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NEWS: Björk protests Canadian energy company in Iceland

The Toronto Star reports that, “Vancouver-based Magma Energy Corp. boosted its interest in Iceland’s HS Orka power plant operations to 84.2 per cent last August and to 98.5 per cent the following month. The acquisition is not sitting well with (Icelandic singer) Björk and others who want Iceland’s natural resources to be publicly owned and governed.”

“The eclectic musician launched a three-day karaoke marathon on Thursday in the capital of Reykjavík (for Magma to ‘hear the music’ of Icelanders opposed to foreign ownership of their country’s resources) as part of her campaign ‘to win back the country’s natural resources’. Björk is trying to get 15 per cent of the population — about 35,000 people — to sign a petition that would force the government to consider revoking the takeover. More than 20,000 people have signed so far, and the singer says she is hopeful that the remaining signatures will be gathered during the karaoke marathon. ‘For 100 years, good people protected our natural resources and public interest,’ the petition says.”

While this issue has not received much Canadian media attention, and the story is presented above as a relatively-minor increase in ownership from 84.2 to 98.5 percent, it has caused a significant controversy in Iceland.

Bloomberg reported in late-July that, “The Icelandic government said it will investigate Vancouver-based Magma Energy Corp.’s purchase of local geothermal energy producer HS Orka hf and may block the takeover. …Magma in June 2009 established a Swedish subsidiary that created Magma Iceland later that year. Magma Iceland in May completed the purchase of 98.53 percent of HS Orka after the transaction was approved by a parliamentary commission. Icelandic law prevents the sale of majority stakes in energy companies to buyers from outside the European Economic Area. The government’s investigation will focus on whether Magma circumvented Icelandic and European laws by establishing a company in Sweden for the sole purpose of investing in Iceland, Finance Minister Steingrimur J. Sigfusson said.”

France 24 reported in August that, “Bjork and other opponents have linked Magma’s gradual acquisition of HS Orka’s shares to Iceland’s near economic collapse in late 2008, when its major banks went belly-up, leaving the country and its citizens facing mountains of debt. Magma ‘has a reputation of working with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and buying up the energy sources of countries on the verge of bankruptcy,’ the singer said, charging that Magma has ‘already shown interest in buying up at least five other energy companies in Iceland.'”

And in November, the Icelandic Review reported that, “Ross Beaty, CEO of Canadian company Magma Energy which has acquired the majority of shares in Icelandic energy company HS Orka, is said to have threatened to sue Canadian magazine Macleans for libel after publishing comments by Björk on its website on November 9. ‘Companies owned by Ross Beaty have a bad reputation for breaking serious humanitarian and union laws in South America.’ Tom Henheffer, the Macleans journalist who did the interview with Björk, chose to publish a correction on the Macleans’s website on November 12: ‘On the 9th of November Macleans published on its website an interview with Björk where she claims that Ross Beaty and Magma Energy Corp. have broken laws in South America. This is not correct and we apologize to Ross Beaty and his company’. However, Björk did not mention Magma Energy Corporation in this context, as she was refering to Pan American Silver, another company in Beaty’s ownership, which, along with other Canadian mining companies, have widely been criticized in the media for their conduct in South America, as stated in the press release.”

The petition is at http://orkuaudlindir.is/. In order to sign it, you need to have a Icelandic social insurance number, but there is a link for more information in English on it.

Iceland is set to formally join the European Union in 2012, the year the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is anticipated by its proponents to come into force. As part of the European Economic Area, Iceland is already a member of the European Union’s single market. Iceland is also part of the European Free Trade Association. In July 2009, a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechenstein, Norway and Switzerland) came into force.