After months of political wrangling since elections were held back in October, a new right-of-centre government takes over in Iceland today.
New ministers are taking up their posts, including the new minister for fisheries and agriculture, Thorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, taking over from Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, whose Progressive party was one of the election’s heavy losers.
There were extensive rounds of negotiation last year and this, with the mandate to form a government given to several party leaders, and only when it had been given to the conservative Independence party a second time, was a coalition finally able to crystallise. The new administration brings together the Independence party and the Reform party (Viðreisn), formed largely of Independence party rebels who struck out of their own, plus the Bright Future party (Björt Framtíð), and the new coalition has the narrowest possible majority in Parliament. All this could make it a short-lived government if the coalition with its knife-edge majority comes apart at the seams, and while the Independence and Reform parties are natural bedfellows, Bright Future looks to be the one least comfortable with its coalition partners.
Although there have been pronouncements about the need to examine fisheries, it seems unlikely that a right-leaning coalition such as this will be inclined to rock the boat and is more likely to opt for as few changes as possible.
Thorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir is a member of the Reform party and is one of their most experienced members, having been a longstanding Independence party MP in the past and with ministerial experience under previous governments.
A policy announcement by the new administration is unlikely to be a huge concern for fishing vessel owners.
According to the incoming government’s statement; ‘The current fisheries management system has returned considerable advantages. There has been a great deal of rationalisation in fisheries that has made it possible to ensure the sustainability of fisheries in Iceland.’
The statement goes on to state that the present system of allocations with no time limit stands to be assessed, to examine the possibility of replacing these with long-term contracts. Also under the microscope will be market links and the options for levies or other mechanisms to ensure better returns for access to ‘collectively owned resources in return for a realistic proportion of the profits of fishing.’
It remains to be seen whether this is a realistic proposition, or a statement made just as Iceland is experiencing a strike by fishing crews as an attempt to defuse the situation, only to be kicked deep into the long grass once the strike has been settled and the fleet is back at sea.
At any rate, the strike by fishing crews is likely to be at the top of the new minister’s agenda to begin with. although she is reported to have already stated that legislation to end the strike is not an option as far as she is concerned.