Minister of Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson shared some of his thoughts on the European Union and democracy yesterday.
Speaking at a conference of Icelandic and EU parliamentarians at the Harpa Concert Hall yesterday, Vísir reports, Gunnar – who drew up a parliamentary proposal to end EU accession talks last February – reflected on the brighter side of the organisation for attendees.
“I have a lot of respect for the European Union, and Iceland is obviously a European country, with the same values as other Europeans,” he said.
It was not long before attention was turned to the matter of why – despite the ruling coalition promising a public referendum on whether or not to continue talks – the government is no longer entertaining this idea. This has prompted regular protests of thousands in front of parliament, as well as a petition that has so far gathered over 53,000 signatures, calling for the continuation of accession talks to be put up for referendum.
“I respect the people who protest at Austurvöllur,” Gunnar said. “It is one of our most important rights in a democratic country to be able to protest. I listen to what people are saying, but I have said before that this is a government decision with a great deal of political mandate.”
When it was pointed out that the aforementioned petition comprises over 21% of Iceland’s registered voters, Foreign Affairs committee chairperson Birgir Ármannsson responded that petitions have “no official power” and “are organised by special interest groups.”
Interestingly, in 2011, Gunnar Bragi had no problem with a petition of over 33,000 people calling for household debt relief, telling parliament at the time, “What is being done about the demands that these 33,000 signed under? We must follow the demands of the public, Madam President, that so many have signed.”