Year in Review 2019: Politics

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir meets with US Vice President Mike Pence.

The political scene in Iceland in 2019 was chaotic like it most often is. Even though the political scene isn’t large by any means, with 63 MPs in the Icelandic Parliament and 23 seats in the Reykjavík City Council, the close quarters lead to intense fighting. Often, the only saving grace for Icelandic politicians is the fact that Icelanders move on to the ‘next scandal’ extremely quickly. Yesterday’s news becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of days. That’s why we have a recap such as this one. From Eurovision scandals and Mike Pence’s controversial visit to nefarious Namibian dealings, and everything between. Step into the tumultuous political scene in Iceland with us.

Fallout from Klaustur

The year started with the fallout from the Klaustur Scandal, where six MPs made sexist, ableist, and homophobic remarks about their colleagues at the Klaustur bar in downtown Reykjavík. Even though the scandal took place in 2018, the case rattled Icelanders so that ripples were felt through the new year. The court case of whistle-blower Bára Halldórsdóttir came to an end as Miðflokkur (The Central Party) MPs had charged her for invasion of privacy. Bára was made to delete the recordings. Meanwhile, The Central Party became the second-largest party in Iceland, polling at 14.8% of voters in October.

Third Energy Package

The Third Energy Package sounds like something you would guzzle down while running a marathon, but it’s anything but. The matter split opinions at the beginning of the year as politicians and the public alike debated it hotly. The Third Energy Package was approved by the EU in 2009, and was to be adopted by EU and EEA member states. Ten years later, Iceland was the only country not to have approved the package. Many believed Iceland would give up a part of its sovereignty, and force Iceland to build up a power link to the EU. Eventually, the package was approved in September by a Parliamentary vote of 46 to 13.

Strikes, strikes, strikes

The gap between the lowest and highest earners of society has led to wage disputes and strikes. The spring of 2019 saw tourism industry workers strike for higher wages, with hotel staff striking and bus drivers following in their wake. Later in 2019, journalists striked to demand fair wages. That debate is currently still ongoing, but newspaper Morgunblaðið saw it fit to have part-time staff members violate the strike as well as laying off fifteen journalists.

On a happier, yet still, somewhat grim, note – the youth in Iceland took part in the global youth climate strike movement led by Greta Thunberg. Minister of Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with protesters.

Flags and dishwashing brushes

Anti-capitalist, BDSM wearing, industrial techno band Hatari represented Iceland at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Israel and managed to stir the pot. Band members held up banners bearing the Palestinian flag during the revelation of the votes, much to the displeasure of Israeli officials. Eventually, national broadcaster RÚV received a fine and the flag-scene was removed from the official Eurovision DV.

In June, a dishwashing brush and an airport wait strained the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Iceland. A Belgian man stuck a dishwashing brush in star players’ Emre Belozoglu’s face like a microphone while he was being interviewed by reporters. This happened following an unusually long wait at the airport. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note to Iceland denouncing what it is calling “disrespectful” and “violent” behaviour against the country’s men’s national football team. Iceland won 2-0, but Turkey has not lost a single match since then.

Bills, bills, bills.

Bills, bills, bills is not only a Destiny’s Child song but also what the Parliament started to approved in droves in the spring- and summertime. A new plan was approved to build up tourism infrastructure, while a plan to ban single-use plastics was approved, a widely supported move.

In May, the Government passed an abortion bill which legalises the termination of a pregnancy within the first 22 weeks regardless of circumstances. Abortion was previously legal within the same timeframe, however, a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy after the 16th week required approval by a committee. That decision is now solely in the hands of the pregnant person.

This June, the Directorate of Health proposed a sugar tax on soft drinks and sweets to work towards long term goals in public health. The Icelandic Dentist’s Association has yet to release a statement on the matter. Later that summer, calls for stricter regulations on foreign land ownership started to rear their head. It’s an oft and long-discussed subject which appears to be stuck in political purgatory. But what should be done, and who’s land is it anyway?

USA – Iceland and Mike Pence

This summer, the Iceland – USA relationship was a hot talking point. US military presence is returning to Iceland, as the US Air Force and US Navy will construct facilities at Keflavík airport. The Air Force had facilities there from 1946 to 2006 and is going to spend ISK 7 billion ($56.2 million/€49.5 million) on military infrastructure. Meanwhile, Iceland increased its defence budget by 37%, due to “…increasing temporary presence of NATO forces at Keflavík Airport due to worsening security conditions in Europe, including in the North Atlantic.”

Vice President’s Mike Pence’s official visit to Iceland in August hit the news. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir originally intended to miss the meeting due to commitments at the convention of Nordic trade unions. Eventually, Pence extended his stay to speak to Katrín about Arctic issues as well as defence matters. His visit was controversial and proved to somewhat unpopular with road closures, high cost and last but not least it was protested by numerous organizations due to his pro-war and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

Deportations debated

The public has called for the government to make major improvements to the handling of asylum seekers in Iceland. In August, authorities’ handling of two Afghan families seeking asylum in Iceland were heavily criticized. Later, in November, the Directorate of Immigration deported an asylum seeker who was just shy of 36 weeks pregnant. Both cases were met with outrage, as they were considered inhumane.

Move the clock – or not?

Few issues have garnered as much attention – and feedback – as the contentious suggestion to move the Icelandic clock back one hour to better align with solar time. Should Iceland move the clock?

Fishrot Files

Last but not least are the Fishrot Files. Icelandic fishing company Samherji is accused of tax evasion and bribery in Namibia to ensure access to fishing quotas in the country. Samherji is one of Iceland’s biggest companies and the fallout has been according to that. The government issued additional funding to investigate Samherji’s wrongdoings, and Icelandic tax authorities have opened an investigation into the case. Namibian ministers have resigned, as well as the CEO of Samherji. The case is still being resolved.

US Considering Free Trade Agreement With Iceland

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice president Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.

The Trump administration is considering a free trade agreement with Iceland, Axios reports. This comes on the heels of Vice President Mike Pence’s Iceland visit, during which Pence warned Iceland not to rely on Chinese technology and praised their decision not to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, although no such decision had been made.

According to the Axios report, it isn’t Iceland’s economy that’s tempting the Washington leaders, but the country’s strategic location. The President’s national security team has apparently emphasised the importance of investing in the region. The idea of a trade agreement was floated at a Senate GOP lunch last Tuesday, according to Axios, where Pence reportedly told those in attendance that a working group was exploring a deal and that he was “amenable” to the idea. Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson has made no secret of his wish for a free trade agreement with the US.

According to Axios, the intention of the trade agreement would be to encourage an alliance with the US, instead of Iceland building relationships with Russia and China. Iceland has had a free trade agreement with China since 2014 and when Vice President Pence congratulated Iceland on not participating in the Belt and Road initiative, both the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs quickly corrected him, stating that while Iceland hadn’t yet agreed to participate, no decision to decline participation had been made. China’s Ambassador to Iceland Jin Zhijian has called the Vice President’s comments on the Belt and Road Initiative and Huawei “malicious slander” and “fake news.”

Pence Focused on Business and Defence During Iceland Visit

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir meets with US Vice President Mike Pence.

US Vice President Mike Pence met with President of Iceland Guðni Th Jóhannesson, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Reykjavík City Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson, and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir during his first visit to Iceland yesterday. Before continuing his journey to the UK, Pence also attended a U.S.-Iceland Trade and Investment Roundtable and inspected the Keflavík airbase.

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson arrives at Höfði house to meet with US vice president Mike Pence on a bicycle
[/media-credit] Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson arrives at Höfði house to meet with US vice president Mike Pence on a bicycle.

Traffic delays and road closures

Police warned of temporary traffic delays due to road closures in connection with Pence’s visit. Locals were annoyed with the traffic disturbances but more perturbed by the heavily weaponised security detail Pence’s visit required, most notably the snipers visible on the top of surrounding buildings.

Roads were only closed to cars so pedestrians and bicyclists could move unhindered. Due to the road closures, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson arrived at the meeting at the historic Höfði house on a bicycle and had a hard time convincing security officials that he was, indeed, the mayor. “I’ve never seen a mayor on a bike,” said a sceptic head of security. “There’s a first time for everything,” was the mayor’s answer.

Icelandic officials discuss business, defence, climate change, and equality with Pence

At Höfði, Pence met with President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid. A former historian, the President told Pence about the history of the house, which was the location of the 1986 meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. He also told the Vice President that “I hope you will enjoy your stay.  And I hope that you will get a sense of how we value a strong and healthy relationship with the U.S. and that you will also get a sense of the values we cherish here: freedom, diversity, international cooperation, respect for each other.” Pence mentioned that he was thankful for the presence of the US forces in Iceland at a time when China and Russia were increasingly active across the Arctic. Guðni’s reply was, “And we must try to avoid at all cost some kind of scramble for the Arctic, and we will work together there, and look back on history and look forward to the future.”

Mike Pence & Guðni Th. Jóhannesson
[/media-credit] Mike Pence & Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at Höfði House.

Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór and Pence conducted a U.S.-Iceland Trade and Investment Roundtable. In his official remarks, Guðlaugur told the Vice President that it was “no secret that I would like to explore the possibility of a free trade agreement with the United States.” Pence acknowledged that this meeting could be the first step in establishing such a deal but also stressed Iceland and the US’s defence cooperation and Iceland’s status as a founding member of NATO.

Addressing the press, Pence expressed his concerns about China and Russia’s increased activity in the region, congratulating Iceland on rejecting China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure investment project. While Iceland hasn’t agreed to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, no decision to formally decline participation has been taken. This was later confirmed by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who called Pence’s comment “not exactly accurate.” Pence furthermore warned Icelanders to reject the technology of Chinese company Huawei. He stated: “Huawei is essentially a Chinese company that, under Chinese law, is required to turn over all of the data that it collects to the Chinese government and the Communist Party.” Icelandic telecommunication company Nova relies heavily on Huawei technology.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice president Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.
[/media-credit] Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice President Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.

Pence met with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Keflavík. The meeting took place shortly after Katrín arrived from abroad, and as previously reported, scheduling conflicts made it difficult to find time for the meeting in the first place. In their opening remarks, Pence once again reiterated Iceland’s business relations as well as their desire for continuing security cooperation. Katrín added that she would want to discuss the climate crisis and gender equality, what she called the core of the government program. She told Kastljós later that day that gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights were a key component of the government’s policy and that there was no secret that she and the Vice President had different political viewpoints. Katrín emphasised that Iceland’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council would put climate issues in the spotlight. She also stated that it was important to keep the Arctic as peaceful as possible, because she was of the opinion that “the climate danger was the biggest threat to the area by far.” According to Katrín, the other big issue what was discussed was defence matters but that nothing was discussed that wasn’t already planned.

Protests

Vice president Pence is known for his controversial conservative stances on issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, and local opposition to his presence was evident. Early in the day, news broke that two people had been arrested for burning the US flag across the street from Höfði House. They were detained for a while and released later that day.

On a more colourful note, Reykjavík locals made their views on Pence’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues clear. Several companies and municipal government offices surrounding Höfði and in other locations around the city centre raised rainbow flags to indicate their support for LGBT+ rights.

Rainbow flags HöfðiGolli.

Protesters gathered at Austurvöllur square later that day to protest Pence’s views on LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, as well as US immigration policies and military influence. The protesters’ slogan was“Let’s stand together in peace, freedom, and a green future,” and was co-organised by over a dozen local activist groups.

Sending a message to China

Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir, associate professor in international communication at the political science faculty of the University of Iceland stated to RÚV that China’s increased focus on the Arctic has made this area and the connection to Iceland more important to the US government, citing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit in February and Vice President Pence’s visit as evidence. According to her, US security interest weighed heavier than business affairs. Russian military activity in the Arctic is not what it once was, but China is focusing on the Arctic as trade routes open up due to climate change.

“Perhaps the US has some inkling that China is increasing its activity or this could be a preventative measure to make sure Chinese influence won’t take hold here.” According to Silja, Pence’s comment that Iceland had already declined participation in the Belt and Road Initiative could be seen as the US stating their will that Iceland stear clear of Chinese investment.

According to Albert Jónsson, expert in international relations, Mike Pence’s visit is a signal to China that this part of the world is under US influence. “I think this is mostly about sending a message to China. And it’s connected to the US policy in their increasing competition with China, a rising international superpower. Russia is included, but their activity in the Arctic is a known figure and has been for decades.”

Road Closures Due to Pence Visit

Höfði House

There will be several road closures in Reykjavík and on the Suðurnes peninsula due to the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence today. Reykjavík Capital Area Police underline that the closures apply to vehicular traffic only: pedestrians and cyclists will be able to travel on the roads outside fenced-off areas.

Reykjavík

Closures in Reykjavík will include the following streets:

-Katrínartún will close from around 9.00am between Sæbraut and Borgartún.

-From around 11.00am, Borgartún will close between Katrínartún and Nóatún.

-Sæbraut will be partially and later fully closed to traffic starting around 1.00pm, between Krínglumýrarbraut and Snorrabraut.

Closures are expected to stand until late afternoon, or around 5.00pm.

Reykjanesbraut

Reykjanesbraut (Route 41) will be closed to all eastbound traffic at the arrival of Pence and his escort, and to all westbound traffic at their departure. Exact timing of the closures is not known, but they will be implemented five minutes before the escort’s arrival and last until five minutes after the escort enters the road. The closure is not expected to exceed a period of 20 minutes.

Temporary traffic delays are expected elsewhere in Reykjavík and the Suðurnes peninsula due to the visit. Travellers are asked to show patience and consideration.

Band Together to Protest Pence

Pence Protest

Eleven organisations have banded together to hold a public protest on the occasion of US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Iceland, Vísir reports. Pence is expected for an official visit to the country tomorrow, where he will meet with Iceland’s Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, among other officials. Protest organisers say they felt compelled to create a platform for locals to express their views on the Trump administration’s policies.

Iceland’s Anti-War Association (Samtök hernaðarandstæðinga), The National Queer Organisation of Iceland, Trans Ísland, The Icelandic Feminist Association (Femínistafélag Íslands), and The Culture and Peace Association (MFÍK), are just a few of the organisations banding together to protest Pence’s visit and policies. The youth wings of the Social Democratic Alliance, Pirate Party, and Left Green Movement are also behind the protest. The Left Green Movement youth wing’s participation is of particular note, as the party’s chairperson and current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is one of the officials scheduled to meet with Pence tomorrow.

Focus on military ominous

Guttormur Þorsteinsson, chairman of Iceland’s Anti-War Association, says the protest is intended to send a clear message to both the Icelandic and US governments. He believes military matters will be a focus of Pence’s visit. “All this military preparation that’s been here in Keflavík, bomber aircraft, construction, and such, I think suggests that there is some emphasis in the US government on increased mobilisation here in the Arctic and then trying to get Iceland into that, which we of course find to be a very ominous development,” Guttormur stated.

The event is not only intended for anti-war activists, however. Pence has been a vocal campaigner against the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The Vice President, who has described himself as a “Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” once called gay couples a signal of “societal collapse.”

“There are so many things you can disagree with him on,” Guttormur asserted. “LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights, environmental issues, refugee issues; basically everything this man stands for.”

The protest is scheduled to take place in Austurvöllur, the Parliament square, at 5.30pm tomorrow, September 4.

Prime Minister Katrín to Meet with Mike Pence on Wednesday

US Vice President Mike Pence.

US Vice President Mike Pence can look forward to a meeting with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir on his official visit to the country this week, RÚV reports. Katrín was expected to miss Pence due to her attendance at a convention of Nordic trade unions in Malmö, Sweden. This lack of a meeting attracted attention in Iceland and abroad, with some accusing the Icelandic Prime Minister of intentionally shunning the meeting.

Katrín firmly dispelled such rumours in an interview yesterday on Icelandic television. “US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came here and we had a good meeting earlier this year. Where I actually discussed Artic issues, and climate issues in particular, and my particular concern, nuclear disarmament, which I actually discussed with Donald Trump himself at a NATO meeting last year,” she stated, adding that her approach to international relations has never been to “only speak to those one agrees with, as I wouldn’t speak to many people that way.”

Meetings focus on national security

According to Reuters’ sources, Pence’s meetings with Icelandic officials are expected to be “national-security focused,” with the US Vice President planning to discuss “incursions” into the Arctic Circle by Russia and China. It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion ($56m/€50m). The construction will ensure facilities to operate 18 to 24 fighter jets from Iceland.

Katrín concerned about military presence

Katrín expressed her concern at increased mobilisation in the Arctic in yesterday’s interview. “I worry about this increased mobilisation no matter where it comes from. It’s not just about the United States but also Russia and China because I don’t think this is the way to peaceful relations,” Katrín stated. “It’s a particular concern when the largest threat we face is not of the military kind, rather climate change.”

Katrín and Pence will meet on Wednesday evening. Pence will also meet with President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson during his visit.

Mike Pence to Discuss Russia and China’s “Incursions” Into Arctic on Official Visit

US Vice President Mike Pence.

US Vice President Mike Pence visits Iceland next week, where he plans to discuss “incursions” into the Arctic Circle by Russia and China, Reuters reports. The media outlet quotes an anonymous source from within the Trump administration who said part of Pence’s official talks in the country will be “national security-focused.”

Pence begins a trip next week which will take him to Iceland, England, and Ireland. In London he will meet with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where the two are expected to discuss Brexit. In Ireland, Pence will meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, as well as making a side trip to Shannon for events celebrating his Irish heritage.

According to the press release on the White House website, Pence has planned to “highlight Iceland’s strategic importance in the Arctic, NATO’s efforts to counter Russian aggression in the region, and opportunities to expand mutual trade and investment” during his visit.

It is not clear whether Pence will meet with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir during his time in the country. Katrín originally announced she would be missing her planned meeting with the US official in favour of attending a convention of Nordic trade unions in Malmö, Sweden. Following a meeting between Katrín and the US Ambassador to Iceland, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that she was willing to find another time to meet with Pence.

Prime Minister Willing to Meet with Mike Pence

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is willing to meet with American Vice President Mike Pence during his official visit to Iceland in early September, Vísir reports. This confirmation comes after a previous announcement that Katrín would be missing the meeting in favour of attending the convention of Nordic trade unions in Malmö, where she has been invited to be the keynote speaker.

According to the press release on the White House website, Pence has planned to “highlight Iceland’s strategic importance in the Arctic, NATO’s efforts to counter Russian aggression in the region, and opportunities to expand mutual trade and investment” during his visit. Katrín’s announcement that she would be skipping the meeting drew a great deal of attention both within Iceland and abroad.

Scheduling difficulties

At home, it was speculated that the decision was a veiled critique of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Independence Party MP Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson’s failure to disclose that one of the main reasons for the visit was to discuss the geographical importance of Iceland in relation to the Arctic. Abroad, foreign publications debated whether the decision should be interpreted as a snub in light of President Trump’s recent cancelled trip to Denmark after the Nordic nation indicated that it was not interested in selling Greenland to the United States.

Katrín brushed off all of these speculations, noting that “[i]t was already known that I was offered to be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Nordic trade unions a long time ago…It’s also been clear that the visit, which was planned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been moving back and forth on the calendar so it has been difficult to plan around it.” Moreover, she noted that she has previously met with a number of US officials and that Pence would, at any rate, be received by other top officials in Iceland during his trip.

“I had a good meeting with Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State, earlier this year,” she recalled in an interview with RÚV, “and likewise had a conversation with Donald Trump at a NATO meeting last year. I can assure everyone that when Mike Pence arrives in Iceland – I just hope the date is final now – that he will meet with Iceland’s finest leaders.”

Change of plans

The Prime Minister’s public relations officer Lára Björg Björnsdóttir announced Katrín’s willingness to find a new time after the Prime Minister had a meeting with the new American ambassador to Iceland, Jeffrey Ross Gunther, on Friday. The meeting, considered a courtesy visit following Jeffrey’s recent appointment, had been planned long before any of the furor over Pence’s visit began.

During the meeting, Jeffrey reintroduced the possibility that the Vice President might be able to meet with Katrín if he extended his stay in the country before continuing on to the UK and Ireland. Katrín said that she would be open to this if a suitable time could be found.

Katrín’s keynote speech at the Nordic Trade Union Conference will take place on September 3. The conference itself continues until September 5, but Katrín will return to Iceland on September 4.

PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir to Miss Meeting With Pence

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will be attending the convention of Nordic trade unions when the official visit of USA vice president Mike Pence takes place. Katrín will hold the keynote speech at the convention while Pence’s visit is scheduled for September 2. Pence will stop in Reykjavík before heading to the United Kingdom and Ireland. His visit will focus on the geographical importance of Iceland in regards to the Arctic. Pence will also place emphasis on NATO operations to quell Russian activity in the area, as well as fostering and strengthening the business and investment relationship between Iceland and the USA.

“It was already known that I was offered to be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Nordic trade unions a long time ago, and like everyone knows I’ve never been one to shy away from labour market matters. It’s also been clear that the visit, which was planned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been moving back and forth on the calendar so it has been difficult to plan around it,” Katrín said in an interview with RÚV.

Criticised visit
Opposition leaders have criticized Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson from the Independence Party, as he did not disclose that one of the main reasons for the visit was to discuss the geographical importance of Iceland in relation to the Arctic. Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, an MP from the eco-socialist Vinstri Græn, stated that the matter is unfortunate for the party. Rósa is a party colleague of Katrín. Furthermore, LGBTQ organization Samtökin 78 had criticized Pence’s visit on the grounds that his rhetoric and actions are anti-LGBTQ.

Katrín stated that her absence from the meeting has nothing do with the criticism. “No, not at all. However, we have a lot of projects to tend to. I had a good meeting with Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State, earlier this year and likewise had a conversation with Donald Trump at a NATO meeting last year. I can assure everyone that when Mike Pence arrives in Iceland – I just hope the date is final now – that he will meet with Iceland’s finest leaders,” Katrín stated matter-of-factly.

When asked if it would have been expected that Katrín re-schedule for the VP, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór had previously stated that he sees nothing wrong with Katrín’s absence. “It’s not always easy to [re-schedule], so I believe there is no reason to make it seem suspicious that she has other plans which were decided long in advance.”

USA to invest in Iceland
It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion (€50m, $56m). The construction means that the US Air Force has facilities to operate two fighter squadrons at all times, ensuring that there are 18 to 24 fighter jets ready for operation. It is believed that this is to increase submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Along with this, Icelandic authorities will invest ISK 300 million (€2.1m, $2.4m) for maintenance of NATO facilities at Keflavík airport. Iceland was a founding member of NATO in 1949.

Impending Mike Pence Visit Criticized by LGBTQ Organization

The impending visit of USA Vice President Mike Pence has been criticized by the director of LGBTQ organization Samtökin 78. Samtökin 78 president Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir penned an op-ed in online news outlet Vísir.is titled “Not a chance, Mike Pence”, in which she criticized Mike Pence’s history of hate speech and actions against LGBTQ people. Þorbjörg called for Icelandic authorities to reconsider their stance on Pence’s visit, as it is disrespectful towards LGBTQ people in Iceland.

USA-Iceland relationship strengthens
The White House has confirmed that Mike Pence will arrive in Iceland on September 3 for an official visit, before heading to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Pence’s visit will focus on the geographical importance of Iceland in regards to the Arctic. Pence will also place emphasis on NATO operations to quell Russian activity in the area, as well as fostering and strengthening the business and investment relationship between Iceland and the USA.

It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion (€50m, $56m). The construction means that the US Air Force has facilities to operate two fighter squadrons at all times, ensuring that there are 18 to 24 fighter jets ready for operation. It is believed that this is to increase submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Along with this, Icelandic authorities will invest ISK 300 million (€2.1m, $2.4m) for maintenance of NATO facilities at Keflavík airport. Iceland was a founding member of NATO in 1949.

A VP against queers?
Samtökin 78 have taken a clear stance against the official visit. According to Þorbjörg, Pence has more or less spent his whole political career working against queer rights. “Mike Pence is against our marriages. He was so wholeheartedly against them that in 2013, he signed laws as the governor of Indiana which made it a criminal offence to apply for a marriage certificate.” Þorbjörg also mentions actions such as Pence having signed a law in 2015 which allowed for discrimination of LGBTQ people based on religious opinions, criticizing laws intended to protect LGBTQ people from hate-crimes, as well publishing articles as editor of Indiana Policy Review encouraging businesses to not hire LGBTQ people. Furthermore, Mike Pence sat on the board of the Indiana Family Institute which recommends de-gaying. “Now the government of Iceland intends to receive Mike Pence, and talk courteously with him about business alliances and in doing so strengthening the alliance with USA. All such plans are disrespectful to the LBTQ people in Iceland. We will not sit quietly over the fact that he is invited to the country. Not a chance,” the article ended. The whole of Þorbjörg’s op-ed can be found here: https://www.visir.is/g/2019190819906

Previously, queer figure skater Adam Rippon criticized the fact that Mike Pence was to represent American authorities in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeochang. Currently, the 20th anniversary of Reykjavík Pride festival is taking place, ending on August 17.