coalition parties are in talks about the next steps, with both the Independence Party and the Progressive Party laying claim to the office of prime minister. If talks break down, a new coalition could be formed to serve until next year’s elections.

Opposition MPs have called for a new election immediately. The Left-Green Movement will also need to choose a successor for Katrín, who resigned as leader yesterday after 11 years at the helm. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, minister of social affairs and the labour market, has taken Katrín’s place until party members make their decision.

Dozens of candidates for president

Katrín is leaving parliamentary politics to campaign for the largely ceremonial office of president. This is the first time in Iceland’s history that the reigning prime minister runs for president. Current president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, announced on January 1 that he would leave the office this summer after having served two terms.

Other candidates for president include Jón Gnarr, comedian and former mayor of Reykjavík, Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of B Team, Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science, and dozens of others. The election takes place in one round on June 1. Therefore, the next president could be elected with a significant minority of the total vote.

Prime Minister Reflects on Poor Polling

Katrín Jakobsdóttir Bjarni Benediktsson Sigurður Ingi Ráðherra

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, leader of the Left-Green Movement, told RÚV today that low poll numbers should cause the party’s leadership as a whole to reflect on their position. The party is polling at 4.7% in Gallup’s latest poll, their worst numbers since the turn of the century, and would likely not get a single MP elected to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, if this were to be the outcome in an election.

Two terms in a broad coalition

The Left-Green Movement formed a coalition government with the conservative Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party in 2017. The coalition continued after the 2021 election, despite Katrín’s party losing three seats in Alþingi. The party has been criticised by both current and former members for conceding too many of their policy objectives and making compromises with their coalition partners.

At a party council meeting this weekend, Katrín emphasised that everyone in the leadership, including herself, should consider their position. She told RÚV, however, that she was not quitting as party leader. “But I think it’s prudent when the polls are like this, and it would be irresponsible not to do so, to consider our position and that goes for me and others in the Movement’s leadership.”

Better communication

“I don’t think this poll reflects the success we’ve had in leading a coalition government through challenging times,” Katrín said, admitting that previous poll numbers have also been unfavourable. “It should make all of us in the Movement consider what we’re doing. It’s also necessary to better communicate the success we’ve been able to achieve.”

Katrín added that she believes that the Left-Green Movement still has an important place in Icelandic politics and that she hopes for an upswing. “I wouldn’t have been in politics for 20 years without being an optimistic person,” she said.

Government Coalition Parties Polling at an All-Time Low

government coalition

The three government coalition parties are polling at a combined 32.6% according to a new survey by Maskína. The Independence Party is polling at 16.6%, its weakest showing of all time since Maskína began conducting polls, while the Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s party, the Left-Green Movement, is in danger of losing all its MPs from Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament.

The poll was conducted from January 10 to 15, around the time the volcanic eruption by Grindavík took place, but before Independence Party chairman Bjarni Benediktsson made remarks about asylum seeker policy which have been interpreted as a policy shift for his party, Heimildin reports. Alþingi elections are scheduled for next year.

Coalition tested

The Left-Green Movement is polling at 5.7%, which would make it the smallest of the parties that now have seats in Alþingi. The third coalition member, the Progressive Party, is polling at 10.3%, well below the 17.3% it received in the 2021 election. In the election, the three parties received a combined 54.4% of the vote, but according to the poll, less than a third of voters would choose one of the coalition parties.

Alþingi reconvened this Monday after a Christmas break and a number of issues have tested the strength of the coalition, including whaling, policy on asylum seekers, and the question of how the residents of Grindavík can best be served in the wake of an eruption that did significant infrastructural damage to the town.

Social democrats in the lead

The Centre Party, however, is rising in the polls, with 11.8% support. The Social Democratic Alliance remains the leader in the polls with 25.7% like it has been for more than a year. Since electing a new chairperson, Kristrún Frostadóttir, the party has soared above its 2021 election result, when it received only 9.9% support.

The Reform Party is polling at 11.7%, up from 8.3% in the election. Two of the opposition parties have lost support since the election. The Pirate Party is polling at 7.6%, while the People’s Party is at 6.5%.

Decision on Whaling Broke Law

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The decision made last summer by Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir to stop whaling was not in accordance with the law, the Alþingi Ombudsman has concluded. The conclusion is likely to threaten Svandís’ position as minister and possibly the coalition government as a whole.

Svandís announced in June that she would temporarily stop whaling due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). She argued that in light of the opinion, she would have no choice but to postpone the start of whaling season. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups.

Whaler sues for damages

Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Iceland’s only active whaling operation, Hvalur hf., told Morgunblaðið that he would sue for damages. “She lets her own political views guide her with no regard for other interests if they don’t align with hers,” Kristján said of Svandís after the Ombudsman published their conclusion. “Of course Hvalur will ask for compensation because of the enormous harm that’s come to the company and its staff.”

Svandís’ decision last summer was met with fierce opposition by her coalition partners in the Independence Party. Svandís is a member of the Left-Green Movement, who along with the Progressive Party, make up the coalition government spanning from centre-left to centre-right. Mbl.is reports that MPs from the Independence Party are already speculating on the possibility that she will be forced to resign or offered a similar route to Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson. Last fall, the Ombudsman issued a conclusion criticising Bjarni’s handling of the March 2022 sale of Íslandsbanki as Minister of Finance, in which a group of “qualified investors” were given priority to purchase bank shares. Among these qualified investors was Benedikt Sveinsson, Bjarni’s father. Bjarni then swapped ministries with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some expect Svandís to swap ministries in this way or else risk the future of the coalition.

Svandís told Mbl.is that she has not considered resigning and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.