On Wednesday, amendments to the Law on civil protection were proposed on Alþingi, defining a Minister’s powers to rule by decree in case of emergencies. This was reported by RÚV.
The Minister involved would be any minister in charge of civil protection. Traditionally, this would mean the Minister of the Interior. Currently, however, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resides over such affairs.
According to the proposed amendments, when the Police’ Civil Protection unit declares a state of emergency, the Minister can temporarily presume direct control of any business or institution considered vital to secure basic services. That is, to ensure “important social functions, public safety, and limit common damages, such as in the fields of energy, distribution networks, communications, transport, finance, health, and the environment”. The State will not be considered liable for damages in such cases.
The ministerial decrees that institutes and businesses would, according to the law, be obliged to obey, include “cutting or prioritizing the distribution of electricity, limiting access to communication systems that might interfere with emergency and security communications etc.”
The Minister will also be authorized to request assistance from foreign forces, under such circumstances.
The amendments have been under development since late last summer, in the light of possible outcomes of the current eruptions around Bárðarbunga. Among foreseen possible scenarios are floods in the rivers Þjórsá and Tungná, which might seriously affect six power plants, currently providing 40% of Iceland’s electricity consumption.