On 26th April, Össur Skarphéðinsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, presented his annual report on foreign affairs to the Icelandic Parliament.
Amongst the main findings are the following:
- Every year, the Ministry‘s consular service attends to over one thousand cases that concern the rights and wellbeing of Icelanders on foreign ground. Over 40,000 Icelanders reside abroad and the number of travels of Icelanders to other countries is in the hundreds of thousands. Consular assistance is of a varied nature and includes support to individuals and their families who find themselves in unexpected and difficult circumstances when abroad.
- An Action Plan for the implementation of Iceland's Arctic Policy is currently under preparation. The Arctic Council continues to gain strength and the Agreement on Search and Rescue is a living proof of that. In addition, the work on a new agreement on oil spills is well under way. Last year, the Foreign Minister signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of Arctic scientific research with Norway and a Declaration on Arctic Cooperation with Russia. Steps have then been taken to further cooperation with other states such as China, France and Germany.
- In the ten months that have passed since substantive negotiations on Iceland's accession to the European Union begun, just under half the chapters to be negotiated has been opened for formal negotiations and a third has been provisionally closed. Ahead are negotiations on important issues such as agriculture and fisheries. The negotiation process has shed light on various opportunities e.g. with regards to regional policy and employment. The accession process paves the way for the adoption of a new currency.
- The EEA collaboration gives individuals and businesses access to Europe's internal market and lays the foundation for active cooperation on education and culture, research and development. The advantages of the EEA cooperation are made clear in a recent Norwegian report but the conclusion can also be drawn from the report that from a democratic point of view Iceland's continuing EEA participation is becoming increasingly complicated. Under the EEA Agreement the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has undertaken legal proceedings against Iceland for failing to comply with the Directive on deposit guarantee schemes and/or Article 4 of the Agreement on the European Economic Area, regarding non-discrimination. The Icelandic Government's defense has been promulgated in all EU Member States.
- The Icelandic Parliament's decision to recognize the sovereignty and independence of Palestine was historic. Internationally, Iceland speaks out for human rights, peace and sustainable utilization of natural resources. This last year has seen many initiatives aimed at increasing cooperation with other states and international organizations in the field of sustainable fisheries, geothermal energy and gender equality. A committee consisting of MP's from all political parties in Parliament is currently working on a proposal for Iceland's first national security policy.
- Last June, the Parliament approved the first comprehensive Strategy for Iceland's Development Cooperation. The objectives and priorities outlined in the Strategy, including increased ODA targets, enjoy broad political support in Parliament. An important milestone was reached last November when a partnership compact was agreed between Iceland and the World Bank to deepen the cooperation and enhance the possibilities of accelerated geothermal expansion in Africa.
- Regarding multilateral trade cooperation, a new aviation agreement with Greenland was will facilitate air transport between the two countries. EFTA's free trade negotiations with ten states, including India, continued this year and free trade negotiations with China will be continued with increased vigor after the visit of China's Premier to Iceland recently.
Minister Skarphéðinsson address at Parliament can be found here
A translation of the report's introduction can be found here