Today, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, presented his annual report on Foreign and International Affairs to Parliament and said that the past year had been especially eventful in the fields of international and political affairs, international trade, development cooperation and international law.
In his speech the minister said, inter alia, that it was very important for the security and defense of Iceland, a country that did not have any armed forces of its own, to continue and strengthen its cooperation with allies. Iceland's membership to NATO and the bilateral Defense Agreement with the U.S. were the main pillars of Iceland's security and defense. The Foreign Minister said that in the past two years the cooperation between Iceland and the U.S. in this area had been further strengthened as challenges in Europe's security environment continue to unfold.
In his speech Mr Sveinsson said that the Icelandic government would continue to maintain and secure Iceland's important defense equipment, which is an integral part of NATO's common defense.In his speech to Parliament the Foreign Minister said that free trade agreements were key to assure trade between nations on an equal footing. To this end Iceland and other EFTA States prioritized concluding free trade agreements with emerging economies in Asia. He said that Iceland was also emphasising to speed up negotiations with MERCOSUR and start discussions with Canada on expanding the EFTA-Canada free trade agreement.
In the speech the Foreign Minister discussed the positive results of the World Climate Summit in Paris in December and the Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed by world leaders in September last year. Mr Sveinsson said that Iceland had been an active participant in both processes and that the Government had started implementing action-plans and specific budget-lines on the basis of both agreements.
With a view to Iceland‘s international development cooperation the Foreign Minister said that the Government‘s policy for 2017-2021 was in its final stages and will be submitted to Parliament shortly. He also said that negotiations were ongoing with the United Nations University (UNU) regarding the establishment of an UNU organisation in Iceland and that a legislative proposal to this end would be submitted to Parliament in the coming Spring.
Foreign Minister Sveinsson also discussed the strong role gender equality plays in Iceland‘s foreign policy and mentioned especially the Barbershop Conferences, which are Iceland‘s contribution to increasing male participation in discussions on gender equality. He said that since its launch in New York in January 2015, the Ministry had continued organising Barbershop Conferences in cooperation with international organisations where Iceland had membership. Earlier this month such conferences had been held at NATO headquarters and at the Human Rights Council in Geneva and more such events will be organised in the coming months. He said that UN Women had been very supportive of the Barbershop Conferences and Iceland would develop a tool-kit for organising such conferences.
The Icelandic Foreign Service has undergone severe budget cuts in the past few years which has affected the country‘s participation in various international cooperation. The Foreign Minister said that these have been challenging times especially for the Consular Affair Services which safeguards the interests and safety of Icelandic citizens abroad. At the same time, world-wide interest in Iceland had grown tremendously. After years of cuts the Foreign Service had now started to regain its strength and will for example increase its presence in Brussels with a view to further safeguarding Iceland‘s interests in the Europan Economic Area. Foreign Minister Sveinsson also said that Iceland would reopen its permanent mission to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, which was closed temporarily in 2009 due to Iceland‘s economic collapse.