Proposes Stricter Guidelines for Appointing Ambassadors

Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Ambassador positions will be advertised more publicly and criteria for their appointment tightened if amendments proposed by the Foreign Affairs Minister are implemented. The proposed changes include capping the number of ambassadors at 30, outlining the jobs’ requirements in law, and making advertising of the positions mandatory.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson says the proposed changes to the Foreign Service Act would rectify the shortcomings of the current process used to appoint Iceland’s ambassadors. “These changes ensure the necessary balance between firmness and flexibility within the foreign service, as knowledge and experience of international affairs form the core without missing the opportunity to also utilise the talents and experience of individuals from other areas of society,” Guðlaugur stated in an interview with Morgunblaðið. He added that the amendments would also promote equal rights, increasing opportunities for women within the foreign service.

Guðlaugur has not appointed any new ambassadors since he took office as Foreign Minister in January of 2017. In that time, their number has decreased from 40 to 36.

In November 2018, the recorded conversation of six MPs at a bar in downtown Reykjavík, which later became known as the Klaustur scandal, revealed that Former Prime Minister Geir Haarde was appointed to an ambassadorial position as a political favour. Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, who appointed Geir to the position, also stated that he appointed his cousin Árni Þór Sigurðsson as a distraction from the former appointment.

Currently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is permitted to appoint ambassadors without advertising their positions publicly. That would change in most cases if the amendments are passed.

Preschool Staff, Street Cleaners Vote On Strike

preschool children

A strike vote among Efling Union members working for the City of Reykjavík begins today. Around 1,800 employees of the City of Reykjavík work under Efling’s collective agreements, RÚV reports. Over 1,000 of them work at preschools, 710 in the caretaking division of the city’s Welfare Department, and around 140 in various jobs within its Environmental and Planning Department. Preschool teachers and street cleaners would be among those who strike.

Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir told RÚV that 10 months of negotiation with the City have not gone well. Sólveig criticised the City’s negotiators for illegally disclosing the content of negotiations to the press, thus violating the confidentiality of the meetings. She described the atmosphere of meetings as undignified and disrespectful toward Efling and its members.

“I mean who in this city, or just in this country, can imagine this society without for example the preschools being open? And who works in these preschools, who keeps them running? It’s my union members, the people of Efling, the people of this city,” Sólveig stated.

Union members have from noon today until noon on Sunday to vote on whether to strike. If approved, strike actions would begin on February 4.

Higher wages, not fewer hours

One of Efling’s proposals for the new contract is shortening the working week for preschool employees. Not everyone agrees, however, that a shorter workweek is the best way to address working conditions in preschools. In a group letter published by Kjarninn, 15 women argue that decreasing hours at preschools would increase women’s childcare burden, affecting their participation in the labour market. The action that’s needed, they assert, is to raise the low wages in the profession.

Samtökin ’78 Receives ISK 15 Million for Outreach and Education

The Icelandic government has signed an agreement with Samtökin ’78, Iceland’s LGBTQ Association, earmarking ISK 15 million [$124,709; €109,968] for expanded education, services, and consulting related to LGBTQ issues. Vísir reports that the agreement, which will be in effect for one year starting February 15, was signed on Thursday by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Samtökin’s chair, María Helga Guðmundsdóttir.

Samtökin’s ‘78’s funding has been increased from the ISK 12 million [$99,767; €87,974] it received in 2018. (That year, its funding was actually doubled from what it received in 2017.) The new agreement stipulates that Samtökin’s funded projects will be carried out in close collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Office of Equal Rights. At the same time it announced its agreement with Samtökin ’78, the government also announced a similar arrangement with the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, which will receive state funding in the amount of ISK 10 million [$83,139; €73,312] in the coming year.

The additional funding to Samtökin ’78 is intended to promote an LGBTQ-friendly society and increase the visibility of the LGBTQ population in Iceland. Funded services will be aimed at people in the LGBTQ community and their loved ones, as well as public service professionals, i.e. people working in the government and schools.

Under the terms of the agreement, Samtökin ’78 will be responsible for yearly meetings with educators who teach gender, equality, and LGBTQ studies at all levels; annual meetings with elected officials and public policy experts who are working on equality and LGBTQ issues; establishing international collaborations with sister organizations in the Nordic countries; and participation in the annual Congress on Gender.

The Icelandic government has placed a great deal of emphasis on equality issues and per its policy statement, aims to ensure that Iceland is on the vanguard of LGBTQ issues. The Prime Minister’s Office is currently working on a number of policies related to LGBTQ issues, including a pending bill on sexual autonomy.

President Invests 14 with Order of the Falcon

Order of the Falcon

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson invested 14 Icelanders with the Order of the Falcon yesterday for their contributions to Icelandic culture and society. RÚV reported first. Among the group were pop star Páll Óskar and comedian and entertainer Þórhallur Sigurðsson, known as Laddi.

The President of Iceland invests Icelandic citizens with the Order of the Falcon twice a year, on January 1 and June 17. A list of the individuals who received the recognition yesterday follows.

  1. Agnes Anna Sigurðardóttir Managing Director, for contributions to the development of business in her local community of Dalvík.
  2. Árni Magnússon, former school principal, for contributions to school and social issues.
  3. Professor Björg Thorarensen, for teaching and research in the field of law.
  4. CEO Georg Lárusson, for public service.
  5. Guðríður Ólafs Ólafíudóttir, former chairperson of Sjálfsbjargar, for contributions to welfare and humanitarian affairs.
  6. Archaeologist Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir, for contributions to archaeological research.
  7. Haraldur Briem, former Chief Epidemiologist, for contributions to public health and healthcare.
  8. Kristín Aðalsteinsdóttir former professor, for contributions to pedagogy.
  9. Margrét Frímannsdóttir, former member of parliament, for public service.
  10. Musician Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson, for contributions to Icelandic music and equality issues.
  11. Supreme Court Attorney Ragnar Aðalsteinsson, for contributions to human rights and rights activism.
  12. Tómas Knútsson, mechanical engineer and founder of the “Blue Army,” for contributions to environmental conservation.
  13. Filmmaker Valdís Óskarsdóttir, for contributions to Icelandic and international filmmaking.
  14. Actor and musician Þórhallur Sigurðsson, for contributions to Icelandic culture.