Svandís Svavarsdóttir Pushes for Stricter Scooter Regulations

Former Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The Minister of Infrastructure has introduced a bill to parliament to regulate small vehicles such as electric scooters. The legislation addresses safety concerns, as drunk driving and accidents have become common with their increasing popularity.

A speed limit of 25 km per hour

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the newly appointed Minister of Infrastructure, presented a bill in the Parliament yesterday proposing amendments to the traffic laws specifically addressing small vehicles such as electric scooters, RÚV reports.

The proposal suggests the introduction of a new vehicle category for small vehicles within traffic legislation. It stipulates that these vehicles should not be designed to travel faster than 25 kilometres per hour and that any vehicle exceeding these limits would not be permitted in traffic.

Drunk driving, accidents common

As noted by RÚV, with the growing popularity of electric scooters – especially short-term rentals, such as Hopp and Zolo – there has been significant discussion about the challenges associated with these vehicles, such as drunk driving and accidents. The bill proposes that it should be a punishable offence to operate such a vehicle if the alcohol concentration in the blood exceeds 0.5 promille or if the breath alcohol content exceeds 0.25 milligrams per litre.

If the bill is passed, children under the age of thirteen will not be permitted to ride small vehicles and those under sixteen will be required to wear helmets.

Modification of speed settings prohibited

There have been instances of modifications to the built-in speed settings of electric scooters and electric bikes. Such alterations allow riders to exceed the maximum speed indicated by the vehicles. The bill proposes a ban on modifying these settings on motor-powered small vehicles, lightweight motorcycles, and electric bikes.

The bill also proposes that small vehicles be allowed to operate in general traffic on roads where the speed limit does not exceed 30 kilometres per hour.

The proposal does not suggest that operating small vehicles under the influence of alcohol should result in the revocation of a driving licence, RÚV notes.

Bill on Detention Centres for Asylum Seekers Published

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

A draft bill proposed by Iceland’s Justice Minister would permit authorities to hold asylum seekers in detention centres, including families and children. Setting up such detention centres could cost between ISK 420 and 600 million [$3.1 million-4.4 million, €2.8 million-4 million]. Humanitarian organisations have harshly criticised the establishment of such centres in Iceland.

The bill, which comes from Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, was published in the government’s consultation portal last week, where members of the public, organisations, and interested parties can comment on it.

According to the summary on the consultation portal, the bill proposes permitting authorities to keep “foreign citizens who have to or may have to leave the country” in “a closed residence” when they have received a deportation order or “when a case that may lead to such a decision is being processed by the government.” According to the bill, the measure would “only be used as a last resort, when an adequate assessment has been carried out and it is clear that milder measures will not be effective.”

Children detained for up to nine days

The bill would permit authorities to detain children in such centres, if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, but would not permit the detention of unaccompanied children. The detention of children would have to conform to “stricter requirements” than that of adults.

The bill proposes permitting the detention of children in such facilities for up to three days at a time and up to nine days in total. Adults could be detained in the centres for up to eight weeks.

If the bill is approved, the legislation would take effect at the beginning of 2026.

Restricted press access and use of force

While the bill distinguishes detention centres for asylum seekers from prisons, many of the restrictions proposed for such centres resemble that of traditional prisons, including separation between the sexes, restrictions on visits, and room searches. Staff would be permitted to “use force in the performance of their duties if considered necessary,” including physical restraints or “the use of appropriate means of force.”

The bill stipulates that the National Police Commissioner would decide whether to allow detained individuals to give interviews to media and that interviews “would not be permitted if they are contrary to the public interest.”

Tightened legislation on asylum seekers

The detention centre bill is the latest of several measures Iceland’s current government has taken to tighten regulations on asylum seekers. Last year, dozens of asylum seekers who were unable to leave the country for personal or political reasons were stripped of housing and services after new legislation took effect. The legislation strips asylum seekers in the country of access to state housing, social support, and healthcare 30 days after their applications for asylum have been rejected. The bill was first introduced in 2018 and received strong pushback from human rights organisations in Iceland, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International. It was revised several times and passed following its fourth introduction to Parliament.

The detractors of the detention centre draft bill assert that it violates the United Nations Convention on Refugees, the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iceland is a party.

Minister’s 30-Point Plan for Fisheries Stirs Controversy

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

The Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has unveiled a comprehensive report proposing thirty key legislative changes for Iceland’s fishing industry. The report has met with criticism from industry stakeholders, Vísir reports.

Analysing challenges and opportunities

Last year, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, appointed working groups to analyse challenges and opportunities in the fishing industry. The report aimed to foster greater public harmony regarding the use of the resource. The upshot is a report entitled Our Natural Resource (Auðlindin okkar), which was unveiled yesterday.

The report puts forth thirty key legislative proposals that touch on environmental, social, and economic aspects of the fishing industry. Some notable recommendations include the maintenance of the quota system, the introduction of a resource clause to the constitution, simplification of fishing quota fees, and ensuring that maximum ownership of fishing companies aligns with competition law. The report also suggests bolstering transparency, tightening penalties for discards, and advocating more decentralised ownership in shipping companies, Vísir reports.

Increases fishing quota fees

Minister Svavarsdóttir announced that the report will serve as the foundation for a new bill focusing on the use and management of fishing resources. A special emphasis will be placed on the environment.

“Our primary focus is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and catalysing the transition to green energy within the fishing industry. Second, we aim to enhance transparency, making it clear who owns and manages these fishing companies. Financially speaking, I plan to propose an increase in fishing quota fees, aligning them with our broader fiscal policy. Additionally, I suggest experimenting with an auction-based approach for certain quotas beyond the general regional catch quota. On the social front, I advocate for an overhaul of existing systems. And lastly, this initiative proposes the inclusion of a resource provision in the constitution,” Svandís stated.

Dissatisfaction with increase

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of Fisheries Iceland, expressed her discontent, stating the minister’s proposals didn’t align with the initial objectives of the working groups.

“Firstly, the advisory committees’ initial work made no mention of raising fishing quota fees or auctioning off quotas. Yet, these seem to be the main points the minister is emphasising while introducing new bills in Parliament. I find this focus rather strange,” Heiðrún commented.

Not much good, a lot of bad – and a lot that’s even worse

Örvar Marteinsson, Chair of SSU (the Association of Small Fishing Companies), was even more scathing in his assessment.

“I think it almost constitutes an attack; there’s not much good, a lot of bad – and a lot that’s even worse. Companies that register on the market will be given preferential treatment, which will only be the very largest, and this will harm the family businesses in rural Iceland once again, which are constantly being forgotten,” Örvar remarked.

Asylum Seekers on the Streets Due to New Law

homelessness in reykjavík

Over 10 asylum seekers who have been evicted from state housing are living on the streets, RÚV reports. Some have been sleeping outside without shelter for up to three weeks and have been forced to rummage for food in dumpsters. Iceland’s Parliament passed legislation this spring that strips asylum seekers of all basic services 30 days after their applications have been rejected.

“People seem to be in hollows, for example. They’re in glades. They’re in public parks. Just somewhere where they find shelter during the night. Some are in small tents. Others don’t have a single thing to cover themselves with other than maybe a garbage bag or something else they find on the street,” says Sema Erla Serdar, founder of aid organisation Solaris, who has been combing the streets alongside volunteers in recent days in an attempt to find and assist those asylum seekers who have been evicted from housing.

Legislation criticised by human rights organisations

In March of this year, Iceland’s Parliament passed a highly-criticised immigration bill that strips asylum seekers in the country of access to housing, social support, and healthcare 30 days after their applications for asylum have been rejected. The bill was first introduced in 2018 and received strong pushback from human rights organisations, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International. It was passed following its fourth introduction to Parliament.

While people impacted by the new legislation are denied basic services, they also do not have work permits enabling them to provide for themselves. They are not forcefully deported from Iceland, but they are left in a limbo where they do not have a social security number (kennitala) and cannot legally work in the country. Since the new law took effect at the beginning of July, 53 asylum seekers have been stripped of services and housing. Some have sought out homeless shelters, where services are normally targeted towards unhoused people with addiction and/or mental health struggles.

State and municipalities in deadlock

While the new legislation was still being reviewed in Parliament, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson stated that asylum seekers whose services and housing were withdrawn would be able to seek services from municipalities. However, now that the bill has been made law and resulted in the eviction of some 30 or more asylum seekers from state housing, municipalities have argued that it is the state’s responsibility to provide services for the group. Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has stated that the ultimate responsibility lies with the asylum seekers themselves.

The Minister of Justice and Minister of Social Affairs and Labour are scheduled to meet with municipal representatives tomorrow to discuss the issue.

10,000 Tonnes of Cod to Coastal Fishing Pool

fishing in Iceland

Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir has signed a new regulation on coastal fishing allocating 10,000 tonnes of cod to the coastal fishing pool this season. The percentage of coastal fishing of the total permitted catch of cod is now almost five percent, which is similar to the fishing season of 2022, the first year that such a large part of the total permitted catch was allocated to coastal fishing.

The coastal fishing season is from May to August. The upcoming season is the 15th since coastal fishing was established. Coastal fishing in Icelandic is in part intended to open up opportunities for smaller, independent parties within the fishing industry.

Alþingi is currently reading a bill on amendments to the law on fisheries management due to the zoning of coastal fisheries. The bill was approved for submission by the government on February 24. The Ministry of Food underlined that if the bill is passed, it may be necessary to make changes to the 2023 coastal fishing regulation in accordance with legislation.

Justice Minister Promises Additional Tightening of Asylum Seeker Regulations

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Iceland’s Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has proposed changes to regulations governing asylum seekers in Iceland that will be made public in the coming days, RÚV reports. The proposed changes include implementing systemic measures to encourage asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected to leave the country. Jón stated he believes the government needs to “go further” and says the Justice Ministry has been working on a bill that “tackles certain uniquely Icelandic rules.”

Changes for asylum seekers from Venezuela

Like other countries in Europe, Iceland is seeing a surge in the number of asylum seekers. Over 1,700 people have applied for asylum in Iceland since the beginning of this year, with the largest group, nearly half, from Venezuela.  The Directorate of Immigration recently updated its assessment of conditions in Venezuela so that asylum seekers arriving from the country no longer automatically receive additional protection in Iceland. The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board has yet to take a stance regarding this change.

Read More: Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Win Case

Iceland’s Parliament passed a highly-criticised immigration bill last month that strips asylum seekers in the country of their rights, including access to housing and healthcare, 30 days after their applications have been rejected. Human rights organisations in Iceland have strongly opposed the bill, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.

Mail No Longer Delivered at Home in Proposed Change to Postal System

iceland post mail delivery

A draft bill has been published on the government’s consultation portal that proposes changes to the postal system, including a reduction in at-home mailbox delivery.

Among other changes, the draft as it currently stands would introduce increased use of mailbox centres over home mailboxes. Originally used in rural areas in order to reduce cost of service, the postal service uses such centres  in order to make fewer stops and to centralize services in lower-population settlements. However, mailbox centres could become increasingly common in Iceland’s urban areas as well, requiring residents to pick up their mail at a separate location.

In the introduction to the draft it states: “it is clear if we look at the future of postal services both in this country and, for example, in Norway, there will be more use of mailbox complexes in the future instead of deliveries to every house, even in larger urban areas. This has resulted in savings and a positive environmental impact.”

All residents have the ability to submit reviews and suggestions for the draft until the deadline of October 2.

Fourth Round of Changes Proposed to Election Legislation

municipal election Skorradalur - Skorradalshreppur

A plan to review Iceland’s election legislation has been published on the government’s consultation website Samráðsgátt. New election legislation that took effect in January of this year caused headaches for smaller municipalities in municipal elections last May. RÚV reported first.

The new legislation tightened requirements for election committee members by ruling out anyone with close connections to candidates in the municipality. Those whose spouse, partner, sibling, child, grandchild, or even certain in-laws were running in the election were disqualified from being on the election committee, which made it a great challenge for municipalities with small populations to staff their election committees.

The article on election committee qualifications is not the only one the legislators intend to change. The plan also considers it necessary to amend the article concerning outer ballot envelopes, which reportedly caused counting delays in the May election.

While the election legislation was written through a process of broad consultation between 2016 and 2020, it has already been amended three times to address deficiencies, including discrepancies in calendar dates.

Icelandic Breweries Can Now Sell Directly to Customers

Kaldi beer brewery

Starting tomorrow, July 1, breweries in Iceland will be permitted to sell their alcoholic products directly to customers. The change is thanks to a parliamentary bill passed on June 15 that somewhat relaxes the state monopoly on alcohol sales. While some say it’s high time alcohol was available for sale outside of state-run stores, others are wary increased availability will lead to higher rates of alcoholism.

The changes are long overdue, according to Ólafur Stephensen, CEO of the Icelandic Federation of Trade. He told RÚV that he hopes to see legislation concerning alcohol sales relaxed even further.

See Also: Business Booming for Online Alcohol Retailers

“The goal of the bill was, among other things, to strengthen culture-related tourism around breweries in the countryside. The result is that one or two breweries are excluded, both in Eyjafjörður [North Iceland]. And one producer of spirits in Borgarnes. There is no logic to that,” Ólafur stated, adding that there is no reason producers of spirits shouldn’t also be allowed to sell their products on site.

“These are companies that have the same criteria and have been building up tourism around their operations and production. These breweries produce too much and are therefore too big to fall under these legal amendments.”

The lack of alcoholic beverages in Icelandic grocery stores catches many foreign tourists by surprise. The state-run liquor store, Vínbúðin, is expensive, and opening hours can be sporadic during holidays and in more rural parts of the country. Vínbúðin stores are always closed on Sundays. While some have argued that increased access to alcohol will lead to increased alcohol abuse, a recent survey shows that almost half of Icelanders want beer and wine to be available in supermarkets.

Opposition Proposes Changes to Asylum Seeker Bill

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

MPs in Iceland’s Parliament have not reached an agreement on several bills, and it has become clear that Alþingi will not be prorogued at the end of this week, as planned. Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill has been one of the most controversial, and three opposition parties have submitted proposed changes to the bill.

The proposed changes submitted by the Social-Democratic Alliance, People’s Party, and Reform Party are in six parts and their aim is to reach an agreement before the end of this parliamentary session. The first change proposed is for asylum seekers whose applications have been denied continue to be provided with services until they leave the country, instead of being cut off from basic services like housing and food allowances after 30 days, as the bill currently outlines.

Read More: “Everyone Loses” in New Legal Scheme for Asylum Seekers

Other proposed amendments to the bill include continuing to grant applicants for international protection the minimum protection of the Administrative Procedure Act on reopening a case due to new data and information. The parties also propose that quota refugees (those invited to settle in Iceland via international agreements) would have the same rights regarding family reunification in Iceland as others who have received protection here through other routes. These proposals are now being reviewed by the Ministry of Justice.

Criticised by human rights organisations

The first version of this controversial bill was introduced in Alþingi in 2018 but was not passed at the time. This is the fourth version of the bill, which has been criticised by human rights organisations each time it has been introduced.

“This is an attempt by the government to establish a policy that involves significantly constricting refugees, curtailing their human rights, and reducing their possibilities for receiving protection in Iceland,” Activist Sema Erla Serdar of the aid organisation Solaris tweeted. “The bill especially targets children and other people in a particularly vulnerable situation.”