Creative Industries Iceland
Population: 331,918 (July 2015 est.)
Internet country code: .is
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); the colors represent three of the elements that make up the island: red is for the island’s volcanic fires, white recalls the snow and ice fields of the island, and blue is for the surrounding ocean
Iceland / Ísland (Icelandic)
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. Denmark granted limited home rule in 1874 and complete independence in 1944. The second half of the 20th century saw substantial economic growth driven primarily by the fishing industry. The economy diversified greatly after the country joined the European Economic Area in 1994, but Iceland was especially hard hit by the global financial crisis in the years following 2008. Literacy, longevity, and social cohesion are first rate by world standards.
Economy of Iceland
Iceland’s Scandinavian-type social-market economy combines a capitalist structure and free-market principles with an extensive welfare system. Prior to the 2008 crisis, Iceland had achieved high growth, low unemployment, and a remarkably even distribution of income. The economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides 40% of export earnings, more than 12% of GDP, and employs nearly 5% of the work force. It 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.
Iceland’s economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, particularly within the fields of software production, biotechnology, and tourism. In fall 2013, the Icelandic government approved a joint application by Icelandic, Chinese and Norwegian energy firms to conduct oil exploration off Iceland’s northeast coast. Abundant geothermal and hydropower sources have attracted substantial foreign investment in the aluminum sector, boosted economic growth, and sparked some interest from high-tech firms looking to establish data centers using cheap green energy, although the financial crisis has put several investment projects on hold.
Domestic banks expanded aggressively in foreign markets, and consumers and businesses borrowed heavily in foreign currencies, following the privatization of the banking sector in the early 2000s. Worsening global financial conditions throughout 2008 resulted in a sharp depreciation of the krona vis-a-vis other major currencies. The foreign exposure of Icelandic banks, whose loans and other assets totaled more than 10 times the country’s GDP, became unsustainable. Iceland’s three largest banks collapsed in late 2008. The country secured over $10 billion in loans from the IMF and other countries to stabilize its currency and financial sector, and to back government guarantees for foreign deposits in Icelandic banks. GDP fell 6.8% in 2009, and unemployment peaked at 9.4% in February 2009. Since the collapse of Iceland’s financial sector, government economic priorities have included: stabilizing the krona, implementing capital controls, reducing Iceland’s high budget deficit, containing inflation, addressing high household debt, restructuring the financial sector, and diversifying the economy. Three new banks were established to take over the domestic assets of the collapsed banks. Two of them have foreign majority ownership, while the State holds a majority of the shares of the third. Iceland began making payments to the UK, the Netherlands, and other claimants in late 2011 following Iceland’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld 2008 emergency legislation that gives priority to depositors for compensation from failed Icelandic banks. British and Dutch authorities claim Iceland owes approximately $6.5 billion for compensating British and Dutch citizens who lost deposits in Icesave savings accounts when parent bank Landsbanki failed in 2008.
Iceland’s financial woes prompted an initial increase in public support to join the EU and the Eurozone, with accession negotiations beginning in July 2010. However, the election of a new center-right government and declining public support amidst the ongoing Eurozone crisis led to the suspension of negotiations in mid-2013.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$15.01 billion (2015 est.)
$14.48 billion (2014 est.)
$14.22 billion (2013 est.)
note: data are in 2015 US dollars