Europe

Iceland profile - Leaders

  • 17 March 2015
  • From the section Europe

President: Olafur Ragnar Grimsson

Iceland's President Grimsson
President Grimsson often speaks out on controversial issues

Mr Grimsson was re-elected president in 2012 for a record fifth term, having first been elected in 1996.

An academic political scientist by profession who studied at the University of Manchester in England, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was elected to parliament for the left-wing People's Alliance in 1978 and served as finance minister in a coalition government in 1988-1991.

He often speaks out on controversial issues, and his relations with the conservative Independence Party - the dominant party in Icelandic politics until 2009 - has been uneasy.

Mr Grimsson was the first president to use his right to put a bill to a national referendum in 2004, prompting the government to withdraw a proposal that would have set up an official committee to police freedom of speech.

He later used the same power successfully twice - in 2010 and 2011 - to veto a government plan to repay British and Dutch investors over the collapse of the Icelandic banking system.

He has been a vocal critic of the international response to Iceland's financial crisis, and is a campaigner for greater international action on climate change.

Prime minister: Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

Mr Gunnlaugsson is opposed to EU membership

Mr Gunnlaugsson became prime minister in May 2013 following elections in April in which his centre-right Progressive Party and the conservative Independence Party of Bjarni Benediktsson both won 19 seats in the 63-seat parliament or Althing.

The two parties formed a coalition after the election, taking over power from the Social Democrats, who suffered the worst defeat of any ruling party since Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944.

An Oxford-educated former journalist, Mr Gunnlaugsson belongs to a new breed of politicians who emerged after Iceland's 2008 financial crisis, and his elevation to the premiership marks a generational shift in the Icelandic government.

His predecessor, Johanna Sigurdardottir, was 70 at the time of the election, while Mr Gunnlaugsson, aged 38 when he took office, became one of the youngest serving heads of government in the world.

The new centre-right coalition came to power five years after the spectacular banking collapse of 2008 plunged Iceland into crisis and brought down the Independence Party-led government of Geir Haarde.

Although Ms Sigurdardottir's Social Democrat government, which took over in 2009, had succeeded in stabilising the economy and returning Iceland to modest growth, many Icelanders continued to suffer the after-effects of the crisis. Real wages are still far below their pre-crisis levels, and household debt remains crippling.

The Eurosceptic Mr Gunnlaugsson's government in 2015 suspended Iceland's application to join the EU, saying the country's interests were better served outside the bloc. It had already frozen membership talks soon after coming to power.

When Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009, shortly after the financial crisis, membership was seen by many as offering the country a way out of its economic woes. But the subsequent turbulence in the eurozone led many Icelanders to question the benefits.

Fishing is one of the island nation's biggest resources, and a majority of the population is opposed to the introduction of the EU's common policies on fishing.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson became the leader of the Progressive Party in January 2009 and was elected to the Althing in the 2009 parliamentary election.