As Iceland continues to make good progress in its efforts to become the EU's latest member, interest in the tiny Nordic country is heating up. Yes, we all know about its many geysers, its erupting volcanoes and the quirky singer Björk. However, there is a lot more worth knowing about this island state. As the EP's foreign affairs committee adopted a motion for a resolution on its 2011 progress report on Monday, we take the opportunity to present you with five fascinating facts about Iceland.
Iceland is one of the world's leaders in the use of renewable energy. About 72% of its energy use comes from renewable energy and geothermal heat is used to heat 87% of all houses. It also plays an important role in research and innovation. Iceland's universities have launched several graduate and post graduate courses in many fields of clean energy and renewable energy studies are rapidly becoming more popular among students. This expertise and experience could help the EU to achieve its green goals.
Iceland is an expert on the arctic, which is rapidly becoming more important as global warming is opening up faster and safer sea routes in the area as well creating new opportunities to drill for oil. The Stefansson Arctic Institute was established in 1998 in Akureyri in Northern Iceland, which is a growing centre of arctic activities. Two of the Arctic Council's secretariats are located in the same building with the institute: Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) and Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME).
Despite being one of the founding members of NATO, Iceland does not have a standing army. It does have a coast guard, national police forces and air defence system. The country also contributes civilian peacekeepers to NATO-led operations.
Iceland has always been one of the first to recognise newly independent countries. It was the first country to recognise the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the USSR in the early 90s. Iceland was also the first to recognise Montenegro's independence from the former union with Serbia in 2006 and last year it recognised Palestine as an independent and sovereign state.
And one more fact: Iceland is Europe's second largest island after Great Britain and the 18th largest in the world.