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19th Nov 2018

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New Iceland government pledges to resume EU debate

  • The next prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson is leader of the Independence Party. He is one of the Icelandic politicians named in the Panama Papers. (Photo: Johannes Jansson/norden.org)

Following a two-month impasse after a general election that was held early because of revelations in the Panama Papers, Iceland finally has a new government.

It was presented on Tuesday (10 January) and will consist of the conservative right-wing Independence Party and two liberal centre parties, Vidreisn (also known as the Reform Party) and Bright Future.

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Since the October elections every party besides the Progressive Party has tried to form a government.

Five parties twice tried, and twice failed, to build a broad coalition from centre to left involving the Left greens, Social democrats, Pirates, Vidreisn and Bright Future.

The three parties that in the end formed a government had also twice entered discussions which did not reap results, before everything clicked.

Both Vidreisn and Bright Future want to join the EU. In fact Vidreisn was born out of dissatisfaction amongst internationally minded liberals inside the Independence party after the last government withdrew Iceland's application in 2014.

The conservative Independence party however is a fierce opponent of accession.

According to the platform-statement of the new coalition government the conservative stance seems to have come out on top.

It states: “The government parties agree that should the subject of a referendum on accession negotiations with the European Union be brought up in Althingi [parliament], the issue shall be brought to a vote and finalised towards the end of the legislative period. The government parties may have different opinions on this matter and will respect each other’s views.“

So, no changes in Iceland´s EU policy for the near future and even if the parliament was to support a new EU referendum, the majority of Icelanders remain opposed to joining the EU, according to opinion polls.

Panama Papers

The next prime minister will be Bjarni Benediktsson – leader of the Independence Party. He is one of the Icelandic politicians named in the Panama Papers.

To many it would thus seem that the largest protest in Iceland's history, which resulted in the resignation of then prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson in early April, was much ado about nothing. It is, however, not so simple.

In the months leading up to the general election it looked like the Pirate Party – a radical party formed in 2012 around the demand for a new constitution, more direct democracy and internet freedom – would be the largest beneficiary of the revelations of offshore assets owned by Icelanders.

At their peak the party was polling over 35 percent. In the end they only got 14.5 percent, which was still 9.4 percent more than in the election in 2013.

Part of the reason was a low turnout of young voters, who were most likely Pirate voters. But it was also because people decided to vote for other parties instead. Two other new parties, Vidreisn and Bright Future, together received 17.7 percent of the vote.

The Pirate Party and Bright Future were founded in 2012 and Vidreisn in the summer of 2016. So parties formed in the last five years received almost one third of the vote.

More woman

The Independence Party held its own position in the elections and remained by far the largest party with 29 percent of the vote despite being involved in the Panama-scandals.

Its coalition government, which involved the Progressive Party lead by Gunnlaugsson as well, did however not survive.

Gunnlaugsson's party received its worst result in its 100-year history – 11.5 percent – and the government lost its majority.

On the other side of the political spectrum the left greens strengthened its position and is now Iceland´s second largest party for the fist time in its history with 15.9 percent.

The social democrats, once a party that regularly received around 30 percent of the vote, were almost wiped out and only got 5.7 percent of the vote.

For the first time there are seven parties in parliament, more women than ever before (30 out of 63 MPs) and no possibility of forming a two-party majority government, which is the traditional pattern of power in Icelandic politics.

Analysis

Iceland's not-so-quiet revolution

In the space of three years, Iceland's main parties have seen their vote decimated, and new parties may well take almost half the electorate in Saturday's election.

Panama Papers: Iceland PM half-resigns

Iceland PM to step aside, but only for "an unspecified amount of time”, as ruling coalition fights for survival following Panama Papers leak on offshore funds.

Iceland MPs suspend session over PM tax-haven link

Iceland cancelled its parliamentary session on Tuesday as MPs deliberate how to vote in an upcoming no-confidence motion on the PM. Crisis comes after Panama Papers exposed shady offshore accounts.

Iceland set to re-elect scandal-hit prime minister

The Left Green Movement was leading in polls until very recently - but now surveys suggest the Independence Party, historically Iceland's largest, will remain the lead party in government following Saturday's elections.

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