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Iceland gets new government, could restart talks on entering EU

By Jill Lawless Associated Press

LONDON – Iceland got a new, Pirate Party-free government on Wednesday, almost three months after an election that produced no outright winner.

The center-right Independence Party, which won the largest share of seats, formed a coalition with the smaller Reform and Bright Future parties.

Together the three parties hold the slimmest of majorities – 32 of the 63 seats in parliament.

Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson has been named prime minister in the new administration. Six Cabinet posts are held by his party, three by Reform – a breakaway from the Independence Party that wants Iceland to join the European Union – and two by the centrist Bright Future party.

Reform leader Benedikt Johannesson is the country’s new finance minister, while the new health minister is Bright Future chief Ottarr Proppe, former lead singer of rock bands HAM and Dr. Spock.

Benediktsson said Tuesday that the government would give parliament a vote on whether to re-start EU entry talks. Iceland applied for membership in 2009, as it reeled from the collapse of its banks and the economy, but withdrew its bid in 2015.

The new government will disappoint those Icelanders who had hoped for radical change after an election triggered by revelations of former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s offshore holdings. He resigned, triggering an early election, after details of his accounts were revealed in the Panama Papers leak.

The issue of tax avoidance by the wealthy is particularly sensitive in the tiny north Atlantic nation, which endured years of austerity and capital controls after the 2008 global financial crisis.

In the Oct. 29 election, the radical Pirate Party, which calls for direct democracy and digital freedom, tripled its vote and won 10 parliamentary seats. But many Icelanders also voted for continuity, in the form of Benediktsson’s Independents, who had formed part of the previous coalition government.

Since election day there have been three failed attempts to form coalitions, including one led by the Pirates.

Benediktsson, the finance minister in Iceland’s previous government, was also named in the Panama Papers as having held a stake in a Seychelles-based investment company.

He didn’t resign, and escaped much of the opprobrium heaped on Gunnlaugsson, whose offshore arrangements brought raucous street protests.

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