Meet Geir Finnsson, a 27-year-old young liberal from Iceland, who, despite the young age, has already played a crucial role in shaping liberalism in his country. Not only was he among the founders of the Icelandic liberal party ‘Viðreisn’, but also of its youth organisation ‘Uppreisn’. Currently, Geir is involved with the Reykjavik city council on behalf of Viðreisn, as well as being the Vice President of the National Youth Council of Iceland. Our Communications Officer, Luca Arfini, spoke with him about his career and experience in Icelandic politics.
Why are you a liberal?
To tell you the truth, I’ve been all over the political spectrum while growing up. It wasn’t until I reached my early twenties when I realised that being liberal was the best, and only, way forward for the community as a whole. Because freedom for individuals to do whatever they please, as long as it doesn’t restrict someone else’s freedom, is surprisingly underrated.
When did you realise that you wanted to undertake a political career?
I’ve found politics interesting for as long as I can remember. Seeing different ideologies come together, developing and ultimately affecting the community has always been strangely peculiar to me. When I reached my twenties, I realised that the reason I never joined a political party before was simply that my ideal political party didn’t exist at the time. So I got together with a group of like-minded young people and we discussed the potential founding of a political party for young liberals in Iceland. There was no turning back from there.
In 2014, you decided to join the founding team of the liberal Icelandic party Viðreisn (‘Reform Party’). Tell us more about your experience and the reasons behind its creation.
Around the time I and other like-minded individuals were discussing a possible political party for young liberals, we got wind of a potential formation of a new liberal pro-EU party under the working title of Viðreisn. I found the idea quite interesting, so I attended the first open meeting and discussed my interest with Benedikt Jóhannesson, who was overseeing Viðreisn at the time. I had known him for a number of years, as he happened to be a family friend. We quickly joined forces and merged our groups into one. The younger people from my group formed the youth organisation Uppreisn (‘Uprising’) and we spent the next couple of years forming the party itself. The reason behind Viðreisn’s creation stems from a number of factors, mainly the fact that Pro European members of the Independence Party (a right-wing liberal-conservative party that has been Iceland’s largest party for decades) were dissatisfied with the party’s lack of interest towards the EU as well as general liberal values in favour of general conservatism. The Independence Party formed a majority coalition with the Progressive Party back in 2013 and subsequently broke its promise of holding a general election on whether Iceland ought to join the EU or not. Around a similar time, the Social Democratic Alliance, the only actual Pro-European party at the time, was leaning more to the left with each passing moment, and other parties were abandoning their liberal values in favour of conservatism and anti-market policies. This, along with a growing number of young people who had never associated themselves with any party before, lead to the founding of Viðreisn, a true liberal pro-European party in Iceland that combined all these groups in one.
In March 2015, Iceland’s government requested that “Iceland should not be regarded as a candidate country for EU membership”. What is your opinion on the topic?
The companies that funded both coalition parties weren’t keen on Iceland joining the EU, so it made a lot of sense for them to prevent it from ever happening. Naturally, I’m sad that they succeeded. Regardless of everyone’s opinions regarding EU membership, the people should have been the ones to decide instead of the politicians. We didn’t even get a chance to see any sort of deal between Iceland and the EU, considering how close we were of achieving one so it was quite irritating that the government decided to stop these discussions on its own, without so much as discussing it with the parliament.
Iceland is geographically relatively isolated from Europe, as well as the rest of the world. However, strong economic growth over the past several decades and a booming tourism sector more recently increased its popularity in the international arena. What role do you feel Iceland can play in this period of crisis of traditional values of democracy and individual freedoms?
I believe Iceland can easily make a large impact on the rest of the world with its actions. Let’s not forget that liberal values include equal rights, something very close to the heart of Viðreisn and Icelanders in general. Showing the world that a nation is truly rich and prosperous when its citizens have the freedom to not only do good business but also to express themselves fully in all manners possible is probably the most important thing we can and should be doing.
What are your suggestions to young liberals who want to make a difference in their national political arena?
I may not be very knowledgeable on how political arenas function in other nations, but here it’s as easy as just showing up. In fact, I’m certain that can be the case in most places around the world. I believe many young people out there are very keen on politics, but they just don’t really know how they can make a difference. They don’t know how much they actually could influence entire political parties, or that they might as well just make their own. My suggestion is to do it, because if not you then who else will?
Luca Arfini is Libel’s communications officer. He is currently finishing his master’s in European Studies at Aarhus University in Denmark. He is Italian, but has lived in different EU countries, of which his favourite is Ireland. Last year he moved to Brussels to kick off his career in the EU bubble. He is an individual member of the ALDE party and collaborated with them during the EU election campaign.