In the context of the global financial crisis in 2007/2008 the Icelandic economy crashed in October 2008. One response was the decision by the Icelandic Parliament to revise the constitution and to involve the citizens. The Constitutional Council was a body of 25 appointed Icelandic citizens, mandated with creating a constitutional draft between 6 April and 29 July 2011. The council made innovative use of the internet, utilizing popular social media like Twitter and Facebook and making Iceland the first country to use crowdsourcing as a means for constitutional revision. The draft also suggests direct democracy procedures.
The final draft by the Constitutional Council received praise for its unique way to involve the citizens. On the other hand Progressive Party MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir called it “absolute crap,” (Iceland Review Online from 23.01.2012). Salvör Nordal who chaired the Constitutional Council, stated on RÚV’s Rás 2 last week that the Venice Commission’s criticism “must be taken seriously”. She pointed out that the council itself had recommended a complete review of the bill.
Generally the Venice Commission notes in its draft opinion, published on 11 February 2013 “in particular that numerous provisions of the Bill have been formulated in too vague and broad terms, which, despite the clarifications that might be provided by the Explanatory Notes, may lead to serious difficulties of interpretation and application, including in the context of the adoption of the implementing laws” (Number 182 of the draft opinion).
The new constitutional rules about direct democracy are regulated in Article 65 to 67. The Venice Commission notes that “these [rules] appear too complicated in the constitutional provisions, which would need a careful review, both from legal and political perspective” (Number 184 of the draft opinion).
To improve direct democracy in Iceland the Venice Commission suggests:
- to include “the way of collecting signatures (to be organized under Article 67.2)” (Number 123 of the draft opinion);
- to rethink the exclusion of proposals relating the State Budget, “since the vast majority of laws have a certain degree of budgetary relevance” and “more generally, these restrictions entail the risk of litigation and legal uncertainty as well as a great responsibility for the bills’ drafters”. The Commission also notes “that the President, when refusing to confirm laws, is not subject to such limitations which affect only people” (Number 124/125 of the draft opinion);
- to consider forming a separate Commission for each referendum in order to provide for a balanced representation of supporters and opponents of the proposal submitted (Number 126 of the draft opinion).
The expert opinion by the Venice Commission on Iceland is available at http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/CDL-REF(2013)010-e.aspx
Text by Dr. Klaus Hofmann