New Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries in Iceland

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir took over from Svandís Svavarsdóttur who became Minister of Infrastructure just as a motion against her was pending this week.
Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir received the keys to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries of Iceland from Svandís Svavarsdóttur.

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir received the keys to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries of Iceland from Svandís Svavarsdóttur.

Photo: Sigurjón Ragnar / Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries of Iceland.

Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, a representative of the Left-Green Movement party, is the new Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries in Iceland. She comes at a delicate time for the Ministry when the whole country is looking in its direction, not only because of the new aquaculture policy that is still under debate but also because of the decisions taken by her predecessor regarding whaling.

As was recently the case in Peru, a change of Prime Minister in the country has led to a change in several ministerial portfolios. Last week, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced that she was stepping down from her position to run in the upcoming presidential elections, after which Bjarni Benediktsson, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, was appointed Prime Minister.

In forming his new government, Benediktsson announced that Svandís Svavarsdóttur will become Minister of Infrastructure, and Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir will take over from her as head of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries. In addition, it is noteworthy that, according to information from the local media Icelandic Review, in his first parliamentary speech setting out his government's priorities, the new Prime Minister made mention of aquaculture.

During his speech, in which he reflected on Iceland's strong economy, political stability, and rich natural resources as the foundations of its global position, Bjarni Benediktsson mentioned ongoing efforts to improve aquaculture and expressed the honor he felt in leading the government and seeking cooperative governance between the parties on this issue.

A new minister with a national and international political background

The new minister took office last week. As mentioned, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir is the replacement for Svandís Svavarsdóttur, who took over as Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in November 2021 and Minister of Food after the establishment of the Ministry of Food on February 1, 2022.

According to the note made public by the Ministry following the appointment, the new Minister completed her B.Ed. degree at the University of Iceland with an emphasis on information technology and social sciences in 2005, and a diploma in education and career counselling at the University of Iceland in 2008.

Since then, she has served in different public positions such as municipal councilor, district association president, municipal council president, or member of parliament, where she has belonged to several committees and has also been president of the parliamentary group of the Left-Green Movement party.

Additionally, Gunnarsdóttir has served on the Icelandic delegation of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA) Parliamentary Committees from 2017 to 2021 and 2021–, the Icelandic and EEA Parliamentary Committee from 2018 to 2021 and 2022 to the present day.

Whaling issue remains in debate

According to local media RUV, when she took the keys to the Ministry from her predecessor, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir expressed her excitement for the new position. However, she was cautious and, when asked by reporters about the Ministry's most contentious issues - specifically on whaling - Iceland's new Fisheries head said she would speak out later when she is more familiar with them.

"I'm not going to publicize any stance on these contentious issues; I just want to delve into it with the good people here at the Ministry, understand the situation before I express an opinion. It's a sensible approach," she said.

It is precisely the controversy surrounding the whaling ban that had led the opposition to announce a motion against the former head of Fisheries, Svandís Svavarsdóttur after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted by law when she temporarily stopped the whaling season last summer. The motion had been stalled due to the health problems of the now Minister of Infrastructure but was to be resumed this week.

Now, following the change in the Ministry's tenure, Iceland Review reported that Inga Sæland, leader of the People's Party, said it was unclear whether she could re-submit the motion with Svandís now in a different ministry. However, Sæland added she will file a motion of censure aimed at the coalition government as a whole arguing that three ministers in the new cabinet are "particularly skilled at evading the law" in the country.

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