Iceland

Introduction Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete independence attained in 1944. Literacy, longevity, income, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards.
History

Age of settlement

The first people thought to have inhabited Iceland were Irish monks or hermits who came in the eighth century, but left with the arrival of Norsemen, who systematically settled Iceland in the period circa AD 870-930. The first known permanent Norse settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, who built his homestead in Reykjavík in 874. Ingólfur was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Norsemen and their Irish slaves. By 930, most arable land had been claimed and the Althing, a legislative and judiciary parliament, was founded as the political hub of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Christianity was adopted in 1000. The Commonwealth lasted until 1262, when the political system devised by the original settlers proved unable to cope with the increasing power of Icelandic chieftains.

Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era

The internal struggles and civil strife of the Sturlung Era led to the signing of the Old Covenant, which brought Iceland under the Norwegian crown. Possession of Iceland passed to Denmark-Norway in the late 14th century when the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark were united in the Kalmar Union. In the ensuing centuries, Iceland became one of the poorest countries in Europe. Infertile soil, volcanic eruptions, and an unforgiving climate made for harsh life in a society whose subsistence depended almost entirely on agriculture. The Black Death swept Iceland in 1402–1404 and 1494–1495, each time killing approximately half the population.

Around the middle of the 16th century, King Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on all his subjects. The last Catholic bishop in Iceland was beheaded in 1550, and the country subsequently became fully Lutheran. Lutheranism has since remained the dominant religion. In the 1600s and 1700s, Denmark imposed harsh trade restrictions on Iceland, while pirates from England, Spain and Algeria raided its coasts. A great smallpox epidemic in the 18th century killed around one-third of the population.[14][15] In 1783 the Laki volcano erupted, with devastating effects. The years following the eruption, known as the Mist Hardships (Icelandic: Móðuharðindin), saw the death of over half of all livestock in the country, with ensuing famine in which around a quarter of the population died.

Independence and recent history

In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel. Iceland remained a Danish dependency. A new independence movement arose under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, inspired by the romantic and nationalist ideologies of mainland Europe. In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland home rule, which was expanded in 1904. The Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on December 1, 1918, recognized Iceland as a fully sovereign state under the Danish king. During the last quarter of the 19th century many Icelanders emigrated to North America, largely Canada, in search of better living conditions.

During World War II, the German occupation of Denmark on April 9, 1940 severed communications between Iceland and Denmark. At that point Iceland's parliament declared that the Icelandic government should exercise the authority that hitherto had been that of the King and take control over issues previously handled by Denmark on behalf of Iceland (principally foreign affairs). A month later, British military forces occupied Iceland, violating Icelandic neutrality. Allied occupation of Iceland lasted throughout the war.

In 1941, responsibility for the occupation was taken over by the United States Army. On December 31, 1943 the Act of Union agreement expired by its terms after 25 years. Beginning on May 20, 1944, four days of voting were conducted in a plebiscite on whether the union with Denmark should be terminated and whether a republic should be established.[16] The vote was 97% in favor of ending the union and 95% in favor of the new republican constitution. Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as the first President. The occupation force left in 1946. Iceland became a member of NATO on March 30, 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots and on May 5, 1951, a defense agreement was signed with the United States -- American troops returned and stayed as part of the defense agreement throughout the Cold War and until autumn 2006.

The immediate post-war period was followed by substantial economic growth, driven by industrialization of the fishing industry and the rebuilding, Marshall aid and Keynesian government management of the economies of Europe, all of which promoted trade. The 1970s were marked by the Cod Wars – several disputes with the United Kingdom over Iceland's extension of its fishing limits. The economy was greatly diversified and liberalized following Iceland's joining of the European Economic Area in 1992.

Geography Location: Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the UK
Geographic coordinates: 65 00 N, 18 00 W
Map references: Arctic Region
Area: total: 103,000 sq km
land: 100,250 sq km
water: 2,750 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Kentucky
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 4,970 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
Climate: temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; damp, cool summers
Terrain: mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fiords
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Hvannadalshnukur 2,110 m (at Vatnajokull glacier)
Natural resources: fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite
Land use: arable land: 0.07%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 99.93% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Total renewable water resources: 170 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.17 cu km/yr (34%/66%/0%)
per capita: 567 cu m/yr (2003)
Natural hazards: earthquakes and volcanic activity
Environment - current issues: water pollution from fertilizer runoff; inadequate wastewater treatment
Environment - international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Transboundary Air Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification, Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note: strategic location between Greenland and Europe; westernmost European country; Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital in the world; more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe
Politics

Iceland has a left-right multi-party system. The biggest party is the right wing Independence Party (’’Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn’’), while the second largest one is the social democratic Alliance (‘’Samfylkingin’’). Following the May 2007 parliamentary elections, these two formed a coalition, enjoying a strong majority in Althing, with 43 out of 63 members supporting it.

Other political parties that have a seat in Althing are the centrist Progressive Party (‘’Framsóknarflokkurinn’’), which had been in government with the Independence Party for 12 years before the 2007 election, the Left-Green Movement (‘’Vinstrihreyfingin - grænt framboð’’), founded in 1999, and the Centre-right Liberal Party. Many other parties exist on the municipal level, most of which only run locally in a single municipality.

People Population: 301,931 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 21.4% (male 32,759/female 31,845)
15-64 years: 66.8% (male 102,161/female 99,411)
65 years and over: 11.8% (male 16,162/female 19,593) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 34.5 years
male: 34 years
female: 35 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.824% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 13.57 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 6.77 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 1.43 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.029 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.028 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.825 male(s)/female
total population: 1.002 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 3.27 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 3.41 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3.12 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 80.43 years
male: 78.33 years
female: 82.62 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.91 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.2% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 220 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: less than 100 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Icelander(s)
adjective: Icelandic
Ethnic groups: homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts 94%, population of foreign origin 6%
Religions: Lutheran Church of Iceland 85.5%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.1%, Roman Catholic Church 2%, Hafnarfjorour Free Church 1.5%, other Christian 2.7%, other or unspecified 3.8%, unaffiliated 2.4% (2004)
Languages: Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Iceland
conventional short form: Iceland
local long form: Lydveldid Island
local short form: Island
Government type: constitutional republic
Capital: name: Reykjavik
geographic coordinates: 64 09 N, 21 57 W
time difference: UTC (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: 8 regions; Austurland, Hofudhborgarsvaedhi, Nordhurland Eystra, Nordhurland Vestra, Sudhurland, Sudhurnes, Vestfirdhir, Vesturland
Independence: 1 December 1918 (became a sovereign state under the Danish Crown); 17 June 1944 (from Denmark)
National holiday: Independence Day, 17 June (1944)
Constitution: 16 June 1944, effective 17 June 1944; amended many times
Legal system: civil law system based on Danish law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON (since 1 August 1996)
head of government: Prime Minister Geir H. HAARDE (since 7 June 2006)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister
elections: president, largely a ceremonial post, is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (no term limits); election last held 26 June 2004 (next to be held in June 2008); following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually the prime minister
election results: Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON 85.6%, Baldur AGUSTSSON 12.5%, Astthor MAGNUSSON 1.9%
Legislative branch: unicameral Parliament or Althing (63 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 12 May 2007 (next to be held by May 2011)
election results: percent of vote by party - Independence Party 36.6%, Social Democratic Alliance 26.8%, Progressive Party 11.7%, Left-Green Movement 14.3%, Liberal Party 7.3%, other 3.3%; seats by party - Independence Party 25, Social Democratic Alliance 18, Progressive Party 7, Left-Green Alliance 9, Liberal Party 4
Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Haestirettur (justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice); eight district courts (justices are appointed for life by the Minister of Justice)
Political parties and leaders: Independence Party or IP [Geir H. HAARDE]; Left-Green Movement or LGM [Steingrimur SIGFUSSON]; Liberal Party or LP [Gudjon KRISTJANSSON]; Progressive Party or PP [Gudni AGUSTSSON]; Social Democratic Alliance or SDA [Ingibjorg Solrun GISLADOTTIR] (includes People's Alliance or PA, Social Democratic Party or SDP, Women's List)
Political pressure groups and leaders: NA
International organization participation: Arctic Council, Australia Group, BIS, CBSS, CE, EAPC, EBRD, EFTA, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NATO, NC, NEA, NIB, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, Schengen Convention, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, WCO, WEU (associate), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Albert JONSSON
chancery: Suite 1200, 1156 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005-1704
telephone: [1] (202) 265-6653
FAX: [1] (202) 265-6656
consulate(s) general: New York
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Carol VAN VOORST
embassy: Laufasvegur 21, 101 Reykjavik
mailing address: US Department of State, 5640 Reykjavik Place, Washington, D.C. 20521-5640
telephone: [354] 562-9100
FAX: [354] 562-9118
Flag description: blue with a red cross outlined in white extending to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side in the style of the Dannebrog (Danish flag)
Culture

Icelandic culture has its roots in Norse traditions. Icelandic literature is popular, in particular the sagas and eddas which were written around the time of the island’s settlement. Icelanders place relatively great importance on independence and self-sufficiency; in a European Commission public opinion analysis over 85% of Icelanders found independence to be "very important" contrasted with the EU25 average of 53%, and 47% for the Norwegians, and 49% for the Danes.[30]

Some traditional beliefs remain today; for example, some Icelanders either believe in elves or are unwilling to rule out their existence.[31] Iceland ranks first on the Human Development Index, and was recently ranked the fourth happiest country in the world.[32]

An example from Brennu-Njáls saga. The sagas are a significant part of the Icelandic heritage.

Iceland is liberal in terms of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) matters. In 1996, Parliament passed legislation to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples, covering nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, by unanimous vote of Parliament, further legislation was passed, granting same-sex couples the same rights as different-sex couples in adoption, parenting and assisted insemination treatment.

Economy Economy - overview: Iceland's Scandinavian-type economy is basically capitalistic, yet with an extensive welfare system (including generous housing subsidies), low unemployment, and remarkably even distribution of income. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant geothermal power), the economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides nearly 70% of export earnings and employs 6% of the work force. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to fluctuations in world prices for its main exports: fish and fish products, aluminum, and ferrosilicon. Substantial foreign investment in the aluminum and hydropower sectors has boosted economic growth which, nevertheless, has been volatile and characterized by recurrent imbalances. Government policies include reducing the current account deficit, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, and diversifying the economy. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources. Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale watching. The 2006 closure of the US military base at Keflavik had very little impact on the national economy; Iceland's low unemployment rate aided former base employees in finding alternate employment.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $11.89 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $19.52 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 1.8% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $39,400 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 5.3%
industry: 26.3%
services: 68.4% (2007 est.)
Labor force: 180,000 (2007 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 5.1%
industry: 23%
services: 71.4% (2005)
Unemployment rate: 1% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Distribution of family income - Gini index: 25 (2005)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 4.9% (2007 est.)
Investment (gross fixed): 25.5% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $9.495 billion
expenditures: $8.432 billion (2007 est.)
Public debt: 27.7% of GDP (2007 est.)
Agriculture - products: potatoes, green vegetables; mutton, dairy products; fish
Industries: fish processing; aluminum smelting, ferrosilicon production; geothermal power, tourism
Industrial production growth rate: 9% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 8.533 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 0.1%
hydro: 82.5%
nuclear: 0%
other: 17.5% (geothermal) (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 8.152 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - consumption: 18,460 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 0 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 17,450 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Current account balance: -$3.384 billion (2007 est.)
Exports: $4.569 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: fish and fish products 70%, aluminum, animal products, ferrosilicon, diatomite
Exports - partners: Netherlands 16.5%, UK 15.7%, Germany 15%, US 10.8%, Spain 6.4% (2006)
Imports: $5.777 billion (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, petroleum products, foodstuffs, textiles
Imports - partners: US 12.8%, Germany 12.3%, Norway 7.1%, Sweden 6.9%, Denmark 6.1%, UK 5.3%, China 5.3%, Netherlands 4.8%, Japan 4.1% (2006)
Economic aid - donor: $6.7 million (2004)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $2.436 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external: $3.073 billion (2002)
Stock of direct foreign investment - at home: $NA
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad: $NA
Market value of publicly traded shares: $27.8 billion (2005)
Currency (code): Icelandic krona (ISK)
Currency code: ISK
Exchange rates: Icelandic kronur per US dollar - 63.391 (2007), 70.195 (2006), 62.982 (2005), 70.192 (2004), 76.709 (2003)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 193,700 (2006)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 328,500 (2006)
Telephone system: general assessment: telecommunications infrastructure is modern and fully digitized, with satellite-earth stations, fiber-optic cables, and an extensive broadband network
domestic: liberalization of the telecommunications sector beginning in the late 1990s has led to increased competition especially in the mobile services segment of the market
international: country code - 354; the CANTAT-3 and FARICE-1 submarine cable systems provide connectivity to Canada, the Faroe Islands, UK, Denmark, and Germany; a planned new section of the Hibernia-Atlantic submarine cable will provide additional connectivity to Canada, US, and Ireland; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean), 1 Inmarsat (Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions); note - Iceland shares the Inmarsat earth station with the other Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 3, FM about 70 (including repeaters), shortwave 1 (1998)
Radios: 260,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 14 (plus 156 repeaters) (1997)
Televisions: 98,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .is
Internet hosts: 270,942 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 20 (2001)
Internet users: 194,000 (2006)
Transportation Airports: 99 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 5
over 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 3
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 94
1,524 to 2,437 m: 3
914 to 1,523 m: 28
under 914 m: 63 (2007)
Roadways: total: 13,028 km
paved/oiled gravel: 4,241 km (does not include urban roads)
unpaved: 8,787 km (2005)
Merchant marine: total: 2 ships (1000 GRT or over) 4,704 GRT/729 DWT
by type: passenger/cargo 2
registered in other countries: 41 (Antigua and Barbuda 9, Bahamas 1, Belize 1, Faroe Islands 4, Gibraltar 1, Malta 7, Norway 3, St Vincent and The Grenadines 15) (2007)
Ports and terminals: Grundartangi, Hafnarfjordur, Reykjavik
Military Military branches: no regular military forces; Icelandic National Police (2006)
Manpower available for military service: males age 18-49: 69,038 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 18-49: 56,777 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 0% (2005 est.)
Military - note: under a 1951 bilateral agreement, Iceland's defense was provided by a US-manned Icelandic Defense Force (IDF) headquartered in Keflavik; in October 2006, all US military forces in Iceland were withdrawn; nonetheless, the US and Iceland signed a Joint Understanding to strengthen their bilateral defense relationship, including regular security consultations, military communications in the event of national emergencies, annual bilateral exercises on Icelandic territory, and future bilateral and NATO support to four Iceland Air Defense System (IADS) radar sites
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: Iceland, the UK, and Ireland dispute Denmark's claim that the Faroe Islands' continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm