Report: The results of the Icelandic general elections

by Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson

The results of the general elections in Iceland yesterday are not a success for those who want the country to become a member of the European Union. At least not the success they were hoping for. The only party that has the policy of joining the EU and put emphasis on that in the election campaign, the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), got 30 percent of the votes (20 MPs) which is similar to what the party has got in previous elections. In 1999 it got 27 percent, in 2003 31 percent and in 2007 again 27 percent. In other words the results are at best a defending victory for the party.

The Social Democratic Alliance can form a government with majority in the parliament with both the Left Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð) (34 MPs) or the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) together with the Citizen's Movement (Borgarahreyfingin) (33 MPs) apart from the possibility to form a renewed government with the Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) (36 MPs) which will probabaly not happen due to the current unpopularity of that party. But both the other forms of government are, however, very likely to mean tough and difficult talks for the social democrats.

The party increasing its votes the most is the Left Green Movement as was expected. It got 21.5 percent and 14 MPs compared with 14 percent in 2007. The party rejects EU membership. The conservative Independence Party, which also is opposed to EU membership but has been mainly blamed for last year's collapse of most of the Icelandic banking sector, got 24 percent and 16 MPs. The two parties that thus reject joining the EU the most got together 45.5 percent and 30 of the the total 63 seats in the parliament compared with the Social Democratic Alliance's 20.

The remaining 13 seats are spread between the Progressive Party and the Citizen's Movement. The former got 9 seats and the latter 4. Neither of them is in favour of EU membership but the Progressive Party favours membership negotiations according to its platform if certain very strict conditions will be met, one of them being that Iceland will hold full authority over Icelandic fishing grounds. Something the EU will understandably never be able to accept. As a result the party is generally not seen as being in favour of EU membership.

The Citizen's Movement, however, has no policy in favour of joining the EU. It has a policy that all agreements with other countries that involve transfer of sovereignty shall be put to a referendum and also that Iceland should seek to negotiate monetary cooperation with other countries or, if necessary, adopt a foreign currency unilaterally. One of the party's major policies is also that of not signing any agreement concerning the so-called Icesave issue before a research by independent experts has been carried out on what the duties of the Icelandic government are regarding that.

The Citizen's Movement emerged from the protests in Reykjavík last winter and its platform has many radical policies that the Social Democratic Alliance could find very hard to agree on. The biggest demand of the people protesting was increased direct democracy (referendums) and that the people should be more involved in the decision making process in the country. Naturally joining the EU would not be a step in that direction but rather further away.

What kind of a government will take power in Iceland after the elections is expected to become clear in the next few days and also how that government will approach the EU issue. The most likely coalition is between the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement.