Policy Profile Iceland


Iceland is not a member of the European Union. However, it is a member of the European Economic Area.

Iceland, the EU and Europe

Iceland applied for EU membership in 2009, largely motivated by the financial crisis of 2008. However, in 2013 the Icelandic government suspended the application process, and in 2015 it formally withdrew its application. Icelandic public opinion on EU membership is mixed, with significant concerns over sovereignty, particularly regarding control of natural resources like fisheries. Nevertheless, the EU maintains a Delegation to Iceland to foster cooperation with the country and the Government of Iceland maintains a Mission to the EU in Brussels.

Iceland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and is also part of the Schengen Area.

Iceland participates in the EU’s Creative Europe program, which supports cultural and creative sectors, including cultural heritage. Moreover, the country participates in various European Commission initiatives in the field of culture such as European Heritage Days.

National Cultural Policy in Iceland

At a national level the Mennta- og menningarmálaráðuneyti Íslands (Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland), recently renamed to Ministry of Culture and Business Affairs, is the central government agency in charge of pursuing the state policy in the sphere of culture and heritage. It is also in charge of coordinating the work of other government agencies, such as the Safnaráð (Museum Council), and municipal authorities in this sphere. The Ministry is composed of two Departments, one tasked with Business Affairs & Tourism and the other with Culture & Media. 

The National Cultural Policy in Iceland was ordered by the Althing, Iceland’s Parliament, in 2013 and was drawn up in the same year by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in consultation with the arts & heritage sector. Government support is primarily directed at professional activity in the arts as well as at the preservation and dissemination of cultural heritage. 

The body responsible for the protection of archaeological and architectural heritage on the island is Menningarminjastofnun Íslands (The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland) created in 2013 through The Act on Cultural Heritage No. 80/2012. The Act merged two institutions: the State Archaeological Protection Committee and the Building Preservation Committee. Since then, the newly formed Cultural Heritage Agency reports to the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Climate. 

Regional Policies in Iceland

Iceland is divided in 7 regions (Eastern region, Western region, Southern region, Northwest, Northeast, Westfjords, Capital Region & Southern peninsula), each with its own distinct cultural identity. While the Ministry of Culture & Business Affairs used to draw up cultural agreements with the regions, so Treasury funds could be distributed to municipalities, this activity seems to have ceased since the dissolution of the Regional Cultural Councils in 2013-14. 

Nevertheless, there is still some activity taking place on a regional level although there does not seem to be a uniform picture. For example, in West Iceland, The Association of Local Authorities has been in charge of cultural affairs since 2013 when the Cultural Council of West Iceland was dissolved. The Association has a cultural representative who handles cultural projects and the region has its own cultural policy, which is renewed every four years. 

View all Iceland policies gathered so far

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* = This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence

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