Coalition’s Strength to Be Tested by Vote of No Confidence

Inga Sæland, leader of the People's Party

Inga Sæland, leader of the People’s Party, will submit a motion of no confidence directed at the coalition government next week. The cabinet of the Independence Party, the Progressive Party, and the Left-Green Movement was reshuffled last week following Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s announcement that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to run for president.

“We’re planning a motion of no confidence against the government as a whole,” Inga told Mbl.is. “There are three ministers in this cabinet who are particularly skilled at evading the law in this country.”

Motion against Svandís on hold

Inga has discussed the matter with the other opposition parties in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament. Following meetings of the parliamentary groups on Monday afternoon it should become clearer whether Inga’s motion will have broader support.

Inga had pledged to submit such a motion against Svandís Svavarsdóttir before a reshuffling of the cabinet last week that saw Svandís move from the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries to the ministry of infrastructure. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that Svandís had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily stopped the whaling season last summer. Inga said it was unclear if she could refile the motion with Svandís now at a different ministry.

Bjarni under fire

The other two ministers Inga mentioned are Bjarni Benediktsson, the new prime minister and leader of the Independence Party, and Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, minister of social affairs and labour and interim leader of the Left-Green Movement. The Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded last year that Bjarni had not confirmed to guidelines as minister of finance during the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank. Nearly 40,000 people have signed an online petition expressing their lack of support for Bjarni’s leadership of the coalition government.

In Inga’s opinion, Guðmundur Ingi has broken his promise of establishing an office of an ombudsman for the elderly. “No opposition MP I’ve talked to has confidence in this coalition government,” Inga added.

No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Whales will not be hunted in Icelandic waters this summer, according to Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only whaling operation. “As it stands right now, we have no hope of whaling this summer,” he told Morgunblaðið.

Opposition from the Left-Greens

The company applied to the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries for a whaling license on January 30. The ministry has not responded and a new minister was appointed last week, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement. Her fellow party member, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, had been the previous minister and was set to face a vote of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, for temporarily stopping whaling last summer. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that her decision to stop whaling on animal welfare grounds had not been in accordance with the law.

“It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a license will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

Controversial practice

Kristján added that the ministry had only been willing to issue a license for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. The company has requested damages for the shortened whaling season of last summer.

Whaling remains a controversial practice in Iceland and is protested both domestically and abroad.

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.

Bjarni Returns as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the centre-right Independence Party, will become prime minister in the reshuffled coalition government following the departure of Katrín Jakobsdóttir from the office, RÚV reports.

Katrín announced last week that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to campaign for the office of president, with presidential elections scheduled for June 1. This threw the future of her party’s coalition with the Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party into uncertainty. A parliamentary election is scheduled for September next year, but the opposition has called for a snap election in light of these developments.

Bjarni’s return following privatisation scandal

At a press conference in Harpa concert and conference hall today, Bjarni announced that he would become prime minister. Bjarni was previously prime minister during a short-lived coalition in 2017 and finance minister for most of the period from 2013 to 2023. He resigned as finance minister in October of last year after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that his role in the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank, which had been nationalised after the 2008 banking collapse, had not confirmed to guidelines.

He became minister for foreign affairs instead, with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir becoming finance minister in his stead. Þórdís will now move back to the ministry for foreign affairs, where she served previously.

Embattled Svandís switches ministries

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, leader of the Progressive Party, will now become finance minister. Embattled Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who was set to face a motion of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this week, will become minister of infrastructure. In January, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily banned whale hunting last summer.

Her fellow Left-Green Movement MP, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, will take her place in the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries.

The changes will be formalised at a meeting of the cabinet with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at 7 PM tonight.

Minister to Face Vote of No Confidence

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, will face a vote of no confidence next week when Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, reconvenes after Easter break. Chairperson of the People’s Party, Inga Sæland, has announced that she will file the motion, Vísir reports.

Svandís returns from sick leave tomorrow. She announced on her Facebook page that she is feeling good following treatment for breast cancer that she was diagnosed with in January.

Previous motion withdrawn

Svandís was set to face a motion of no confidence when she went on sick leave in January, but Inga withdrew the motion in light of the circumstances. The Alþingi Ombudsman had concluded that Svandís’ decision last summer to temporarily stop whaling had not been in accordance with law. The CEO of Hvalur, Iceland’s only whale hunting company, had threatened to sue for damages due to last year’s shortened whaling season. She’s also faced criticism from MPs of the Independence Party, a government coalition partner of her party, the Left-Green Movement.

Controversial whaling decision

“The vote of no confidence is still pending, we’re just waiting for her to be present to defend it,” Inga said. She’s said that her motion is a result of Svandís breaking the law and has nothing to do with whaling as a practice, adding that Svandís had overreached when she temporarily stopped whaling.

The hunting of whales in Iceland remains a controversial practice and is the subject of protest both domestically and abroad.

Whaling Company Seeks 10-Year License

Whaling ships

Iceland’s only whaling operation, Hvalur hf., has applied for a license to hunt fin whales. The company is seeking a five to ten year license from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Heimildin reports, arguing that this would create “normal predictability” for the company’s operations.

No company has had an active whaling license since the beginning of the year. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded in January that Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir did not act in accordance with the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer. Svandís announced in June that she would postpone the start of whaling season due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Current law allows for whaling

Hvalur’s application was submitted at the end of January and the ministry is looking to process it as soon as possible. The company first received a whaling license in 1947 when a law on whaling was passed and has operated sporadically since. The law was passed “to secure the protection, development and maximum utilisation of the whale resource”, with consideration to the interests of “the consumers of whale products”.

In January, Svandís said that an independent party would be tasked with reviewing the legislation and administration of whaling. Hvalur hf., however, argues that the application must be processed according to current law and with speed, as preparations for the summer whaling season are underway. Svandís is now on medical leave, with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responsible for her duties in the meantime.

Hvalur Files Claim Against Icelandic State Over Whaling Ban

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, citing significant financial losses due to a temporary whaling ban imposed by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir last year. The claim, supported by the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s conclusion that the ban lacked legal basis, seeks compensation for the company and its employees.

A right to claim damages

The whaling company Hvalur hf. has filed a claim against the Icelandic state, asserting that the decision to temporarily ban the hunting of fin whales last year — which was made by Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttir — had resulted in substantial revenue loss and financial expenditures, RÚV reports.

The claim was sent to the State’s Attorney after the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded that the decision by the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries to temporarily suspend whaling last year was not legally sound; Svandís’s ban took effect on June 20, 2023, and remained in place until September 1 of the same year.

In line with the Ombudsman’s findings

The claim begins by noting that Hvalur hf. had lodged a complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsman regarding the drafting and implementation of regulation that barred the start of whaling in the summer of 2023. The claim subsequently cites the Ombudsman’s opinion on the matter, wherein the former concluded that the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries lacked a sufficiently clear legal basis for the regulation to be considered valid.

In light of this, Hvalur hf. believes it has a right to claim damages from the Icelandic state for any financial losses incurred due to the ban. The claim acknowledges that any costs saved while the ban was active, particularly in labour expenses, should be considered for deduction.

The claim further notes that the Akranes Trade Union (Verkalýðsfélag Akraness) had declared that the employees of Hvalur had wage claims against the company for the period during which the ban was in effect. Similarly, the Association of Ship Captains (Félag skipstjórnamanna) voiced the same position for its union members.

Therefore, Hvalur considers it most practical for the Icelandic state to compensate the company’s employees and other affected parties in line with their income losses. The claim also asks for talks with the Icelandic state to settle this compensation based on the stated reasons.

Third-party assessment

Lastly, the claim suggests that the Icelandic state and Hvalur could agree on a third party to evaluate the company’s damages through an out-of-court expert assessment. However, this agreement would not be legally binding for either Hvalur or the Icelandic state.

Embattled Minister on Medical Leave

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture, and fisheries, announced yesterday that she is on medical leave. In a Facebook post, she divulged that yesterday morning she received a diagnosis of breast cancer and will undergo surgery and treatment in the coming weeks.

“I face this challenge upright, serene, and optimistic,” she wrote. “All my efforts will go towards this with my people by my side.”

Vote of no confidence withdrawn

As Alþingi reconvened today, Svandís was set to face a vote of no confidence. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded earlier this month that the decision made by Svandís last summer to temporarily stop whaling was not in accordance with the law. She had announced her decision in June due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). She argued that in light of the opinion, she would have no choice but to postpone the start of whaling season.

Svandís, a member of the Left-Green Movement, has faced heavy criticism from MPs of the Independence Party, her coalition partners. The CEO of Iceland’s only whale hunting operation had threatened to sue for damages caused by the shorter whaling season. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups.

Inga Sæland, chairperson of the People’s Party, had only just submitted the motion of no confidence when Svandís announced her diagnosis. Her party started the process of withdrawing the motion right away. “This is shocking,” Inga told Vísir. “Terrible news. It wouldn’t be in good taste to vote on a person who’s not present in Alþingi to defend herself. She’s a hard working woman. I wish her the very best. She’ll battle this with serenity.”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will act as minister in Svandís’ stead during her medical leave.

Grindavík, Palestine, and Whaling Questions Loom in Alþingi

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, will convene at 3pm today for the first time since before the holidays. The first item on the docket is Grindavík, but Vísir reports that the cabinet of ministers will also convene today to discuss and subsequently announce how the residents of Grindavík can be best served in the wake of an eruption that did significant infrastructural damage to the town.

Although the topic of Grindavík looms large over Alþingi’s agenda, there are a number of highly debated issues likely to be brought up during today’s scheduled ministers’ question time. Opposition members have criticised Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson after his recent comments on Palestinian asylum seekers and their protests outside of Alþingi. Furthermore, a vote of no confidence is likely to be brought up against Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir for violating the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer.

Coalition solidarity in question

These topics and others have tested the strength of the government coalition in the last few weeks. The coalition is comprised of the Progressive Party, the Left-Green Movement, and the Independence Party, with the latter two clashing on a number of issues. Independence Party MPs have been highly critical of Left-Green Movement Minister Svandís’ handling of the whaling issue and a vote of no confidence from opposition MP and People’s Party leader Inga Sæland will force them to pick sides. Vísir has also reported on a rumour swirling among MPs that the category of whaling will be moved from Svandís’ ministry to the Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, thus taking it from her hands. This would give control of whaling policy to Independence Party member Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

On the other hand, the opposition is likely to test the Left-Greens’ allegiance to the coalition by bringing up Independence Party Leader Bjarni’s comments on asylum seekers and his calls for stricter border controls and increased police powers. Palestinian protesters have been camped outside of Alþingi since December 27. The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out family reunifications for residents of Gaza whom they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Calls for Grindavík buy-out

The Grindavík topic, however, remains the most urgent one. As reported, two lava fissures opened up near Grindavík, on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula, on January 14. Lava flow from these combined fissures caused interruptions in electricity and both cold and hot water, damaged the shortest route to the capital area, and set three houses on fire. Ground swelling and related seismic activity has also done widespread damage in the form of crevasses.

While Grindavík had been evacuated of its residents the day before, they now face an uncertain future regarding what steps the government should now take. Most residents of a recent community meeting want to be bought out, and for others, they would like to see the government take steps to ensure that their housing loans do not spiral out of control with the cost of maintaining property in the town.

No Active Whaling Licenses in Iceland

Whaling ships

No Icelandic company has an active whaling license and no applications for one have been submitted to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Heimildin reports. The only active whaling company in recent years, Hvalur hf., saw their five-year license expire at the start of the year.

The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded last week that Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir did not act in accordance with the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer. Svandís announced in June that she would postpone the start of whaling season due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Vote of no confidence expected

Svandís, a prominent member of the Left-Green Movement, has come under fire by coalition partners and the opposition because of the Ombudsman’s conclusion. She has said that she has not considered resigning as minister. In the RÚV political panel show Silfrið last night, MPs from coalition members the Independence Party and the Progressive Party did not say if they would support her if a motion of no confidence is introduced in Alþingi. Opposition MPs from the People’s Party and the Social Democratic Alliance said that it would not be in their interest to back Svandís up if such a vote comes to pass when Alþingi reconvenes. Centre Party Leader, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has announced that his party will introduce such a motion, Morgunblaðið reports.

The last whaling license was granted to Hvalur hf. in 2019 when a minister from the Independence Party was in charge of the issue. When the shortened whaling season eventually began in August last year, Hvalur went on to catch 24 fin whales. Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., has said that he will sue for damages for the delay.

Future of whaling unclear

Andrés Ingi Jónsson, MP for the Pirate Party, introduced a bill in Alþingi last year to ban whaling. It has not come to a vote, but has received 3,500 reviews from the public and advocacy groups, 2,000 more than have ever been submitted on any other policy issue. It is unclear whether the ministry would grant a new whaling license with Svandís in charge. She has said that the legislation on the issue needs updating and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.