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Siv Fridleifsdottir and the Icelandic chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers 2004
Portrait

Siv Fridleifsdottir and the Icelandic chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers 2004

| Text: Björg Eva Erlendsdóttir, Photo: Mats Holmström/norden.org, Lennart Perlenhem (below)

She is Icelandic, Norwegian, and a little bit Swedish. She grew up on the outskirts of the only big city in Iceland, in the county of Seltjarnarnes, surrounded by the Atlantic. Her main job is as Iceland’s Environment Minister, and this year she is also a Nordic co-operation minister. She is one of the leading women in Icelandic politics, active in a political party where the closest young women used to come to power was to be married to a politician.

Framsóknarflokkurinn, the Progressive Party, is a farmers' party with its roots in agriculture. Over the past century, its policies were driven by old chieftains from farms where the Icelandic sheep had first priority.

Siv, the co-operation minister, speaks fast and moves fast. This year is a busy one for her. There are many meetings in Reykjavik and elsewhere in Iceland. She will receive a flourish of Nordic guests throughout the year. They work to the guidelines laid down by the Icelandic chairmanship. The co-operation minister looks west. This year, she wants to focus on the West-Nordic part of the Nordic region; The Faroe islands, Iceland and Greenland.

Attention is also given to neighbouring countries, as well as the large sea areas in this part of the Atlantic. The goal of the Icelandic chairmanship is to make better use of the rich resources which are under the joint administration of the Nordic countries.

Three priorities

At the Nordic Council meeting in Reykjavik on 2 February, Siv presented the Icelandic programme, and this is how she explained the three tasks which will be given special priority:

“Firstly we will suggest ways of strengthening democracy in the Nordic countries in the century of information technology.
“Secondly we want to establish a more efficient co-operation in the West-Nordic region, so that we together can contribute to economic growth in the North-Atlantic area. The Nordic Council of Ministers should shape a neighbour policy towards the west, which includes protection of the environment and marine resources.

“Thirdly we want to follow up on the work the Swedish chairmanship did to tear down border obstacles between the Nordic countries, and we hope to achieve as good results as those that were achieved last year under the Swedish leadership”.

Democracy using IT

In addition, Siv says, many tasks have fallen under the portfolio of the ministers for specific policy areas. One important theme is democracy. A committee on democracy has been given the task to suggest ways of  strengthening the democratic processes in the Nordic area, using information technology in the dialogue between citizens.

Siv wants to make a lot happen and make it happen fast. So far she has definitely kept the speed up. She became a government minister in the male dominated farmers' party when she was only 36. She was in charge of co-operation within the opposition party in her right-of-centre- led home county of Seltjarnarnes over two terms – from the age of 

Siv Fridleifsdottir i natur

27. She plays badminton and drives a motor bike, but her greatest interest is hiking in Iceland, preferably in the mountains.

The Environment Minister has been controversial. During her time in office, Iceland has decided to launch the largest energy project in Icelandic history. Large and beautiful areas of wild nature will be lost under water. Environmentalists have been protesting against this nearly every day for two years, also outside Iceland's parliament, the Althing. But a majority of the Icelandic people support the energy project and the big industries which will be running it, because they create jobs and economic growth.

Siv Fridleifsdóttir has never said Iceland should remain untouched regardless of the cost. The Minister thinks environmental protection and energy projects can co-exist to a large degree.

Reshuffle ahead

Siv Fridleifsdóttir must step down from her ministerial post in the Icelandic government in September. When the leader of her own party becomes Prime Minister, there will be a government reshuffle, and the Alliance (an alliance of three political parties for the 1999 elections) takes over the Environment Ministry.

No minister in the Framsóknarflokkurinn can feel safe. One will have to go. But Siv intends to stay on, be it in any ministry. She has given a clear signal to her party leader to that extent:

"A young woman who has led her party both in her own district and on a national level, with good results for many years, should continue in leadership. There is no doubt this is for the best for the party", says Siv, full of energy and determination.

The position as co-operation minister in the Nordic Council of Ministers has always been the job of a government minister.
And that office comes under the Prime Minister’s office. This is the second time the Environment Minister, Siv Fridleifsdóttir, fills that role. Last time was from September 1999, when Iceland was last chairman of the Nordic Council. Now she would very much like to conclude the job, no matter what happens to her ministerial position within the Icelandic government.

Summers in Norway

Half-Norwegian, Siv has for a long time followed Nordic issues closely. She partly grew up in Norway, where she spent almost every summer next to the Oslofjord with her grandparents.

She speaks fluent Norwegian and has been co-operation minister for a total of four and a half years.

Siv fights for gender equality, and has also underlined the importance of moving her party’s focus away from the countryside to the capital. She is convinced that she, together with others, have moved borders and made progress towards gender equality.

But it has been hard.

"Those who fight for gender equality rarely get a pat on the back. There are always some men who feel intimidated when gender equality turns into more than just fine words. That's when obstacles are laid, but not in broad daylight. Nobody speaks against gender equality in public. That’s why they have to resort to less refined methods."

Nordic co-operation is of special interest to Siv.
"Most people don't realise how important this co-operation is, nor do they know about the advantages enjoyed by the people as a result of this work. Nordic issues are not of special interest to the media. That is understandable", Siv says.

Scandals are rare

“You won't find the big stories there, and scandals are rare. This is a tight, result-oriented co-operation, and the work covers most issues which concern life in the Nordic countries.

“That's why, under Icelandic chairmanship, it is natural to keep a broad reference to the inner and outer strengths the Nordic citizens enjoy through society structures, culture and nature. That way we stand stronger in the face of international competition.”

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