Cost of Hosting Council of Europe Summit Exceeded ISK 2 Billion

Iceland spent over ISK 2 billion ($14.6 million / €13.5 million) to host the Council of Europe’s leadership summit last May, attracting 37 national leaders, representatives from 46 member states, and nearly a thousand guests. The meeting, which saw higher attendance than initially expected, led to significant security and logistical costs.

An inquiry from Inga Sæland

The total cost for Iceland hosting the Council of Europe’s leadership meeting in May last year amounted to over ISK 2 billion ($14.6 million / €13.5 million), RÚV reports. This was disclosed in a response from Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to an inquiry from Inga Sæland, the leader of the People’s Party.

As noted by RÚV, the meeting was well attended, with 37 national leaders and prime ministers, along with representatives from 46 member states of the Council of Europe, 65 foreign delegations, and nearly a thousand guests arriving. During the meeting, a resolution was adopted to create a register of damages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to the Foreign Minister’s response, the expenses exceeded ISK 2 billion ($14.6 million / €13.5 million). The initial cost estimate was ISK 1.325 billion ($10 million / €9 million), based on expectations of a smaller scale event, as it was initially anticipated that only the foreign ministers of the countries would attend.

Costly security measures

The security measures enforced by the police incurred costs of ISK 1.56 billion ($11.4 million / €10.5 million). The meeting itself was estimated to cost ISK 843 million ($6.1 million / €5.7 million), with various other expenses, including the purchase and rental of equipment for ISK 369 million ($2.7 million / €2.5 million) and training for ISK 123 million ($900,000 / €830,000)

The cost for law enforcement exceeded initial estimates, partly owing to the fact that the foreign delegations were larger than expected and stayed in Iceland longer than planned. The Foreign Ministry incurred costs of ISK 423 million ($3.1 million / €2.9 million). As noted by RÚV, the most significant expenses were related to the meeting’s framework and the cost of renting and purchasing necessary equipment and interpreter services, each accounting for just over ISK 100 million ($730,000 / €675,000).

Isavia, which manages Keflavik and Reykjavik airports, reported expenses of ISK 22 million ($160,000 / €148,000) related to the arrival of the delegations.

Preemptive Lava Barriers Proposed in Grindavík Town Hall

Proposals to erect protective lava barriers on the Reykjanes peninsula were introduced at a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday. A geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management expressed scepticism that the barriers would be situated on the “right side” of a possible eruption.

A familiar pattern

Despite the Icelandic MET Office reporting that no uplift had occurred over the past three to four days in the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes peninsula, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management held a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday.

As of late May, the land around Svartsengi had risen almost five centimetres – likely owing to magma intrusion 4-5km below the surface – and an earthquake swarm had been ongoing, despite no signs of volcanic unrest. These geological events are reminiscent of similar disturbances in the area before the eruption near Fagradalsfjall in 2021. While the Fagradalsfjall eruption did not threaten infrastructure in the area, the current magma intrusion is located underneath a geothermal power plant, and an uncertainty phase is still in effect in the area.

Proposals on protective lava barriers introduced

In addition to professors in geology, the town hall meeting in Grindavík was also attended by police officers and search-and-rescue workers on the Reykjanes peninsula, along with representatives from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, from neighbouring municipalities, and from companies that operate important infrastructure in the area.

There were also a few engineers present, among them Ari Guðmundsson from Verkís, who introduced the proposals of a task force, established in March of last year, entrusted with protecting important infrastructure in the event of an eruption.

Although the task force’s proposals will not be made available to the media prior to review by public administrators, Ari Guðmundsson told RÚV that, among other things, the task force had proposed the erection of preemptive protective barriers.

“That’s what we’ve proposed: the partial erection of protective lava barriers. But these proposals are subject to further review, in regard to environmental impact, e.g., and in regard to just how complete these barriers will be.”

Commenting on this proposal, Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, offered the following caveat: “Given that we have an open area with long fissures, it’s uncertain whether a protective barrier that’s erected prior to an eruption will be situated on the right side of the eruption – or the wrong side.”

“The proposals will be reviewed by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management,” Ari Explained, “and they’ll decide on the next steps. We also proposed a review of a more extensive area on Reykjanes, stretching as far as Bláfjöll and Hengill, but that’s a much more extensive project.”

“It’s the beginning of a much more comprehensive project that must be undertaken,” Björn agreed.

A “temporary hiatus”

Despite no signs of volcanic unrest, Þorvaldur Þórðarson, professor of geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated that the relative stillness on the peninsula over the past few days should be taken as a “temporary hiatus” as opposed to a sign that geological activity had ceased.

“Obviously, magma is no longer intruding at the former depth, and so there’s no uplift, which means that the immediate threat of an eruption has decreased; there won’t be an eruption any time soon,” Þorvaldur stated.

“Not this summer?” RÚV reporter Hólmfríður Dagný Friðjónsdóttir inquired.

“I wouldn’t think so. I certainly don’t hope so.”

Minister to Meet with CEO Vigdís Häsler in Wake of Racist Remark

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson will meet with CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association Vigdís Häsler today to discuss a racist remark made by the Minister at the association’s annual conference last week. Vigdís hopes the meeting will allow her to “set the matter aside,” RÚV reports.

Words spoken in a “fit of frustration”

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this week, Minister of Infrastructure and Chairman of the Progressive Party Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson attended the annual conference of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association last week. 

After a night of “much singing, joy, and entertainment,” a few employees of the Farmers’ Association approached the Minister, asking him to partake in a photo-op. The photo-op involved lifting CEO Vigdís Häsler onto a makeshift plank. Finding the act inappropriate, the Minister refused to participate and uttered a racist remark about the CEO. (Vigdís is Icelandic but was originally adopted from Indonesia.)

Vigdís published a Facebook post on the incident on Monday, saying that she had “never imagined she would have to write such a statement: I’ve never let the colour of my skin, my race, sex, or anything else define me.” Vigdís wrote that the Minister had uttered an “extremely hurtful remark,” without getting into the details.

Shortly after Vigdís’ post, Sigurður Ingi published a written apology on Facebook. In an interview with RÚV on Tuesday, the Minister again apologised for his remark, adding that it had been spoken in a “fit of frustration.” According to Sigurður, he had tried to reach out to Vigdís on the morning after the annual conference and through the Association’s Chair on the following weekend. While pressed several times to clarify what exactly he had said, the Minister refused to repeat his remark.

Hopes to “set the matter aside”

As reported by RÚV last night, Sigurður Ingi will meet with Vigdís Häsler today. Vigdís hopes that she will be able to “set the matter aside” after the meeting, although closure will depend entirely on Sigurður Ingi. 

In a brief interview, Vigdís stated that she had received “numerous messages over the past few days,” from the parents of adopted children, among others, in which it became clear to her that “all types of racism are widely tolerated.” She did not comment further on the meeting. 

Harsh criticism from the opposition, the public

The Minister has received harsh criticism from the public, many of whom have called on him to resign. Opposition MPs have also criticised Sigurður Ingi. In a session in Parliament, Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen stated that the Minister’s remark could be considered “a breach of law.”

In response to the opposition, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Sigurður Ingi’s apology indicated that the remark had been unacceptable and should not have been uttered. “I don’t dispute the words of the CEO of the Icelandic Farmers’ Association in this matter, but we must also be able to accept it when people apologise,” Katrín stated.