Iceland is a Nordic island nation located in the North Atlantic Ocean with an approximate area of 40,000 square miles and a modest population of 348,580 people. Reykjavik is the capital city as well as the largest city in Iceland with over two-thirds of the populace living there. The question of whether Iceland is part of the European continent can be answered by looking at the nation’s alignment in terms of geography and politics.
Geography of Iceland
Technically, Iceland is neither part of Europe of North America in terms of geographical location. Specifically, Iceland is located at the confluence between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic in the region bound by latitudes 63 and 68° N and longitudes 25 and 13° W. The main part of the island lies completely on the southern side of the Arctic Circle.
The distance between Iceland and continental Europe is shorter than the distance with mainland North America. However, the island of Greenland, which is considered a North American island, is the closest to Iceland with the distance between the two being 180 miles. Going by this geographical positioning, it would be easy to conclude that Iceland is a part of North America. However, for reasons based on politics, history, practicality, culture, and geography, Iceland is a part of Europe. Nearby bodies of land in Europe include the likes of the Faroe Islands (260 miles), Jan Mayen Island (350 miles), Shetland and the Outer Hebrides (both 460 miles), and other places. Norway, some 600 miles away, is the closest area to Iceland that is part of continental Europe. On the other hand, the northern tip of Labrador, about 1,290 miles away, is the closest land to Iceland that is part of mainland North America.
Political and Foreign Relations of Iceland
Internationally, Iceland is a member of bodies such as the UN, the Council of Europe, NATO, and others. While it maintains good relations with other nations, the ties are particularly strong with other Nordic countries, the United States, Germany, NATO nations, and Canada.
Interestingly, while Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), the nation is not a member of the EU. Being a member of the EEA only grants access to the market in the EU. Recently, in July 2009, the Althing (the Icelandic parliament) agreed to apply for a membership in the EU which was done officially on July 17, 2009. However, polls done in 2013 show that most citizens were against the idea of joining the EU. Consequently, following the election of 2013, the ruling parties promised a referendum on the matter. There are many reasons floated by experts for the nation not being a part of the EU. The reasons include the expectation that the EU will impact the nation’s agricultural sector adversely, Iceland’s fishing industry will be negatively affected by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, and other reasons.
Other Islands Like Iceland
There are many islands that are in a similar situation to Iceland. A good example would be Hawaii, which is not in North America but it is part of the US. Other examples include the British Isles, Greenland, and Ireland.