Kjartan Jóhannsson

Kjartan Jóhannsson (19 December 1939 – 13 November 2020) was an Icelandic diplomat, politician, cabinet minister, and professor.

Kjartan Jóhannsson
Minister of Commerce
In office
15 October 1979 – 8 February 1980
Prime MinisterBenedikt Sigurðsson Gröndal
Preceded bySvavar Gestsson
Succeeded byTómas Árnason
Minister of Fisheries
In office
1 September 1978 – 8 February 1980
Prime MinisterÓlafur Jóhannesson
Benedikt Sigurðsson Gröndal
Preceded byMatthías Bjarnason
Succeeded bySteingrímur Hermannsson
Personal details
Born19 December 1939
Reykjavík, Iceland
Died13 November 2020 (aged 80)
Political partySocial Democratic Party

Kjartan was Ambassador of Iceland to, among others, the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, as well as the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. He was secretary general of EFTA, a member of the Icelandic Parliament (Alþingi), chairman and vice chairman of the Icelandic Social Democratic Party, Minister of Fisheries and Commerce, a consultant in management and management science, and an associate professor at the University of Iceland.[1][2]


After graduating from Reykjavík Junior College, Kjartan went to Stockholm and studied civil engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan), receiving an M.S. in 1963. He also attended courses in business and management economics at the Stockholm University in 1964. In the autumn of 1964, he went to Chicago to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology on a Fulbright Scholarship, receiving an M.S. in industrial engineering in 1965 before continuing on a stipend from the Icelandic Scientific Fund and completing a PhD in the field of operations research.[3]


Professional workEdit

Kjartan taught at Reykjavík Junior College during 1963 as well as working part-time for an engineering consultancy and the Icelandic Road Administration from 1963 to 1965. From 1966 to 1978, he ran his own consulting firm in the fields of planning, management and operations research. He was a lecturer at the University of Iceland in the Department of Science and Engineering from 1966 to 1974, before being appointed an associate professor in the Department of Economics and Business Administration. This position he kept from 1974 to 1989, with a leave of absence from 1978 to 1980 while he was Minister of Fisheries and Commerce. Kjartan was among the pioneers of operations research in Iceland.[4][5][6][7] In 1967, he along with two other academics, wrote the first ever computerized prediction program for Parliamentary elections in Iceland.[8] Kjartan was appointed an honorary member of The Operations Research Society of Iceland in 2006.

Political careerEdit

Kjartan was elected to the executive council of the Social Democratic Party of Iceland in 1972 and its vice chairman 1974.[9] That year he was also elected to the municipal council of the township of Hafnarfjörður on behalf of the party. He became a member of the Alþingi in 1978, and was re-elected three times, in 1979, 1983, and 1987. Appointed to the position of Minister of Fisheries in 1978, Kjartan quickly became known for his controversial views of conservation, more specifically regarding over-fishing and over-investment in the fisheries sector. He put a moratorium on investment in new fishing vessels and stopped fishing of select species where over-fishing was evident and advocated a quota system in fisheries. Most notably he put a total stop on capelin fishing at the point where scientists evaluated the remaining spawning stock had been brought down to 400 thousand tons.[10] This has remained the benchmark ever since. As Minister of Fisheries, he was a vocal spokesman for Iceland in its conflict with Norway over capelin fishing rights, north of Iceland up to the Jan Mayen area.[11] As Minister of Commerce, in 1979, Kjartan abolished import restrictions on confectionery, bread and biscuits, making their trade free, which caused some turmoil initially.[12][13][14]

He was voted chairman of the Social Democratic Party in 1980,[15] after challenging the sitting chairman, Benedikt Gröndal, who withdrew his candidacy. Kjartan's period as chair was tumultuous. A fraction of the party under the leadership of Vilmundur Gylfason broke away before the Parliamentary elections in 1983, forming the Alliance of Social Democrats and leading to a great loss of votes for the Social Democratic Party. In the following year Kjartan lost re-election for chairman to Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson.

During the period of 1986–89, Kjartan chaired committees and working groups proposing reforms in taxation; introducing 'pay-as-you-go' in income tax (termed income tax withholding in the U.S.),[16] replacing sales tax with value added tax, and reforming housing loans.[17] Furthermore, he chaired a committee for evaluation of the development of European integration, in particular regarding EU's internal market.[18] In 1988, Kjartan was elected speaker of the Lower Chamber of the Althing, a position he remained in until 1989.

He was member of the Parliamentary Committee of EFTA from 1985 to 1989, and was its chairman from 1985 to 1986. He took a leading role in the committee drafting a recommendation to the Ministerial Council of EFTA for positive response to the so-called 'Delors Initiative' for a closer relationship between EFTA and The EU.

He was also an initiator and in a leading role in the committee on the policy-making recommendation to the EFTA ministers to proceed towards complete liberalization in intra EFTA trade in fish, which was adopted in Hamar 24 June 1987, after two years of discussion.[19][20]

Diplomatic careerEdit

Kjartan was appointed Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Iceland to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva in 1989. In this capacity, he became member of the Council of EFTA. He was its chair 1989–90 and took part in drafting a formal position of EFTA to the then newly gained freedom of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, where EFTA invited these countries into negotiations on free trade agreements. Also in this capacity, he was on the Icelandic negotiating team for the establishment of the European Economic Area (EEA).[21]

He represented Iceland in the Uruguay round in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) up to its conclusion at the Ministerial Meeting in Marrakesh and the establishment of the WTO as a successor to GATT. In a ministerial meeting in Geneva on 16 June 1993 the Ministers of the EFTA countries Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein decided to appoint Kjartan the next secretary general of EFTA, making him the first Icelander to head an international organization.[22][23][24][25][26][27] He entered into office on 1 September 1994 at a time of great uncertainty as to EFTA's future. When three of its member countries joined the EU, the EFTA secretariat had to be radically reorganized, reducing staff by more than half while still maintaining the EFTA portion of the EEA agreement.[28][29] During this time, EFTA expanded the network of free trade agreements in Europe and beyond.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37] After 6 years as Secretary General, Kjartan rejoined the Icelandic Foreign Service and worked to prepare Iceland for upcoming negotiations with the EU on modifications of the EEA agreement upon admission of the eastern and central European countries to the EU. In 2002 Kjartan was appointed ambassador to Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Morocco as well as chief of mission to the EU and chief negotiator[38] on behalf of Iceland in the previously mentioned negotiations. He remained in this post until November 2005, when he returned to Iceland for retirement.


  1. ^ "Kjartan Jóhannsson".
  2. ^ Europa Biographical Reference Series
  3. ^ "Doktorsritgerðaskrá - Leit". doktor.landsbokasafn.is. Archived from the original on 29 May 2014.
  4. ^ Vísir 15.12 1966 pg. 8: O.R. (leiðari) http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=54&lang=is
  5. ^ Iðnaðarmál 145.árgangur 1967, 5-6 hefti pg.76: O.R.- Lausn flókinna vandamála í rekstri og stjórnun. Eftir Kjartan Jóhannsson
  6. ^ Tíminn 1.octóber 1967 pg. 24: Hjúkrunarkonur stutt í starfi. Um 60% hætta 2 fyrstu starfsár http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=50&lang=is
  7. ^ Tímarit Hjúkrunafélags Íslands 4. 1971 pg. 126: Hjúkrunarskortur og leiðir til úrbóta. Eftir Kjartan Jóhannsson
  8. ^ Þjóðviljinn 13. Júní 1967 pg. 12: Kosningavölva útvarpsins stóð sig vel. "Þetta var allt heimatilbúið" http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=257&lang=is
  9. ^ Morgunblaðið 19.11 1974 pg. 40: Flokksþing Alþýðuflokks: Dr. Kjartan felldi Eggert http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=58&lang=is
  10. ^ Sjávarfréttir Nr.10. 1979 – 7.árg. bls.7, Ritstjórnarspjall bls.7: Kjarkur. Bls.42, Viðtal við sjávarútvegsráðherra: Það er stórpólitík í sjávarútvegi og hvergi önnur eins togstreita
  11. ^ Aftenposten, Oslo, 4.august 1979, 120 argang, nr.353, side 4: Pa tomannshand: Loddekrigens James Bond. (interview)
  12. ^ Stjórnartíðindi B 1979 Nr.499, 12.12 1979 pg. 969: Reglugerð um innflutnings- og gjaldeyrisleyfi.
  13. ^ Þjóðvijinn 4.jan. 1980 pg.2 : Frjáls innflutningur: Brauð, kex og sælgæti http://timarit.is/files/13525334.pdf#navpanes=1&view=FitH
  14. ^ Frjáls verslun,39.árg 7 tbl pg.26 : Þjóðhátíðin mikla er liðin, Sælgætisveisla aldarinnar er hafin http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=282&lang=is
  15. ^ News From Iceland, December 1980:New leadership for Social Democrats, pg. 11.
  16. ^ Morgunblaðið 19.11 1987, bls. 33: Tillögur milliþinganefndar um staðgreiðslu skatta: Barnabætur greiddar út strax í janúar 1988. http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?issId=121496&pageId=1668447&lang=is&q=Kjartan%20J%F3hannsson
  17. ^ Álitsgerð til félagsmálaráðherra um nokkra kosti í skipan hins almenna húsnæðislánakerfis. Vinnuhópur um almenna húsnæðislánakerfið 23 mars 1988
  18. ^ Ísland og Evrópa. Evrópustefnunefnd. I.-VII. Rit. Alþingi 1988,1989,1990.
  19. ^ DV 12.6 1987, pg. 6: Tillaga innan EFTA: Fríverslun með fisk á 4-5 árum. http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?issId=191181&pageId=2530441&lang=is&q=Fr%EDverslun%20me%F0%20fisk
  20. ^ Morgunblaðið - 24. júní 1987, 74. árg., 1987, 139. tölublað, Blaðsíða 2 : Tollar af fiski og fiskafurðum felldir niður http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?issId=121238&pageId=1658312&lang=is&q=Kjartan
  21. ^ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE, 20 June 1991, pg 1 : EC Notebook, Benefits of Free Trade Drive EC-EFTA Talks.
  22. ^ DV 12.6 1993 pg 10 : Kjartan Jóhannsson talinn líklegur næsti framkvæmdastjóri EFTA: EFTA yrði heppið – segir Karl Steinar Guðnason alþingismaður. http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=255&lang=is
  23. ^ Alþýðublaðið 17.6 1993 pg. 1: Kjartan aðalframkvæmdastjóri EFTA http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=2&lang=is
  24. ^ News from Iceland July 1993 pg 3: Icelander appointed EFTA director- general.
  25. ^ Sydsvenskan 30.8. 1994 pg A5: Han skall hålla EFTA vid liv
  26. ^ Tribune de Geneve 1.10.1994 pg.10: AELE: plus que dix mois a vivre?
  27. ^ Financial Times 11.10. 1994: EFTA chief faces short contract
  28. ^ DV 21.1. 1995 pg 4: Endurskipulagning EFTA er aðalverkefnið núna http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=255&lang=is
  29. ^ Morgunblaðið 3.2.1995 pg.8: Breytingar vegna inngöngu Svía og Finna í ESB: Mikill niðurskurður http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?pubId=58&lang=is
  30. ^ Financial Times 8.12 1995 pg 7: EFTA four in Baltic accord
  31. ^ La Liberté 9/10.12 1995: L´AELE se sient bien comme elle est, confiant en l´avenir
  32. ^ Neue Zurcher Zeitung 9/10.12 95: Die EFTA baut ihre Drittlandbeziehungen aus
  33. ^ Journal de Genéve 8.12 1995: L´AELE n´est pas moribond
  34. ^ Journal de Genéve 28.2.1997: L´AELE ne peut plus imaginer l´Europe sans EEE
  35. ^ Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada: 9 October 1998 Press release no.241: Free trade agreements with EFTA countries to open transatlantic trade bridge
  36. ^ Reuters Geneva 3 May 2000 by Robert Evans: EFTA marks 40 years by looking for wider trade ties
  37. ^ EFTA 2000 Fortieth Annual Report of The European Free Trade Association pg 19 and figure 3 pg.24.
  38. ^ Nordlys 27.01.03 (Svenn A. Nielsen): En knallgubbe fra Island

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