Europe

Iceland country profile

Map of Iceland

A sparsely-populated North Atlantic island, Iceland is famous for its hot springs, geysers and active volcanoes. Lava fields cover much of the land and hot water is pumped from under the ground to supply much of the country's heating.

Iceland became an independent republic in 1944 and went on to become one of the world's most prosperous economies. However, the collapse of the banking system in 2008 exposed that prosperity as having been built on a dangerously vulnerable economic model.

The affluence enjoyed by Icelanders before 2008 initially rested on the fishing industry, but with the gradual contraction of this sector the Icelandic economy developed into new areas.

FACTS

Republic of Iceland

Capital: Reykjavik

  • Population 328,000

  • Area 103,000 sq km (39,769 sq miles)

  • Major language Icelandic

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 80 years (men), 84 years (women)

  • Currency krona

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LEADERS

President: Gudni Johannesson

Image copyright AFP

University historian Gudni Johannesson won Iceland's presidential election in June 2016 on his 48th birthday.

He secured 39.1% of the vote, ahead of Halla Tomasdottir, a private equity executive, on 27.9%.

A political outsider, he campaigned for the largely ceremonial post by pledging to restore Icelanders' faith in their system of government after years of public dissatisfaction with politicians first sparked by the country's banking collapse in 2010.

Mr Johanesson succeeded Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who stepped down in August 2016 after 20 years.

Prime minister: Bjarni Benediktsson

Image copyright Getty Images

Bjarni Benediktsson, who leads a coalition of his conservative Independence Party, the centre-right Restoration and centrist Bright Future parties, became prime minister in January 2017.

His party won 21 of 63 seats in Parliament during October 2016 elections triggered by the resignation of former Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, following leaks linking Gunnlaugsson to offshore holdings.

No party gained a parliamentary majority in an election dominated by public anger at Iceland's traditional elites and a strong desire for political change.

While finance minister in the previous administration, Mr Benediktsson, 46, oversaw solid growth and very low unemployment in Iceland.

Within weeks of taking on the premiership, he faced accusations of concealing reports on the impact of a debt collection scheme until after the election.

MEDIA

National radio and TV is provided by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV), a public-service broadcaster owned by the state.

The RUV is obliged to promote the Icelandic language and the nation's history and cultural heritage. Its services are funded by a licence fee, and by advertising revenues.

Press titles include privately-owned and party-affiliated newspapers. The constitution guarantees press freedom.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Iceland's history:

1918 - Iceland achieves full self-government under the Danish crown.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A view of Iceland's capital Reykjavik

1940 - German forces occupy Denmark. British forces occupy Iceland.

1941 - The United States takes over the defence of Iceland and stations tens of thousands of troops there.

1943 - The Treaty of Union with Denmark runs out, with Denmark still occupied by Nazi Germany.

1944 - Icelanders vote in a referendum overwhelmingly to cut all ties with Denmark and become a republic. The Republic of Iceland is proclaimed.

1944 - Iceland becomes a member of Nato.

1970 - Iceland joins European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

2008 - After years of growth between the late 1990s and mid-2000s, Iceland's economy collapses as a result of massive currency depreciation and the failure of its domestic banking industry.

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