April marks the 80th anniversary of the Icelandic Foreign Service. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs was founded as an independent entity in April of 1940, responsible for the foreign policy of the Kingdom of Iceland.
One of the main roles of the Foreign Service has always been assisting Icelanders abroad. As the 80th anniversary is now celebrated in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, many Icelanders have been reminded of this vital role, in particular those returning from abroad with the assistance of the Ministry’s consular services.
"We mark this milestone now in the face of unprecedented global challenges," says Guðlaugur Thór Thórdarsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation. "In the time of crises, we are reminded of the importance of international and regional co-operation among countries, while staying focused on guarding the interest of Icelandic citizens at home and abroad. Despite being small in numbers of staff, the Foreign Service has been able to scale up its consular services and show great flexibility to be able to assist almost 12 thousand Icelanders travelling abroad. "
Iceland is actively involved in the global multilateral system, international development cooperation and bilateral cooperation. In the first years following 1940, the Foreign Service focused on establishing diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries while negotiating agreements related to trade, air transport and defence, and strengthening cultural ties regionally.
In the first decade of the Foreign Service, Iceland joined the World Bank as a founding member in 1945, the United Nations in 1946, a year after the organisation was founded, and as a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949.
Free trade relations and regional co-operation have always been an important pillar of Iceland’s foreign policy. In 1970 Iceland joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and signed the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992. Throughout the years Iceland has also played an active role within the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Arctic Council. In addition to that, Iceland is engaged as a member of several other international organisations such as the Council of Europe, OECD, OSCE, and WTO, as well as funds, agencies and other entities of the UN system. Over the past couple of decades Iceland’s foreign policy priorities have focused on promoting gender equality, human rights and sustainable development.
This year also marks the centennial of the Icelandic Embassy in Copenhagen, which was opened in 1920, following the 1918 Union Act with Denmark. Leading up to the establishment of the Republic of Iceland in 1944, a Consulate General was opened in New York in 1940, followed by embassies in London and Stockholm the same year, the embassy in Washington in 1941 and the embassy in Moscow in 1944. Today Iceland has 26 diplomatic missions in 21 countries around the world and 240 Honorary Consuls in over 90 countries. Furthermore, six ambassadors are based in Reykjavik, accredited to a number of countries.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the Foreign Service, the Ministry has launched a historical overview on the website of the Government of Iceland (only available in Icelandic).