Iceland For EU

In spite of major political shifts, voters want deeper changes, and they don’t care from whom

News | Anna Claessen | June 2009

Icelanders take to the streets in pre-election demonstrations (Photo: ESF)

It was the election of firsts, first woman to lead Iceland’s government, first time so many women have been in parliament (42.9%), and the first time in Icelandic history that there has been a leftist government.

On Saturday Apr.  25, around 85 percent of the country’s voters went to the polls to elect a new government only three months after street protests forced the country’s government to resign. When the votes were counted, it surprised no one that there was a coalition of Social Democrat/Leftist-Green, just like the one that was formed after the demonstrations.

"The people are calling for a change of ethics," said Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir. "That is why they have voted for us."

The coalition secured 34 seats in the 63-member parliament with an increase of seven MPs from the previous election.

There was also another record. Never have so many people left an empty check-box on an election ballot. Around 6,223 voters or 3.2% did so and invalid votes were 528 or 0.3%.

"I don’t care who’s in charge, right or left," said Hordur Torfason, a leader of the January protests that brought down the previous center-right government. "If things don’t work out, we’ll be back on the streets."

It seemed that voters were punishing the conservative Independence Party who perceived complicity in the banks’ multibillion krona debts, and their partnership with Icelandic entrepreneurs known as the "New Vikings," who owned department store chains, soccer clubs and investment houses in Europe, as well as helicopters, mansions and Ferraris in Iceland. The right-wing, anti-EU Independence Party had been in power for 18 years and dominated Icelandic politics for 70.

"We lost this time but we will win again later," said the Independence Party`s new leader Bjarni Benediktsson after securing onlz 16 seats in the worst election results in decades.

On May 10, the Social Democrat/Leftist-Green coalition government was formally established with twelve ministers.

The new government has a plan for the first 100 days which focuses on the economy, reaching an agreement on foreign debt and possible entry into EU. Although the Social Democrats and the Leftist-Greens disagree on whether Iceland should apply for membership, (Social Democrats for it and Leftists-Greens against it), both parties agree it needs to be put to a vote, which will occur in a single referendum within the next few weeks.

For decades, Iceland has been against joining the EU, fearful of handing control of its fishing sector to the European Commission, which sets member states’ catch quotas. But Brussels announced in April that they will devise a new system, as former fisheries policies are seen to have failed.

"EU membership (…) is necessary to achieve stability," said Sigurdardottir. "If we apply immediately, we will be able to adopt the euro within four years."

Despite all these firsts, the only comments you hear from Icelanders express, "What changes?" The government has to produce a Barack Obama to gain the trust of the people to make the kind of changes that will affect people´s daily lives. Until then…

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