Viewing cable 07REYKJAVIK158, ICELAND: HAARDE REMAINS PM IN NEW COALITION, SOCIAL
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|07REYKJAVIK158||2007-05-23 17:05||2011-01-13 05:05||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXRO4394 OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHRK #0158/01 1431731 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 231731Z MAY 07 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3316 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 REYKJAVIK 000158 SIPDIS SIPDIS DEPT FOR P (BAME), EUR/NB, INR/B DEFENSE FOR OUSD/P (HURSCH) E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/22/2017 TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON PINR IC SUBJECT: ICELAND: HAARDE REMAINS PM IN NEW COALITION, SOCIAL DEMOCRATS GET MFA AND KEY ECON MINISTRIES REF: REYKJAVIK 142 AND PREVIOUS Classified By: Amb. Carol van Voorst for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). ¶1. (C) Summary: Iceland's new government coalition of the Independence Party (IP) and the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) announced their ministers and policy statement on May 22-23. Geir Haarde will stay on as Prime Minister, while SDA leader Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir will become Iceland's second female Foreign Minister. The center-right IP retains control of the Ministry of Justice (under current minister Bjorn Bjarnason) and made few changes to its cabinet lineup. In addition to Foreign Affairs, most of the key economic and welfare ministries went to the center-left SDA. The coalition's policy statement focused almost exclusively on domestic social welfare issues, with a sole paragraph on foreign policy containing a deliberately ambiguous sentence "lamenting the war in Iraq." Post believes that on key U.S. policy concerns PM Haarde will work to keep bilateral relations on a smooth course, while FM-designate Gisladottir will work to quietly nudge Iceland ever closer to EU membership. SDA control of the economic ministries may have implications for continued investment in power-intensive industries. Down the line, Gisladottir's clear ambitions for the PM slot may trigger a coalition implosion partway through its 4-year term, with Gisladottir hoping that her party comes out of the rubble to lead a new center-left government. End comment. After 12 years, a new coalition ------------------------------- ¶2. (U) After five days of formal negotiations, Independence Party (IP) Chairman Geir Haarde and Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) Chair Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir each received approval from their party governing boards for a new coalition agreement. They presented their ministerial lineups on the evening of May 22. Each party received six ministerships, with the IP retaining Haarde as Prime Minister. There was little change to the IP slate of ministers apart from the consolidation of the Ministries of Fisheries and Agriculture, and the addition of the Ministry of Health (which the Progressive Party ran under the previous coalition). For the SDA, Gisladottir took the FM slot after some speculation that she would opt instead for a greater role in domestic policy, perhaps through the melding of one or more current ministries. The resulting cabinet is as follows: Prime Minister: Geir Haarde (IP -- incumbent) Foreign Minister: Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir (SDA) Minister of Justice: Bjorn Bjarnason (IP -- incumbent) Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture: Einar Gudfinsson (IP -- incumbent Minister of Fisheries, gains Ag portfolio) Minister of Education: Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir (IP -- incumbent) Minister of Finance: Arni Matthiessen (IP -- incumbent) Minister of Heath: Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson (IP) Minister of Industry: Ossur Skarphedinsson (SDA) Minister of Commerce: Bjorgvin Sigurdsson (SDA) (Note: Previously there was a single Ministry of Industry and Commerce) Minister of Social Welfare: Johanna Sigurdardottir (SDA) Minister of Environment: Thorunn Sveinbjarnadottir (SDA) Minister of Transport: Kristjan Moller (SDA) ¶3. (SBU) The IP-SDA talks began on May 17 after the announcement that coalition talks between the IP and the Progressive Party (PP), partners of 12 years, had collapsed. The fallout for the Progressives has been considerable, as PP Chair Sigurdsson has since maintained that he was led to believe that Haarde was sincerely interested in continuing the coalition despite the shrinking of the IP-PP majority to a single seat(reftel). Sigurdsson voiced his disappointment and sense of betrayal when IP-SDA talks began within hours of the IP-PP announcement on the 17th, and his dismay only grew with reports that Haarde and Gisladottir had been in informal contact as early as May 16. Haarde's response has been to note that "everyone knows how the process works" after elections in a parliamentary system. Sigurdsson, who failed to be elected to parliament on May 12, announced his resignation as Progressive Party Chair immediately after the coalition agreement was presented to the public on May 23. ¶4. (U) Procedurally, the new government formally takes office on May 24 at a meeting of the State Council (composed of the President, Prime Minister, and Cabinet). The old State Council will convene, officially retire, and the new Council will then convene. Afterwards, there will be a series of official ceremonies at the ministry buildings in Reykjavik as outgoing ministers present the symbolic keys to their offices to their successors. Meanwhile, the Althingi will convene during the week of May 28 to formally elect the Speaker of the Althingi (outgoing Minister of Transport Sturla Bodvarsson -- IP) and designate committee chairs and members. REYKJAVIK 00000158 002 OF 003 New Policy Statement Focused on Welfare Issues --------------------------------------------- - ¶5. (U) The coalition agreement's statement of policy devotes extensive attention to social welfare and economic matters, with an obvious effort made to split the difference between each party's campaign promises. The IP managed to preserve the current emphasis on a business- and investment-friendly regulatory environment, maintaining and even reducing Iceland's current low corporate taxes and including guarantees that the private sector will continue to take the lead in Iceland's economy. (Comment: A move apparently intended to quash fears of a return to Iceland's heavily socialist economy of the 1970s and -80s. End comment.) At the same time, the SDA pushed through its objectives of increased pension and state insurance expenditures for the elderly and disabled, as well as pledges of improved health care and services for children. SDA Chair Gisladottir has also highlighted the agreement's pledge to reduce or eliminate gender-based wage disparities (a fitting effort for one of the founders of Iceland's "Women's List" political party in the 1980s). The statement does not, however, clarify what moves will result from the SDA's control of the Ministries of Industry, Commerce, and Environment, which could have major implications for continued investment in the aluminum sector and other energy-intensive industries. Rather, the agreement's language focuses on "finding a balance" between economic development and the use and protection of natural resources, without laying out concrete actions. ...but placates both parties on Iraq ------------------------------------ ¶6. (SBU) On foreign policy, the agreement reflects an obvious attempt to give the SDA some cover regarding its election promise to remove Iceland from the list of the Iraq "Coalition of the Willing", while avoiding alienating the IP (and particularly those close to David Oddsson, who was PM at the time of the invasion). The Icelandic wording chosen can be translated as the GOI "lamenting" either "the war in Iraq" or "the conduct of the war in Iraq," leaving ambiguous as to whether the statement refers to the current situation or the means by which the current situation came about. In comments to the press, the PM and FM have each presented their own view on what the statement means. For his part, PM Haarde said, "we know the history and the position of the parties [in 2003] but of course we lament the situation there now," adding that the GOI will not let the events of four years ago affect its continued cooperation and efforts in Iraq. (Note: Iceland deploys a Public Information Officer to NATO Training Mission-Iraq. End Note.) On the other hand, FM-designate Gisladottir claims that it "is clear that the government laments the war and its conduct" and that subsequent GOI translations of the statement will make the intent of the government clear. More constructively, the document does indicate that Iceland intends to continue or strengthen its humanitarian and reconstruction activities in Iraq and the Middle East. ¶7. (SBU) On other foreign policy issues, the new government pledges to take the lead on international environmental issues (particularly ocean pollution and climate change) and follow a "decisive security and defense policy." A separate section on European Affairs notes that the GOI will establish a cross-party working group in the Althingi to study issues related to Iceland's membership in the European Economic Area and the "development of issues in Europe" (read: the strengthening of EU institutions) and make recommendations accordingly. (Comment: The SDA is the only Icelandic party to be openly pro-EU membership; this appears to be a compromise to allow the IP to kick this particular can further down the road while letting the SDA claim they are making progress on the issue.) Comment ------- ¶8. (C) Post concurs with FM-designate Gisladottir's assessment to the press that the new coalition represents a significant reconciliation of different viewpoints and political philosophies on the right and left. We add the caveat, however, that this will only be true if the whole grand enterprise stays intact for a full four-year term. PM Haarde continues to enjoy phenomenal popularity ratings hovering around 60 percent in most polls, while Gisladottir has consistently ranked as the "least trusted" Icelandic politician over the last year. Gisladottir's ambitions to be Iceland's first female prime minister are clear, and press and political observers are already speculating that she will attempt to force a confrontation with the IP in a few years. In such a scenario, Gisladottir would hope to recruit the Progressives and the Left-Green Movement into a center-left coalition in which she would be prime minister. ¶9. (C) In the short term, we expect that Gisladottir will attempt to use the FM post to shore up her credibility and public standing, earning voters' trust that she can be relied upon as the nation's REYKJAVIK 00000158 003 OF 003 leader. She will work to nudge Iceland closer to European institutions-always an objective--but for the time being we do not expect her to provoke the IP on this issue. Although she will probably follow the Icelandic pattern by making her first foreign trip to the Nordics, Gisladottir will likely want a Washington trip sooner rather than later in order to begin burnishing her credentials in the International arena. ¶10. (C) As he has during his first year as PM, Haarde will keep Icelandic-U.S. relations on the front burner, particularly in defense and security affairs. His clear preference is for Iceland to work through NATO for its security, and the retention of Minister of Justice Bjarnason is an important signal that the PM intends to continue recent efforts to strengthen Iceland's domestic security institutions and its Coast Guard. van Voorst