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.

Outgoing prime minister: Bjarni Benediktsson

Image copyright Getty Images

Snap elections in October 2017 failed to produce an outright winner.

None of the record eight parties that won seats in parliament came close to obtaining a majority, and both the rightwing and the leftwing want a chance to form the next government.

President Gudni Johannesson has been holding talks with the parties and will need to make a choice on who will form a government.

Outgoing prime minister Bjarni Benediktsson, whose conservative Independence Party came out on top - though with just 16 of 63 seats, said he was ready to build a new government.

He called the snap election in September after a junior member of his centre-right coalition quit over a legal scandal involving Benediktsson's father.

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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