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France and Iceland

French-Islandic relations, which have long been excellent, are marked by considerable convergences of views, yet without any major disputes.

Political relations and major visits

The Icelandic President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, visited Paris from 16 to 18 April for the geothermal energy conference on 16 April; he met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, the President of the French Republic, François Hollande, and the Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ségolène Royal.

The French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ségolène Royal, visited Iceland from 27 to 29 July 2015 and accompanied the President on his official visit on 16 October that same year. This was the first presidential visit since that of François Mitterrand in 1990. President Hollande visited a glacier, before giving a keynote speech at the Arctic Circle Assembly.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir took part in the One Planet Summit held in Paris on 12 December 2017.

Economic relations

Our economic presence is limited but could be enhanced by several projects including the redirection towards Paris if the financial investments of pensions funds (currently blocked in Iceland by capital controls), the renewal of the fleet of Coast Guard helicopters (followed by Airbus) and cooperation in the geothermal energy field (the subject of a framework agreement between clusters developing common prospection in third-countries).

French-Islandic economic exchanges remain limited on account of the small size of Iceland’s market. Trade between France and Iceland represents only a small share of France’s foreign trade (1.5% of French trade with the Nordic countries) and our country is a secondary trading partner for Iceland.

However, trade between France and Iceland doubled in 2017, for the first time in ten years, moving from a deficit of €193 million in 2016 to a surplus of €87 million thanks to the aviation industry (delivery of Airbus aircrafts) and the increase in our automobile exports. French imports reflect the sectors in which Iceland specializes (fishery products, aluminium and pharmaceuticals). In 2016, French imports from Iceland fell slightly for the first time (down 2.3% on 2015). This decrease is explained primarily by the fall in aluminium prices.

A small amount of Iceland’s direct investments go to France, accounting for less than €7.5 million in 2016 of the total €5.5 billion. A dozen Icelandic companies are established in France and directly provide around 1,400 jobs. Iceland invests in a range of sectors, including fishery (Euronor, Compagnie des Pêches de Saint-Malo), agrifood equipment (Marel), health care (Gibaud/Össur) and engineering (Hecla).

Not many French companies are present on the island; investments stood at €9.7 million in 2015. A total of 29 French companies are working in Iceland, including JC Decaux.

Tourism, which is now Iceland’s leading industry ahead of fishery and aluminium, plays an increasingly important role in Franco-Icelandic relations. France is the fifth leading source of tourists. More than 100,000 French tourists visited the island in 2017, representing 4.5% of foreign visitors).
In the field of tourism, Iceland could benefit from our expertise in developing the tourism potential of its natural sites, infrastructure and transportation.

Scientific, academic, linguistic and cultural cooperation

France is currently one of the only diplomatic representations, along with Germany, China and Canada, to have a cultural service, and the only one apart from China to have its own language teaching association: the Alliance Française. France therefore has a strong cultural presence there.

The Alliance Française in Reykjavik, founded in 1911, is a reference point for French language learning in Iceland. There is a long-standing tradition of French in Iceland, but it is only the third most popular optional language, after German and Spanish, with English and Danish compulsory in secondary education. With the aim of promoting the French language, a project to create an electronic bilingual French-Icelandic dictionary, with over 50,000 entries, was re-launched in March 2014. The dictionary is to become available online in 2018.

Educational and academic cooperation between France and Iceland essentially runs through the European Erasmus+ programme. Scientific cooperation is a priority of our action in Iceland. The Hubert Curien Partnership (PHC) entitled Jules Verne, which was set up by the embassy in 2003, allows researchers to travel and new partnerships to be set up in cutting-edge areas (Arctic issues, geothermal energy, earth sciences, life sciences). Franco-Icelandic links with regard to Arctic issues have grown stronger in recent years, with Iceland’s participation in the European consortium ACCESS, coordinated by the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), and the opening of French research stations in Svalbard and the Antarctic to Icelandic scientists.

Updated: 30.07.18