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The Faroe Islands

Located in the north-east Atlantic, half-way between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 islands, covering a total land area of 1,399 square kilometres, a sea area of 274,000 square kilometres and has a population of approximately 48,000. The native language, Faroese, derives from Old Norse, which was the language of the Norsemen who settled the Faroe Islands some 1200 years ago.

The Faroe Islands

The mountainous landscape of the Faroe Islands was shaped by volcanic activity 50-60 million years ago. The original plateau, consisting of alternating layers of hard lava (basalt) and thinner soft ash (tuff), has been restructured by the glaciers of the ice age, which has eroded the landscape into an archipelago characterised by steep cliffs, tall mountains, deep valleys and narrow fjords.

stream

In spite of its subarctic location at 62°N, the Faroe Islands has a mild climate as a consequence of activity of the Gulf Stream. The islands reside on the doorstep of a powerful climate conveyor belt that sends vast amounts of warm surface water to the north-east and a stream of cold Arctic water in the opposite direction. During the warmest months there are mild summer days with an average temperature of 13°C while the average temperature in the winter period is 3°C.

Although the variations in temperature are moderate, the Faroese weather is known for being unpredictable. The characteristic of a weather that is frequently changing makes the Faroese climate unique, and tourists are often fascinated to experience all four seasons in one day. The rugged landscape, the extensive birdlife and the sheep population, which outnumbers humans, make sure that visitors as well as residents always feel close to raw nature.

 

Society
While 17 islands are inhabited around 40 % of the population live in the capital, Tórshavn. The Faroe Islands have the high fertility rate of 2.490, as of 2013.

Although sparsely populated, the Faroe Islands have a highly advanced domestic infrastructure in transportation and digital networks. Paved roads connect all inhabited villages, and 17 land tunnels connect the populated areas. Two underwater tunnels in addition to three bridges and seven ferry lines connect the various islands. Telecommunications and high-speed internet across the whole country also provide an excellent base for maintaining the economic, social and cultural viability of scattered communities.

Faroese children

The Faroese society is founded on the Scandinavian welfare model. Citizens and temporary residents are entitled to a range of publically financed services such as social security, healthcare and primary and secondary schooling as well as higher education.


Government
The Faroe Islands are an autonomous, self-governing nation under the external sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark. Its political system is a variation of the Scandinavian type of parliamentarian democracy, with its own democratically elected legislative assembly, the Løgting, and an executive government headed by the løgmaður (Prime Minister). The Faroese court system is under the jurisdiction of the High courts in Denmark. The Løgting, one of the oldest parliaments in the world, consists of 33 elected members serving for a period of four years by popular vote as a single constituency. Additionally, every four years two Faroese representatives are elected to the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen.

The Faroes Islands have an exclusive right to legislate and govern independently in a wide range of areas, including the conservation and management of living marine resources within the 200-mile fisheries zone, protection of the environment, sub-surface resources, trade, fiscal and industrial relations, energy, transport, communications, social security, culture, and education and research.

A treaty with Denmark, enacted in legislation, gives the Faroese government autonomy in most foreign relations. Although Denmark is a member state of the European Union, the Faroes have chosen to remain outside of the Union. Accordingly, the Faroe Islands negotiate their own trade and fisheries agreements with the EU and other countries and unions. The Faroe Islands also  participate actively in a range of international fisheries management treaties and organisations.

Culture
Because of its remote location, the Faroe Islands have had to subsist with little contact with the cultural movements of the European mainland for hundreds of years. This circumstance has contributed to a strong cultural identity.

Faroese culture is characterised by active participation in all aspects of local community life, a strong sense of identity and many centuries-old traditions. The result is a special dynamic as tradition and modernity stand side by side.

Many old traditions play a big part in modern Faroese culture. For centuries the official language was Danish, and the Faroese language was never written down. Consequently, stories of different styles have been handed down orally, passing from generation to generation. One of the most iconic traditions, the Faroese dance, for a long time served as a tool to memorise and preserve these stories. Today, there are many occasions through the year in which people come together to dance and sing old ballads (kvæði), often wearing the national dress, which itself also has strong cultural significance.

Many young people move abroad to pursue higher education and work in a wide range of fields before returning home. Faroe Islanders have adapted to become flexible and mobile, and they maintain an international perspective of today’s globalised world.

Economy
For centuries the Faroe Islands were isolated and thus forced to be economically self-sustainable. Main  resources included sheep, cattle, poultry and individual fishing (by boat). Since the emergence of industrial fisheries in the late 19th century, the Faroe Islands have shifted from an agricultural society into a modern, diversified society, and fishing has been the largest source of income for the Faroese economy since the 1920s.

Sustainable utilisation of natural resources is a vital part of the Faroese economy, particularly in terms of fishing and aquaculture industries and renewable energy production.

Shipping

Fish and fish products (including farmed fish) represent between 90 and 95 per cent of the goods for export, and around 20 per cent of GDP. A large variety of fish stocks are utilised, both within the Faroese 200-mile exclusive fisheries zone and in international waters through fishery agreements. The Faroe Islands have become a significant actor in the global market of fish trade, mainly as exporters to the EU as well as to non-EU countries. 

The most important fish species in the Faroese fishing industry include cod, haddock and saithe, along with pelagic species such as herring, blue whiting and mackerel. Many Faroese fish products have become renowned for their high quality, such as lobster, salmon and the exclusive Faroe Bank Cod.

The clean, temperate waters and strong currents in the Faroese fjords are ideal for fish farming. The farming of Atlantic salmon is a growing part of Faroese fish production and represents a significant and increasing component of Faroese economic activity.

Other important industries include financial services, oil-related businesses, shipping, manufacturing (especially servicing the maritime industries), IT and telecommunication, tourism and creative industries.

The Faroe Islands in figures

Population: 49,138 (Dec 2015)

Land Area: 1,399 square kilometres

Population density:
 35 Inhabitants per square kilometres

Geographic region: 
Scandinavia

Gross domestic product:
 DKK 14.344 million (2013)

GDP per capita:
 DKK 298.000 (2013)

Capital: 
Tórshavn 20 177 – (municipality) (2014)

Other major cities:
 Klaksvík 4 898 - (municipality), Runavík 3 788 (municipality) (2014)

Head of state:
 Queen Margrethe II (since 14 January 1972)

Head of government:
 Aksel V. Johannesen, løgmaður, Prime Minister (since September 2015)

Form of government: 
Home Rule (self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark.)

Life expectancy:
 Women 84.1 years, Men 79.4 years (2013-2014)

Fertility rate:
 2.5 (2013)

Language:
 Faroese

Religion:
 85% Evangelical Lutheran Church

Currency:
 Faroese Króna = Danish krone