Ávarp Sturlu Böðvarssonar, forseta Alþingis, á þingfundi 53. ársfundar NATO-þingsins, 9. október 2007.
An address by the Speaker of Althingi, Sturla Bödvarsson, at the 53rd annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on the 9th of October 2007.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the fifty-third session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – the first one to be held here in Iceland. These meetings are always an invaluable forum for reuniting with friends and allies, and the Althingi - Iceland’s parliament - is privileged to host the event this year.
In the last sixteen years, during which I have served in parliament, I have noticed how immensely the importance of foreign relations in the work of parliamentarians has increased. Foreign relations and international cooperation are becoming more and more important in all fields, and national parliaments have adapted to accommodate this development. Participation in international work has become part of our parliamentary duties, and the work schedule of parliaments therefore increasingly reflects this situation. As Speaker of the Althingi, however, I must confess that it can sometimes be difficult to harmonize members’ international obligations and their day-to day work in parliament and, like my colleagues, I sometimes ask myself in frustration: “where have all the people gone?”
Having said this, I can assure you that we value highly our membership of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We were among the founding members of the assembly and we consider our participation in its work as an important part of the Althingi’s international functions. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is indeed a valuable forum for parliamentary dialogue on an array of security, political and economic issues, and at the same time a central source of information for the assembly’s members and their respective national parliaments.
As you are aware, Iceland is a nation without an army and with a long tradition of peaceful coexistence with its neighbours. Iceland’s membership of NATO has been one of the central pillars in our national security policy. The other pillar has been the bilateral defence agreement with the United States, and US forces were present here in Iceland for over fifty years. Last year the bilateral agreement was amended and the US withdrew its forces. Iceland is now adapting to these new circumstances and shouldering increased responsibility for its own security and defence. I presume that this will be reflected in the work of our parliament, and defence issues are bound to become more prominent on our parliamentary agenda in the future. The first sign of this can be seen in the budget which was presented to the Althingi last week. The fact that the budget now includes, for the first time, an independent section on “defence expenses” reflects the transition which Iceland is experiencing, regarding national security policies, and our will to assume greater responsibility.
Having served as Minister of Transport and Tourism for eight years, before being elected Speaker of the Althingi, I must admit that it warms my heart to see so many guests from overseas. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed your stay in Iceland, and that this short visit to Iceland will perhaps inspire some of you to return later and explore our country further. Many of you went to Thingvellir yesterday, the site of the ancient Icelandic Parliament, where the autumn colours create a living work of art every year. Thingvellir, which is “sacred ground” for most Icelanders, serves as a living monument to our devotion to the common values of democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes – the same values that NATO safeguards and that we allies treasure.
May I finally say that our successful partnership over the years makes it a special honour for the Althingi to have you here in Reykjavík. I bid you welcome once again and wish you all the best in your remaining work today.