Iceland’s new centre-right government is looking both Eurosceptic and pro-whaling
Iceland has a new government. May 23rd marked the first day of a coalition between Sigmundar Davíðs Gunnlaugsson’s centrist Progressive Party and Bjarni Benediktsson’s right-wing Independence Party as Social Democrats‘ leader, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, handed over power and will now retire. The two men are now respectively Prime Minister (at 38, Gunnlaugsson is Iceland’s youngest ever), and Finance Minister.
So, what implications are there likely to be for WDC’s anti-whaling campaign? Given that the outgoing government, the left-wing Social Democrats, did little for whales and indeed Icelandic whalers have been slaughtering whales – in defiance of the global moratorium on commercial whaling – throughout their tenure, I’m not overly hopeful that a decidedly conservative and right-leaning government will prove any better a friend to the whales.
Indeed, a quick glance at the list of new Cabinet members reveals at least six Ministers who supported the 2009 Alþingi (Icelandic parliament) resolution in favour of minke and fin whaling. Furthermore, Einar K Guðfinnsson, newly-appointed head speaker of the Alþingi is the former Fisheries Minister who put the quotas into place in 2009 and Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, the new Foreign Minister, has previously indicated that he is not opposed to whaling as long as it is ‘sustainable’.
Something else is clear too, even at this early stage: this Coalition is heavily Eurosceptic and has already called off talks with Brussels on EU membership, pending a referendum in order to give Icelanders their say on the issue. If current polls are to be believed, the answer from voters is likely to be a resounding ‘no’. This is bad news for those of us fighting to see an end to whaling as the EU would have been able to impose strict conditions on Iceland’s membership, insisting that Iceland accept without reservation the full body of EU law including, of course, a commitment to permanently cease whaling and trade in whale products.
Also concerning is the news that the Coalition is merging the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries with the Ministry for the Environment. Critics are already commenting that this is tantamount to the abolishing the latter. Illugi Jökulsson, former member of the Constitutional Council and a popular blogger, recently wrote: “Environmental issues are going to be very important in coming years – and in fact they are already. But then the Progressive Party is going to make environmental issues a drawer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. It is not a good start. No, it’s a terrible start. But surely this must be some kind of joke? I do not believe that this is happening in 2013.”
If you want to learn more about Icelandic whaling