Iceland to Decide on Continued Whaling Next Week

Golli. Hvalur hf. operations in Iceland

A decision will be made next Tuesday on whether a five-year whaling licence will be issued to Hvalur hf., Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir has stated. RÚV reported on the minister’s statement, made during question period in Alþingi this morning. Hvalur hf. is the only Icelandic company that has been hunting whales in recent years and their licence for the controversial practice expired in 2023.

Hvalur hf. submitted an application for a new five-year licence in January. The whaling season often begins in June, but the application is still under review within the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. Last month, the minister requested various institutions to review and comment on the application and says the last of the comments were submitted two days ago. Hvalur hf. has been given until tomorrow to respond to the institutions’ comments and a final decision on whether or not to issue a licence to the company will be made on Tuesday next week.

Animal welfare concerns

The minister has been criticised for the application’s long procedure time, including by Centre Party MP Bergþór Ólason. Bjarkey pointed out that last time a whaling licence was issued, in 2019, the procedure took around four months and whaling began in mid-July. “Since then, issues have emerged, for example about how the animals are killed and the interplay between whaling and animal welfare,” Bjarkey stated.

Last year, then-Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir temporarily halted the whaling season last June one day before it was set to begin in light of the strong opinion of an animal welfare advisory board under Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority. The board concluded that the fishing method used when hunting large whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare. The whaling ban was later lifted at the end of August, allowing Hvalur hf. to hunt whales last autumn. The company’s ships were delayed in leaving Reykjavík harbour by two activists who climbed their masts in protest.

In January of this year, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that Svandís’ decision to halt whaling had not been in accordance with the law. The decision and subsequent finding caused tension within the governing coalition.

Read More: Sea Change

Former Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir had previously raised the possibility of stopping whaling in Iceland, including in an editorial published in 2022, where she cited the practice’s marginal economic benefit and harm to Iceland’s international image. Prominent Icelanders have spoken out against the practice recently, asking current Fisheries Minister Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir not to issue a new licence to Hvalur hf.

Plans to Tighten Rules for E-Scooter

Hopp scooters in front of Mount Esja in Reykjavík

Riders of e-scooters could soon be subjected to age restrictions, speed limits, and sobriety tests. Minister of Infrastructure Svandís Svavarsdóttir has submitted a bill to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, that would severely tighten the rules on such vehicles if it becomes law, RÚV reports.

Injuries common

E-scooters have become commonplace in Iceland in recent years and have grown in popularity on scooter-sharing apps in urban areas. The bill would subject such vehicles to a 30 kilometre per hour speed limit. It would also become punishable to ride an e-scooter when inebriated. Over 40% of serious traffic injuries in 2o21 were sustained by pedestrians, cyclists, and rider of e-scooters late at night on Friday and Saturday nights when intoxication is prevalent, the bill states.

Furthermore, children were 45% of those seeking emergency treatment after e-scooter accidents in 2021, and a third of them were under 10 years old. “People are worried about these micro-mobility vehicles and we want to create the framework where people can use this mode of transportation in a safe way, because the accident rate is too high and is only climbing higher,” said Ingibjörg Isaksen, member of parliament for the Progressive Party.

Bill criticised

The bill would introduce a ban on children under 13 years old using e-scooters. The bill does not address the problem of shared scooters cluttering sidewalks and cycling lanes. “Municipalities can address this by making agreements with the scooter-sharing companies about their use in certain spaces and designate the areas where they are permitted,” Ingibjörg added.

In Alþingi’s consultation process with the public, the bill has been criticised for being excessive. The importance of education on the dangers of e-scooters has been stressed, along with the argument that square curbs, cracked sidewalks, and other surface issues could be the cause of many accidents, rather than user error.

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.

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,

Update April 17: At the time of writing, the whaling license is still pending. Kristján Loftsson’s statement to the effect that whaling will not take place this summer is not to be perceived as their lack of intent to whale. Rather, his statements are a critique of government action. It is currently still undecided whether Iceland will resume whaling this summer. Iceland Review apologises for the misleading headline, but presents the original article below, unaltered.

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.