Just under 40,000 Icelanders have signed a petition calling upon the Icelandic government to put forward a referendum on whether or not to continue accession talks with the EU, as they promised before elections.
The petition has gathered the signatures of over 15% of Iceland’s registered voters at the time of this writing. By comparison, as Vísir points out, 70,000 people signed a petition to keep the domestic airport in Reykjavík and about 56,000 signed a petition calling upon the president to not sign the Icesave deal into law.
However, government officials make their own choices regarding the importance they place on petitions. When President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson ran for re-election in 2012, he cited in part a petition of about 30,000 signatures calling for him to run again. About the same number signed a petition calling for the president to not approve tax breaks for some of Iceland’s largest fishing corporations, though, which he ended up approving anyway.
Sociology professor Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson points out that there is actually no legal framework by which petitions compel elected officials to follow them, but this does not mean they can be easily dismissed.
“[Petitions] are a way to demonstrate the will of the people, such as protesting at Austurvöllur, writing articles in newspapers or expressing yourself on the internet,” he says in part. “In a democratic society, there is every reason to take them seriously.”
According to the official platform of the Independence Party during last year’s parliamentary election, voters were promised that “the people will take the decision on EU accession by public referendum during the election term.”
Further, the joint position of the ruling coalition on the matter is that, whilst accession talks were on hold, “accession talks will go no further except by following a public referendum” – by ending talks now, a public referendum on whether to continue them seems unlikely at best.