Icelanders Vote to Include Commons in Their Constitution

by Project Censored
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In October 2012, Icelanders voted in an advisory referendum regarding six proposed policy changes to the nation’s 1944 Constitution.   In response to the question, “In the new Constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?” Iceland’s citizens responded with a decisive “yes.”  81% of those voting supported the commons proposal.

The constitutional reforms are a direct response to the nation’s 2008 financial crash, when Iceland’s unregulated banks borrowed more than the country’s gross domestic product from international wholesale money markets.  As Jessica Conrad of On The Commons reports, “it is clear that citizens are beginning to recognize the value of what they share together over the perceived wealth created by the market economy.”

A National Assembly of 950 citizens guided the drafting of the proposed constitutional reforms.  Each of the 950 citizens had been drawn at random from the national registry.

For the constitutional reforms, including the commons proposal, to take effect, Iceland’s Parliament must finalize the bill and ratify it.  As Thorvaldur Gylfason, a former member of the Constitutional Council, writes, “Here the plot begins to thicken.”  Opposition to the bill’s ratification includes politicians with ties to Iceland’s fishing industry, which has “for many years received fishing quotas practically gratis from the government.”

After the October vote, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir said, “The people have put the parliament on probation.”  A version of the proposals supported by Iceland’s voters is likely to be presented to parliament in 2013, after the next parliamentary election.


Jessica Conrad, “Icelanders Vote to Include the Commons in Their Constitution,” Commons Magazine, November 2012,

Thorvaldur Gylfason, “Iceland: Direct Democracy in Action,” Open Democracy, November 12, 2012,

Student Researcher: Pedro Martin Del Campo, Sonoma State University

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth, Sonoma State University