Executive Summary

Stability after period
of turbulence
The cabinet coalition formed after the October 2017 elections between the Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party and the Progressive Party is still in office. The prime minister is Katrín Jakobsdóttir, leader of the Left-Green Movement. Following a period of considerable political turbulence, which included three parliamentary elections in four years (2013, 2016 and 2017), things have stabilized.
Agreement follows
labor-union strikes
After limited strikes in early spring 2019, Efling, the Store and Office Workers’ Union (VR), and the Federation of General and Special Workers (SGS) signed a collective agreement with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) in April 2019. The agreement will expire on 1 November 2022. Members of the Efling and VR trade unions, and members of trade unions belonging to SGS approved the collective agreements. The contract applies to more than 100,000 members of 30 different unions. At the time of writing, excluding another agreement signed in mid-October 2019 between five unions and the Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates (BHM), no other unions have signed contracts.
Airline collapse increases unemployment
In March 2019, one of the two largest Icelandic airlines, WOW air, declared bankruptcy and ceased operations. This led to 1,500 people immediately losing their jobs. Six months later, 300 to 400 of them are still without jobs. Though the overall impact of this bankruptcy has not been as large as initially feared. In response, the other Icelandic airline, Icelandair, has increased its passenger capacity. At the same time, Icelandair has encountered difficulties connected with the need to ground several Boeing MAX 737 jets until 2020.
Questions about judicial appointments
Also in March 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Iceland had violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is meant to ensure individuals’ right to a fair and public hearing, in the appointment of judges to the recently established Court of Appeals. This led to the resignation of the minister of justice, Sigríður Andersen. In April 2019, the Icelandic government requested that the court review its ruling. Whether a revised ruling will be issued remains to be seen.
Money laundering
a concern
Having failed to adequately comply with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concerning measures to tackle money laundering and the financing of terrorism, Iceland has been added to the FATF’s grey list, along with Mongolia and Zimbabwe. At the same time, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ethiopia were removed from the list.
Cracks in democratic structure
Other indicators suggest that a reasonably successful economic recovery from a financial crash, while essential, is not enough. Freedom House no longer categorizes Iceland as a full-fledged democracy. Iceland’s democracy score was 100 between 2004 and 2009, but dropped to 99 between 2010 and 2012, before returning to 100 in 2013, 2014 and 2016. In 2017 and 2018, Iceland’s democracy score dropped to 95, with the country ranked 19 overall. Iceland’s deteriorating score can be attributed to several factors – not only the inadequate treatment of immigrants, which is often the sole reason why OECD countries fail to achieve a score of 100 in Freedom House’s ranking.
Alleged bribes
by fishing firm
In November 2019, as described by Sigmundsdóttir (2019), Iceland was shaken by the revelation of 30,000 documents, which were exposed by WikiLeaks, and initially reported on by Al Jazeera, Icelandic State TV (RÚV) and the Stundin newspaper. The documents suggest that Samherji, Iceland’s largest fishing firm, had paid huge bribes to Namibian ministers, among others, to secure fishing quotas. The scandal resulted in the immediate arrest of the Namibian minister of fisheries and marine resources, and the former Namibian minister of justice plus four other Namibian individuals. Further, in early December 2019, Reuters (2019) reported that Angolan authorities have opened a criminal case against a former fisheries minister for alleged involvement in the bribery scandal.
Al Jazeera, Officials in Namibia corruption scheme to remain in custody, Accessed 11 December 2019.

Freedom House (2019), “Freedom in the World 2019, Iceland Profile.“ Accessed 20th October 2018.

Gylfason, Thorvaldur (2018), “Ten Years After: Iceland’s Unfinished Business,” forthcoming in Robert Z. Aliber and Gylfi Zoega (eds.), The 2008 Global Financial Crisis in Retrospect, Palgrave. Also available as CESifo Working Paper No. 7318, November 2018.

Hardarson, Ólafur Th. (2017), “Icelandic Althingi election 2017: One more government defeat – and a party system in a continuing flux,” in Party Systems and Governments Observatory, 2 November. Accessed 21 December 2018.

Al Jazeera, Officials in Namibia corruption scheme to remain in custody, Accessed 11 December 2012.

Alda Sigmundsdóttir, Of political corruption and misdeeds in Iceland and Namibia, 22 November 2019. Accessed 11 December 2019.

Reuters (2019), Angola opens case against ex-minister over Namibia fishing bribe scandal, Accessed 11 December 2019.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) (2019), Rotten Fish: A Guide on
Addressing Corruption in the Fisheries Sector, Vienna, Accessed 16 December 2019.
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