President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson said he would “have the petition in mind” in the event fishing quota legislation passed across his desk, as he was handed over 53,000 signatures calling upon him to stand by his word of referring fishing quota legislation to public referendum.
RÚV reports that the petition, assembled by Þjóðareign.is, was given to the president yesterday. The petition specifically calls upon the president to “refer to a referendum any laws that parliament adopts where fishing resources are allocated for more than one year, while no provision for public ownership of resources has been set in the Constitution and the people have not be guaranteed full charge for their use.”
According to Icelandic law, once parliament passes legislation, only the president’s signature will make it a law. If the president refuses to sign it, it is referred to public referendum, unless parliament opts to simply withdraw the legislation altogether.
Although the signature reflects well over 20% of the electorate, the president was cautious in his response.
“Of course I will have this in mind,” he said, referring to the petition. “This is why I emphasise the basic components of the statement I made two years ago, when I was also given a petition on this important subject. I think that when we look at what I said then, and emphasise today, that it should be clear to us all that the president will have it generously in mind if and when such legislation reaches the president’s desk.”
Ólafur Ragnar has referred legislation to referendum before – in particular, the wildly unpopular Icesave legislation, which ended up defeated in the ensuing referendum. However, in 2013, a petition of some 35,000 signatures calling on the president to refuse to sign a law that lowered taxes for fishing corporations went ignored, with the president telling reporters at the time that “tax issues should not be a matter of public referendum”.
Bear in mind, though, that the year previous, the president said that “few topics were better suited for a public referendum” than the quota system.