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.

Icelandic Police Bill to Boost Surveillance Powers

police station reykjavík

Icelandic police would be given increased powers of surveillance if a bill proposed by Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir is passed. RÚV reports that Guðrún introduced the bill in Parliament yesterday. Opposition MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir believes the power the bill grants police is too extensive.

The aim of the bill is to strengthen the police’s ability to respond to organised crime and to give it the authority to monitor individuals who have not committed a crime. To have this authority, there must be a suspicion that an individual is connected to criminal organisations and could potentially commit a serious offence.

The bill would grant police the right to carry out such surveillance in public places, but not within private homes. The police would not need a court order to carry out such surveillance, although a special steering group that includes police officials would have to approve the measure.  The Minister of Justice stated that the bill would bring Icelandic legislation closer to legislation in other Nordic countries.

No independent supervision of police

Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir criticised the bill for not including any independent supervision of police and the use of this surveillance permission. “What is being done here is that the police are being given authority to monitor ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong and even without any suspicion that the person has done anything wrong,” she stated. The Minister of Justice stated that the bill also includes increased supervision of police through establishing a monitoring group for police work and regular reports on the matter to Parliament.

Read More: Police Powers in Iceland

The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of the Independence Party, has been pushing for increased police powers for some time. In 2022, then Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson introduced a crime bill with similar measures to the bill Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced yesterday. It was criticised by the Icelandic Bar Association as well as opposition MPs.

“There are, of course, some conditions in the bill, but it gives the police authority to monitor people’s movements without they themselves being under suspicion of criminal conduct, whether or not they have committed a crime or are preparing to commit a crime,” Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association, stated at the time. He suggested that establishing a dedicated organisation such as an intelligence service would be a better way of investigating the most serious crimes, such as terrorism or organised crime.

Parliamentarian to Submit Bill on Use of AI

Björn Leví of the Pirate Party

Björn Leví Gunnarsson, an MP for the Pirate Party, says that Iceland urgently needs a law in place on the use of AI, RÚV reports. A bill on that subject will be submitted within the next few days.

A controversial skit

To illustrate the importance of such a law, Björn referred to a skit in the year-end sketch comedy show Áramótaskaupið which used the AI likeness of beloved entertainer Hermann Gunnarsson, who passed away in 2013. The choice was controversial, and sparked a broader discussion about the legal ramifications on the use of AI.

In addition, he cited how AI is already being used in the US and the UK to spread misinformation.

The future does not wait

“The future doesn’t actually care about the speed limits within politics, which drags its feet in all projects for years, tossing them back and forth between committees and workgroups while things are happening,” he said.

Björn emphasised that the matter cannot wait for the European Union or some committee or another to catch up with ever-changing technology.

“We need to make it clear that the re-use of material that one could presume is real, whether we’re talking about images, video, sound or other media, is not permitted without the express consent of the individual in question or their immediate associates if the individual is deceased,” Björn said. “We need to respond to this immediately.”

Such a law would be put into effect through Iceland’s existing law on copyrights, he added. Parliament can expect the bill within the next few days.

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%.

Proposal to Amend Surveillance Law Causes Tension Between Pirates and Socialists

City councillor Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir in City Hall by the Reykjavík city Pond

A proposal to change surveillance laws has been the occasion for some skirmishes between the Pirate and Socialist parties in City Hall. Vísir reports.

Council of Europe to be held in Reykjavík

Reykjavík City Council approved an agreement earlier this March between the City of Reykjavík, capital area police, and emergency services to increase surveillance cameras in downtown Reykjavík. The decision came in anticipation of the upcoming Council of Europe, to be held in Reykjavík May 16-17.

With some 46 nations party to the Council of Europe, Reykjavík will be hosting a number of delegates this May to discuss the War in Ukraine, human rights, and the security situation in Europe. Due to the number of delegates expected, the decision was made to increase security measures, especially surveillance cameras.

“Betraying their stance” on surveillance

Yesterday, March 21, an amendment to the recent surveillance bill was submitted to Reykjavík City Council by the Socialist Party, which would make the review of surveillance measures in Reykjavík an annual process. As it currently stands, surveillance measures in Reykjavík are only up for review every five years.

The Socialist Party has been the only opposition to this legislation, and now they are accusing the Pirate party of abandoning its stance on surveillance.

Pirates voted against the proposal

Magnús Davið Norðdahl, representative for the Pirate Party, presided over the submission of the amendment. Two other Pirate Party members voted against the proposal.

Now, representatives from the Socialist Party and saying that the Pirates have made a mistake in not approving the proposal.

Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir stated to Vísir: “It really surprises me. Having heard their policy, they have spoken out against this kind of surveillance before, so I find this very peculiar.”

Sanna also stated that further discussion will be needed to ensure that surveillance cameras do not violate personal privacy: “Having looked into the matter, there are a lot of them [cameras]. It’s surprising how many there are. I believe that we should instead get to the root of the problem in order to ensure safety in the city, that we then need to consider all kinds of factors that promote or actually reduce safety in the urban environment rather than having surveillance cameras. Surveillance is not going to ensure that we live in a safe society or feel that we live in a safe community.”

 

 

Pirate Filibuster of Controversial Immigration Bill Ends

parliament Alþingi

Pirate Party MPs have ceased their filibuster of Jón Gunnarsson’s controversial immigration bill.

After an agreement to shelve further discussion of Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill until after Christmas, parliament has resumed discussion for the sixth time. The bill is currently under discussion for the sixth time in Parliament, after it was shelved during the holidays, to be taken up in the new year. If passed into law, the bill would strip asylum seekers of their ability to seek social services 30 days after the rejection of their application. Concerns have also been raised about the rights of refugee children in the bill.

Read More: Immigration Bill Back on Parliamentary Agenda

The Pirate Party have been especially vocal in their opposition to the bill, having unsuccessfully attempted to have the bill dismissed from the parliamentary agenda. They have likewise called for an independent third party to review the bill and whether it conforms to constitutional law. Other critics of the bill have included major nonprofits and NGOs, including the Red Cross in Iceland, the Icelandic branch of Amnesty International, Association 78, UNICEF, and other major organisations.

Now, however, their recent filibuster of the bill has come to an end. An official statement from the Pirates reads: “Although the bill has received serious criticism from commentators, the ruling majority in parliament has decided to keep the issue as a priority at the expense of other issues, instead of listening to the criticism and reforming the bill or withdrawing it.” They further urged their fellow MPs to “protect the constitution.”

Read More: Human Rights Organisations Criticise Immigration Bill

Supporters of the bill have accused the Pirates of “taking Parliament hostage.” According to the Pirates, however, they only wanted to solicit further comment and discussion of the controversial bill.

In a statement to Vísir, Pirate MP Arndís Anna Kritínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir said: “We believe we have tried our best to provoke a democratic conversation, but the majority has not been willing to do so. If they consider the case to have been handled well enough, no one should have to fear an independent assessment of something as self-evident as whether the bill conforms to the provisions of the constitution.”

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.

Nearly 90,000 Firearms in Iceland

guns bullets

There were 76,680 firearms registered to 36,548 owners in Iceland as of January 1, RÚV reports. Taking into account lost, broken, seized, and exportable firearms, as well as weapons utilised by police and unsold inventory, the total firearm count is estimated at 87, 048.

The count comes as the Minister of Justice’s response to an inquiry from Pirate MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson concerning the importation and production of firearms in Iceland.

From 2012 to 2016, the number of imported firearms imported and produced in Iceland per year was between 1,300 – 1,500, but since 2017, that number has been increased to 2,200 – 2,600 per year.

Most imported firearms are registered to men, although between 2012 and 2021, between 22 and 69 women registered as the owner of imported firearms per year,  making women roughly 3-4% of registered owners. Twenty individuals own 2,052 weapons, which comes out to an average of 103 firearms per owner.

Read More: Does Iceland Have a Gun Problem?

Andrés’ inquiry was particularly interested in how many weapons that were produced by 3D printers police have confiscated. According to the Minister of Justice’s answer, only one firearm produced by 3D printer has been confiscated.

According to Icelandic police, legally obtained guns do not appear to be a source of crime, and the guns that have been used for illegal purposes in Iceland are mainly stolen and not purchased.

List of Candidates in Reykjavík Elections Becoming Clearer

iceland refugees

The list of candidates running for municipal elections in Reykjavík this spring is gradually becoming clearer. Women are set to form the majority of party leaders.

Women likely to form a majority

With two and a half months until municipal elections – and just over a month until the nomination deadline – it looks as if a minimum of nine candidates will be vying for the mayoral seat in Reykjavík, RÚV reports. The Social Democratic Alliance and the Pirate Party have already introduced their list of candidates, with Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson leading the former party and councillor Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir chairing the latter.

Two primary elections will be held in Reykjavík next week when the Left-Green Movement and the Reform Party will decide on their list of candidates. Three women will be vying for first place for the Left-Greens: meteorologist Elín Björk Jónasdóttir, councilwoman Líf Magneudóttir, and substitute city councillor Elín Oddný Sigurðardóttir. Þórdís Jóna Sigurðardóttir and Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir will hope to lead the Reform Party

Former anchorman to lead the Progressives?

The Progressive Party will be holding a constituency congress in Reykjavík on March 10 to introduce its list of candidates. It is widely believed that former RÚV anchor and journalist Einar Þorsteinsson will be leading the party. Handballer Björgvin Páll Gústavsson has announced that he will not be seeking first place.

Primary elections for the Independence Party in Reykjavík will be held on March 18 and 19. A new leader will be elected given that Eyþór Laxdal Arnalds has decided to step aside. Substitute councilwoman Ragnhildur Alda María Vilhjálmsdóttir will be running against councilwoman Hildur Björnsdóttir for chair.

The Centre Party will hold primary elections on March 26, where members will vote on its top three candidates. Councilwoman Vigdís Hauksdóttir will once again be running for chair.

The People’s Party has not announced when it will reveal its list of candidates. It will not hold primary elections, and councilwoman Kolbrún Baldursdóttir intends to hold onto first place. The same holds for the Socialist Party, where councilwoman Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir will lead the party.

This means that women will be leading seven out of the nine parties running in the municipal elections.

(Municipal elections will be held across the country on May 14, 2022. Both citizens of Iceland, as well as residents of Iceland who have lived in the country for five years or longer, can vote in municipal elections.)

New Minister of Justice and Assistant ‘Not to be Trusted’ with Women’s Issues, Critics Say

Halldóra Mogensen, MP for the Pirate Party, and Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Chairperson of the Reform Party, have expressed strong misgivings about the way in which incoming Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarssson and his newly appointed assistant, Independence Party MP Brynjar Níelsson, will handle issues related to the rights of women, RÚV reports. Jón has said that he will focus on reviewing the status and treatment of sexual offenses in Iceland, but both Jón and Brynjar’s voting record has been called into question, with Þorgerður Katrín saying that when it comes to “women’s liberation issues,” she does not trust either man’s politics.

Halldóra and Þorgerður Katrín’s critique cited Jón and Brynjar’s vote on a specific bill from 2019. The bill in question extended the window within which pregnant individuals are allowed to obtain an abortion for any reason to 22 weeks. Previously, abortions were only allowed after 16 weeks under specific circumstances. The abortion bill was presented by former Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir and passed in 2019 by a margin of 40 to 18. Both Brynjar and Jón voted against the bill.

“I find this strange,” said Halldóra. “I can’t imagine that the Left-Greens are very enthusiastic about this appointment either. Jón is taking on an enormous and important set of issues and he’s hiring an assistant who has, in the course of his entire parliamentary career, only submitted one parliamentary issue, he’s only submitted a single parliamentary issue, and that was the bill that revolved around imprisoning parents who restrict custody access. It says an incredible amount about a person’s politics I think it’s dangerous to know that these two men are going to work together to take on sexual violence issues and I don’t believe that properly addressing these issues is really in the cards.”

When asked if she trusted Jón and Brynjar on such issues as improving the position of victims of sexual offenses, Þorgerður Katrín responded: “No, not when it comes to these sorts of issues, although I’ve had good collaborations with Jón and Brynjar over the years. I’m fond of these men, I admit, but on the other hand, their politics cannot be overlooked when it comes, for instance, to women’s liberation issues. The abortion bill that Svandís put forward—who was it that did not support that? The Independence Party leadership, Jón Gunnarsson, Brynjar Níelsson. They voted against it.”

Pressure groups and activists have also been vocal in their displeasure at Brynjar’s appointment. For his part, however, Jón stuck by the decision, saying, “I’m not worried about this discussion, it isn’t bothering me. Much of what has been said is not worth responding to and not objective nor balanced. I let such things fall on deaf ears and don’t let them bother me. We’re going to let our actions speak.”