The Faroes, an archipelago of 18 islands in the North Atlantic, constitute an autonomous region of Denmark.
While the islands’ rugged coastlines and extensive bird life are a draw for some, the Faroes also offer the prospect of major offshore reserves of oil and gas.
These potential resources have given extra weight to the argument for full independence from Denmark.
But a planned referendum on the issue was shelved in 2001 after Denmark said it would halt aid within four years if voters favoured the independence proposals.
A local parliament – the Loegting – looks after the islands’ affairs, although Copenhagen is responsible for defence and foreign relations.
The Faroes were first settled by Irish monks in the 6th century AD. The first Norse settlers were farmers.
The islands became part of the Kingdom of Norway in the 11th century and came under Danish control in the 14th century when Norway joined the Kingdom of Denmark. Under the 1948 Home Rule Act the islands became self-governing.
The islanders’ traditional hunt for pilot whales has attracted international attention. Supporters of the hunt say whale meat is an important source of food over the winter. Animal rights activists have called for the cull to be banned.
Fishing is the main economic activity on the islands, and Danish subsidies remain an important source of income. Copenhagen has said it will review the subsidy agreement should the Faroes profit from offshore energy reserves.