President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson received a 35,000 signature strong petition on Saturday urging him to refer to a national referendum the bill calling for a reduction in fishing fees.
On Friday Althing passed the bill that would reduce the fishing fees, the charge applied to ship owners for their right to fish, and in the coming days it will make its way to the President’s desk for his approval or rejection, RÚV reports. Though polls point toward a majority of Icelanders opposing the proposed reduction of the fishing fees Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, professor of political science at the University of Iceland, said in a radio interview yesterday that many will be dissatisfied with the president regardless of his decision.
Social Democratic Alliance chairman Árni Páll Árnason believes that the matter must be put up for a referendum.
“I feel this is an issue that is relevant to the nation,” he said. “And I think we have to go with what the majority are calling for. The number of people signing the petition requesting a referendum cannot be ignored.”
On the other hand, Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Health representing the Independence Party, believes that matters of finance and taxation are not issues that should be entrusted to the general population.
“This is a unique case in that it is about billing and tariffs. Thus far it has been political consensus that matters of taxes, and fees associated with the budget are issues that should not be presented to the public for referendum,” he said.
The laws regarding the President’s right to refer bills to national referendum stipulate that all bills must be treated equally, and since the President had previously sent the IceSave bills to referendum he should be able to treat the fishing fees bill similarly.
Fisheries and quota owners have been generous financial contributors to the Progressive Party and the Independence Party, both of which comprise the current coalition government.