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Published on June 28th, 2012 | by Harry Evans
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] © Flickr.com/Andreas H. Lunde/cc-by-nc[/caption] In October 2008, Iceland was the first country to suffer a default as a result of the financial crisis. In fact, Iceland defaulted on privately-owned debt. That is to say, they refused to bail-out private banks for foreign debts. In a strange twist of fate, UK taxpayers bailed out Icelandic banks to the tune of £500bn in order to prevent UK banks collapsing in a domino-effect. This strange story of globalisation is made all the more enthralling when the world considers that it was a referendum (two, in fact) that decided not to repay British (and Dutch) foreign investors for the bail-out. The sentiment was very much that these are private banks that can repay their own debts or bust. Public outrage at government and IMF suggestions that Icelandic taxpayers should take on more debt themselves to pay for banks led the President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, to threaten a veto on repayment. The threat was enough to halt the legislation before a referendum struck it down. Following years of IMF guidelines, and taking this first great leap to let the banks go, Iceland is coming out of the crisis and should soon be a stable economy again. In fact, growth figures seem to suggest that Iceland will trounce the Eurozone's growth this year and next. Mr Grímsson believes Iceland has shown the IMF that there is more to an economy than financial sector lending, and the recovery of Iceland certainly looks to be able to teach governments a lot about the way they treat banks. It is especially pertinent given the deep bail-outs afforded to Spain's private banks. That is not to say Iceland is a model to be rolled out across the Euro, above all this treatment would not work in a single currency, but it should be borne in mind when pumping billions into banks.  On June 30th, Iceland elect the next President. The incumbent, Mr Grímsson, is standing again and leads the field in the opinion polls. In Iceland, there is no term limit for Presidents: Mr Grímsson has been President since 1996, and had intended to step down until petitions were signed to show the people's firm support. The other realistic candidate sits eight points down, but this is encouraging given the sheer one-sidedness that polls were showing a month ago (Mr Grímsson has dropped as many as nine points). Thóra Arnórsdóttir would be the first female President of Iceland, but the gender politics in Iceland is moving positively where women in the cabinet now outnumber men, and the government is now led by the world's first openly lesbian Prime Minister. Presidential candidate Mrs Arnórsdóttir is against party politics, having experienced them as a journalist, and wants to improve the divide in pay between male and female workers. This is a socially progressive and positive move in a country with a good history for it. The Icelandic voters' position is an unenviable one to be in. Spoilt for choice between an experienced, steady economic force with a great track-record standing up to foreign powers and banks, and a socially responsible President, eager to make Iceland a more egalitarian place. It is the classic choice between social and financial priorities. Except, for once, voters appear to be getting two candidates that do not sacrifice one priority in favour of the other. This article is not designed to make a prediction or recommendation on the result of the June 30th election. However, it is yet another example of how Scandinavian countries garner positive aspects for the rest of Europe to learn from. Rejection of bail-outs, and foreign intervention at the behest of the people on one hand. Real desire for social change and equality on the other. The election is a golden opportunity to see how European countries could have choices in politicians that are not just the lesser of two evils. Iceland is not perfect, however, and should not be idealised. The Icelandic President has little real power. Mr Grímsson still presided over the financial crisis, and was very populist in his decision to threaten a veto. Mrs Arnórsdóttir is regularly smeared as being 'too pregnant' to run for office, and she would like to see the powers of the President limited even further, removing a key balance from Iceland's parliamentary system. The lessons are there to be learned though, and as Europe enters into the financial underworld, it may be up to countries like Iceland to hand it a ladder. Follow Harry on twitter :@hevans567

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Iceland’s Presidential election: why Europe should take notice

© Flickr.com/Andreas H. Lunde/cc-by-nc


In October 2008, Iceland was the first country to suffer a default as a result of the financial crisis. In fact, Iceland defaulted on privately-owned debt. That is to say, they refused to bail-out private banks for foreign debts. In a strange twist of fate, UK taxpayers bailed out Icelandic banks to the tune of £500bn in order to prevent UK banks collapsing in a domino-effect. This strange story of globalisation is made all the more enthralling when the world considers that it was a referendum (two, in fact) that decided not to repay British (and Dutch) foreign investors for the bail-out. The sentiment was very much that these are private banks that can repay their own debts or bust.

Public outrage at government and IMF suggestions that Icelandic taxpayers should take on more debt themselves to pay for banks led the President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, to threaten a veto on repayment. The threat was enough to halt the legislation before a referendum struck it down. Following years of IMF guidelines, and taking this first great leap to let the banks go, Iceland is coming out of the crisis and should soon be a stable economy again. In fact, growth figures seem to suggest that Iceland will trounce the Eurozone’s growth this year and next. Mr Grímsson believes Iceland has shown the IMF that there is more to an economy than financial sector lending, and the recovery of Iceland certainly looks to be able to teach governments a lot about the way they treat banks. It is especially pertinent given the deep bail-outs afforded to Spain’s private banks. That is not to say Iceland is a model to be rolled out across the Euro, above all this treatment would not work in a single currency, but it should be borne in mind when pumping billions into banks.

 On June 30th, Iceland elect the next President. The incumbent, Mr Grímsson, is standing again and leads the field in the opinion polls. In Iceland, there is no term limit for Presidents: Mr Grímsson has been President since 1996, and had intended to step down until petitions were signed to show the people’s firm support. The other realistic candidate sits eight points down, but this is encouraging given the sheer one-sidedness that polls were showing a month ago (Mr Grímsson has dropped as many as nine points).

Thóra Arnórsdóttir would be the first female President of Iceland, but the gender politics in Iceland is moving positively where women in the cabinet now outnumber men, and the government is now led by the world’s first openly lesbian Prime Minister. Presidential candidate Mrs Arnórsdóttir is against party politics, having experienced them as a journalist, and wants to improve the divide in pay between male and female workers. This is a socially progressive and positive move in a country with a good history for it.

The Icelandic voters’ position is an unenviable one to be in. Spoilt for choice between an experienced, steady economic force with a great track-record standing up to foreign powers and banks, and a socially responsible President, eager to make Iceland a more egalitarian place. It is the classic choice between social and financial priorities. Except, for once, voters appear to be getting two candidates that do not sacrifice one priority in favour of the other.

This article is not designed to make a prediction or recommendation on the result of the June 30th election. However, it is yet another example of how Scandinavian countries garner positive aspects for the rest of Europe to learn from. Rejection of bail-outs, and foreign intervention at the behest of the people on one hand. Real desire for social change and equality on the other. The election is a golden opportunity to see how European countries could have choices in politicians that are not just the lesser of two evils.

Iceland is not perfect, however, and should not be idealised. The Icelandic President has little real power. Mr Grímsson still presided over the financial crisis, and was very populist in his decision to threaten a veto. Mrs Arnórsdóttir is regularly smeared as being ‘too pregnant’ to run for office, and she would like to see the powers of the President limited even further, removing a key balance from Iceland’s parliamentary system. The lessons are there to be learned though, and as Europe enters into the financial underworld, it may be up to countries like Iceland to hand it a ladder.

Follow Harry on twitter :@hevans567

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About the Author

Harry Evans

Harry is a recent Philosophy graduate from the University of York. He is taking a Master’s in European Studies next year at UCL and has a particular interest in Scandinavian politics and economy. His time is currently spent undertaking an internship, researching and writing a history of the University of York Philosophy department. At University, he was editor of the student Philosophy journal, and has been published by the Club of PEP journal. Harry is hoping to make a career in International Relations and Journalism, and writes for Catch21 in this capacity. For more information and updates follow @hevans567 or find him on LinkedIn. You can also read more from this author on their personal blog.



  • L.Eriksson

    Iceland has had a female President before, from 1980-1996. Simple fact checking would have pointed this out.

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