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Iceland’s government in disarray over whaling

When MPs – ostensibly working together in coalition – publicly disagree on a controversial topic, you know there is a problem.  When this happens twice in as many days, you know there REALLY is a problem. This certainly seemed to be the case this week judging by public statements made by various members of Iceland’s ruling Progressive/Independence party coalition. The subject of this dissent? Whaling.

No sooner had Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Foreign Affairs Minister and member of the Progressive party, ventured the opinion  that Iceland should seriously consider the extent of its whaling operations in light of growing international criticism, especially from the US – a move that has both surprised and delighted WDC and other opponents of whaling –  than a fellow Coalition MP, Jón Gunnarsson, chairman of the Business Committee and member of Independence party, put his head above the parapet to robustly counter any indication that  this staunchly pro-whaling government might be giving ground on the subject.

In response to Sveinsson’s assertion that “We here at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have noticed first-hand how Iceland is sometimes looked down upon because of [our continued whaling]. Our partnership with the U.S. is very good on the whole, although whaling stands in the way of certain things”, Gunnarsson declared  that he ‘completely disagreed’ because in his opinion, previous dire predictions about the negative impact that whaling would have upon Iceland’s tourism and export sectors had not materialized.

Meanwhile in an equally surprising – but welcome – move, Independence party MP, Elin Hurst, declared this week that whale watching is a far more important sector than whaling.

She, too, was shouted down, however, by fellow Independence MP, Sigridur A, Anderson, who defended the whaling industry on her Facebook page, saying that it should not be regarded as inferior merely because “some foreigners have misconceptions about the industry.”

This week’s angry exchanges are not only entertaining, they are extremely important, revealing obvious dissent amongst MPs from pro-whaling parties. They are important for another reason too: around a third of the Icelandic electorate is undecided about whaling and, as many people take their cue from politicians, we can be sure that any criticism of whaling from MPs – or support for whale watching – will be taken to heart by the electorate.