From Iceland — Foreign Minister Lashes Back At Conservative Critics

Foreign Minister Lashes Back At Conservative Critics

Published January 8, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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The Minister of Foreign Affairs says Independence Party critics of the trade ban against Russia show a conflict of interest.

Since last summer, Iceland has been participating in the current trade ban against Russia, in which the EU is also involved. The ban was made in response to Russian incursions into Ukraine, and Iceland’s participation in the ban has prompted Russia, in turn, to set up a ban of their own of Icelandic products.

As Russia bought 10% of Iceland’s fish exports in 2013, this has prompted harsh criticism from heads of the fishing industry, but has also been criticised by members of parliament, many of them from the Independence Party. Stundin reports that Minister of Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson has pointed out a conflict of interest where these critics are concerned.

In a radio interview on Rás 2, Gunnar Bragi said that he considered it “not unlikely” that those MPs who have been especially critical of the trade ban have received a great deal of funding from the fishing industry.

“[The fishing industry] is an extremely strong pressure group, and it can be trying for politicians to stand up to such pressure,” he said. “I hope, of course, that they do stand up to it, because people need to have a sense of perspective. It’s not complicated, to my mind.”

In fact, when Stundin looked into which members of the Independence Party have received considerable campaign funding from the fishing industry, a pattern did emerge. For example, Independence Party MP Jón Gunnarsson – who has been especially critical of the trade ban – received about 1 million ISK in campaign funding from seven fishing companies; all told, fishing companies the most money to him of all other candidates. Another trade ban critic and Independence Party MP, Ásmundur Friðriksson, received about half of his campaign funds in the previous election from fishing companies.

Gunnar Bragi, who maintains to this day that he is not going to change his mind about the trade ban, has harshly critised the fishing companies who objected, saying that it was “dishonourable how some of these men talk”, adding that heads of Icelandic fishing companies were “thinking first and foremost about their profits”. He called upon these companies, who are trusted with natural resources, to “show a sense of social responsibility”. He added that it would be a good idea to consider “whether or not these are the best men to be handling our resources”.

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