From Iceland — The Nature Pass In Their Own Words

The Nature Pass In Their Own Words

Published April 15, 2014

The Nature Pass In Their Own Words

Although scant details about the Nature Pass have been confirmed, the idea behind it and the recent admission charge levied on visitors to Geysir and last year at Kerið have sparked debate inside and outside of parliament. What follows is a selection of quotes from politicians and others on the subject.

In-Their-Own-Words(1)pngRadio interview with Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, Minister of Industry and Commerce, March 25

“I don’t agree that there is much opposition to the Nature Pass. What we are now doing is implementing suggestions and bills to hopefully propose in the coming days, which will make it easier to have this debate, because we have to look at the big picture. The big project ahead of us is that we have to protect nature so that we can offer it for us all as a nation to enjoy, and as the commodity that foreign tourists come here to see.”

“Everyman’s right is such that it never supersedes preserving nature. We can’t let people pass through an area if it suffers as a result, and in that way we can limit the freedom to roam. But the important thing is that we are trying to impact everyman’s right as little as possible because the method assumes people will only need to have the nature pass for a select few locations—we’re not at all suggesting that you need it to go down to the beach or up a mountain that’s not a popular tourist location. In this way we believe we can avoid having to erect fences and toll booths all over the place.”

“There is a lot of talk that the government has been sleeping on the job and that this measure is long overdue, and I agree with that. The first talks of doing this that I know of go back to 1963, and I don’t want to miss it during my watch, so I’m going to give it my all to convince people to join us on this project because I’m certain that we can all, as a nation, band together to protect and support nature.”

In-Their-Words(2)pngParliament speech by Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs

“Mr President. What the state did was file an injunction against these actions. That was the state’s reaction and that matter will be followed through the courts.

If the injunction is granted it needs to be followed by a special court case. If it is not granted, it is an occasion to file a special court case to determine the relevant rights of those involved. I believe there is reason to be careful in making general statements like the one the distinguished MP [Ögmundur Jónasson] has made about it being universally illegal for land owners to charge a special admission fee. It is not as clear as the distinguished MP believes.

[interruption by MP Ögmundur Jónasson: “I’m talking about Geysir.”]

Yes, with the Geysir area there is a special situation where the state co-owns part of the land leading up to the hot spring and owns the hot spring area itself with a large share of the ownership. That is the basis on which the state, without an agreement with the co-owners of the area, believes all admission charges of it are illegal. That’s amongst other things what the indictment is built on.

[interruption by MP Ögmundur Jónasson: “Then why is it not stopped?”]”

In-Their-Own-Words(3)pngPhone interview with Ögmundur Jónasson, MP for the Left-Green Movement and former Minister of the Interior

“When the state filed for an injunction, asking the local magistrate to stop the landowners from charging admission, he refused to do so. To the best of my knowledge, he is only legally allowed to do so if the form is filled out incorrectly—I can’t imagine what error that could be.

Where does the burden of proof lie? Does society and the general public have to prove that it doesn’t need to pay, or with the landowners who want to charge admission? They went ahead, regardless of the law and set up their toll booths, which is something that most lawyers I have spoken to believe is illegal and without precedent.

Legally, they do not have permission to demand payment except in very special circumstances involving the state making a service contract with the proprietors. There is no such contract at play here.

If the situation is that those who own land with natural treasure can charge admission to conserve the sites, then they themselves hold dictatorship over how to do so, which doesn’t work. It’s supposed to be society’s communal project.

When it comes to natural treasures in Iceland, it is the state, the road and coastal administration and other parties that oversee all constructions and infrastructure around the treasures, and that is the way it is supposed to be—not in the hands of a select few individuals. It’s a bigger matter than that, one that we collectively have to manage.”

Comment by Garðar Eiríksson, Geysir Landowner Association Spokesperson

“There is nothing that bans it. We operate under the ruling of the magistrate and even if Ögmundur was at one point the so-called Minister of Justice, the matter is now before the courts, which is where it should be.”

Blog posts by Stefán Ólafsson, professor of sociology at the University of Iceland

“Independence Party members have for a long time dreamt of privatising and monetising as many parts of Iceland as possible, allowing wealthy private individuals to profit off the land. In this regard, Iceland’s nature and highlands are not exempt.

In the guidebook that lead to the economic meltdown, ‘Hvernig getur Ísland orðið ríkasta land í heimi’ (“How Can Iceland Become The Wealthiest Country In The World”), Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson said back in 2001 that nature was “money-without-a-shepherd.” That actually applied to everything that wasn’t in the hands of particular fat-cats and profiteers.

The highlands, natural resources, savings banks and pension funds were examples of money-without-a-shepherd, according to Hannes Hólmstein’s unprepossessing idea of free-market capitalism in Iceland.

The goal was to hand everything off to private parties as soon as possible so that they could profit as much as possible. As was done with the fishing quota system. That involved the privatisation and financial development of the sea’s resources, resources that used to belong to the Icelandic people.

As soon as the Independence Party was back in power the landowners started harping on the importance of charging tourists, both domestic and foreign. A sharp increase in the number of tourists makes this quite profitable.”

See Also:

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Court Rules Admission Charges At Geysir Illegal

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