1st Edition

Icelandic Constitutional Reform People, Processes, Politics

Edited By Ágúst Þór Árnason, Catherine Dupré Copyright 2021
    286 Pages
    by Routledge

    286 Pages
    by Routledge

    This collection documents, analyses, and reflects on the Icelandic constitutional reform between 2009 and 2017. It offers a unique insight into this process by providing first-hand accounts of its different stages and core issues. Its 12 substantive chapters are written by the main actors in the reform, including the Chair of the Constitutional Council that drafted the 2011 Proposal for a New Constitution.

    Part I opens with an address by the President of the Republic and positions the constitutional reform in its full complexity and longer-term perspective, going beyond the frequent portrayal of that process in international discussion as being solely a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Part II offers a nuanced and contextualised reflection on Iceland’s innovative approach to consultation and drafting involving lay participants, including its twenty-first-century digital take on ‘the people,’ which attracted international attention as ‘crowdsourcing.’ Part III analyses the main constitutional amendment proposals, and focuses on natural resources and environmental protection, which lie at the heart of Iceland’s identity. The final part reflects on the reform’s wider significance and includes an interview with the current Prime Minister, who is now taking the reform forward.

    The volume provides a basis for reflection on a groundbreaking constitutional reform in a democratic context. This long and complex process has challenged and transformed the ways in which constitutional change can be approached, and the collection is an invitation to discuss further the practical and theoretical dimensions of Iceland’s experience and their far-reaching implications.



    In Memoriam: Ágúst Þór Árnason

    Contributors and editors

    The constitutional reform at a glance

    1. Introduction: making sense of the Icelandic constitutional reform


    PART I: Contexts

    2. The President and the Constitution


    3. The reform of the 1944 Constitution and Icelandic constitutionalism


    4. Iceland’s near-death experience


    PART II: Drafters and drafting processes

    5. The role and impact of the Constitutional Commission in preparing the constitutional revision


    6. The work of the 2011 Constitutional Council: a democratic experiment institution-making


    7. Crowdsourcing the 2011 Proposal for a New Constitution: when experts and the crowd disagree


    PART III: Constitutional proposals and bills

    8. The 2011 Proposal for a New Constitution: analysis and critical comments


    9. The 2016 Bill of the Constitutional Committee: three proposals for reforming the 1944 Constitution


    10. Natural resources and the reform of the Icelandic Constitution


    11. Would Article 79 of the 2016 Bill make much difference? Some considerations on the legal consequences of the proposed constitutional environmental provision


    PART IV: Reflections

    12. Iceland’s new constitution is not solely a local concern


    13. A politician’s perspective


    14. Conclusion: what has changed?




    Ágúst Þór Árnason (1954–2019) was one of the leading figures of Icelandic constitutionalism. He taught at the University of Akureyri, where he contributed to setting up the Law School, and founded the Polar Law Programme in 2008 with Professor Guðmundur Alfreðsson. He was directly involved in the initial stage of the constitutional reform process as a member of the 2010–2011 Constitutional Commission.

    Catherine Dupré is Associate Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Exeter. She has studied the processes of constitutional change and reform in Hungary (post-communism and since 2010) and in the UK since 1998. She has been following Icelandic constitutional developments since 2008 when she first visited the University of Akureyri as a guest lecturer. She is the author of Importing the Law in Post-Communist Transitions: The Hungarian Constitutional Court and the Right to Human Dignity (Hart Publishing 2003) and of The Age of Dignity: Human Rights and Constitutionalism in Europe (Hart Publishing 2015).

     'For constitutional scholars and practitioners around the world with an interest in the theories and methods of constitution making, an authoritative book on Icelandic Constitutional Reform could hardly be more welcome. Anecdotally, there is widespread awareness of the experiment with crowd-sourcing that took place in Iceland in 2011. Until now, however, there has been no major work that places that event in the context of the broader process or the history of the Icelandic Constitution as a whole. This book fills a very significant void. It will assist understanding of constitution making in general and the dynamics of public participation in particular.' 

    Cheryl Saunders, Laureate Professor Emeritus, University of Melbourne.

    'Agust Þór Arnason and Catherine Dupré have assembled an illustrious group of professors and politicians to illuminate every aspect of the unprecedented constitutional reform efforts of the last decade in Iceland. The colorful contextual details, deep theoretical insights and rich foreign and historical references make this book the best resource available to understand what spurred Iceland to engage in this long and lively experiment in constitutional change—and why the experiment ultimately failed.'

    Richard Albert, William Stamps Farish Professor of Law, The University of Texas at Austin.

    'Icelandic Constitutional Reform is a clear example of how constitutional change can always innovate and enhance the mechanisms of democracy. This book is not only on Iceland and the fascinating process of constitution-making that took place there right after the financial crisis of 2008. It is on how constitution and democracy need to be intertwined as strongly as possible and how innovations can be brought up to nudge this process. Its scope thereby transcends borders. There is a lot to learn from the many fascinating chapters of this volume and certainly this is a very important contribution to the field of constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, constitutional design and constitutional politics.'

    Juliano Zaiden Benvindo, Professor of Constitutional Law of the University of Brasília, Brazil.

    'This book analyses one of the most important, innovative and debated events in modern constitutional law and theory. It provides a rich and nuanced insight into different aspects of the reform process. The authors represent a broad interdisciplinary range of scholars and actors who played an active role in the reform process. The many different voices and contradicting interests from the process are weaved into one deep analysis of fundamental questions of constitutional reform.’

    Helle Krunke, Professor, Centre for Comparative and European Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.