Chris Butler-Stroud is CEO of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). His op-ed is also on behalf of Environmental Investigation Agency, Humane Society International, Ocean Care and Pro Wildlife.
"The recently published report ‘Breaking Ranks: Denmark goes it alone on whaling policy’ challenges the European Commission and us as European citizens to look closely at how our governments represent us in international environmental conventions.
The report highlights the fact that whilst the EU has a body of law and practice that requires the strict protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and indeed, outlaws commercial whaling and trade in whale products, the EU member state of Denmark, has failed to live up to these commitments.
Like 24 other EU member states, Denmark is also a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) where it is meant to represent the interests of its 5.5 million Danish citizens, the vast majority of whom are opposed to commercial whaling. In addition it represents the 100,000 non-EU citizens of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, some of whom appear to hold a very different perspective.
The European Commission has sought, erroneously some distinguished legal scholars have said, to insist that all environmental positions must be agreed by consensus. However, according to the report, Denmark has consistently sought to avoid being bound by such joint decision making. It has even gone so far as to undermine the IWC’s ban on commercial whaling (the moratorium) and supported commercial whaling by Norway, Iceland and Japan. This support should not be relevant to the whaling interests of its overseas territories and goes against its obligations to EU legislation as an EU member.
Historically the IWC has granted Greenland an aboriginal subsistence-whaling (ASW) quota based on its hunters’ nutritional and cultural subsistence need – a classification that excludes commercial trade. But in recent years, as the Greenlandic economy has developed, the number of Greenland’s subsistence whalers has significantly decreased. Yet Denmark’s demands for Greenland of more whales and whale species have increased.
Many observers suspect that Denmark is, at best, turning a blind eye to, and at worst, may be complicit in, allowing the development of a new form of commercial whaling that blurs the lines between the special whaling category of ASW and commercial hunting, particularly as it is reported that increasing commerciality is associated with Greenland’s hunts.
In 2001 Denmark supported a proposal that enabled Iceland to re-join the IWC with an unprecedented reservation to the moratorium that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of whales.
In 2011 Denmark argued against the EU joining a demarche against Icelandic whaling, suggesting that it would undermine negotiations on Iceland’s EU entry, despite the fact that the European Commission in 2009 had clarified that, 'trade in whaling products and current whaling operations carried out by Iceland would not be compatible with the acquis communautaire'.
When holding the EU Presidency, a country is expected to conduct itself in a transparent manner, coordinating and seeking common ground. With Denmark in the Presidency role until the first days of this year’s IWC meeting in Panama, one has to ask, how will this affect the EU position?
In 2012 Denmark has once again opposed a pro-conservation EU position on whaling, and without appropriately consulting other EU members it has applied for a renewed increase in whaling quotas for Greenland. Whatever the reason, this unilateral act has caused considerable irritation within the EU.
The new Danish Government, which took office last year, seems to be continuing the course of its predecessors, apparently exploiting the democratic deficit created by the EU Commission’s focus on the negotiating process rather than the substance.
Denmark must look to its reputation for supporting commercial whaling. In a Europe where the vast majority of people oppose whaling, it should be cooperatively looking to support the needs of those communities that really qualify for IWC Aboriginal Subsistence quotas and not to the whaling aspirations of Iceland, Norway and Japan.
Maybe the newly elected Danish Government will realise how destructive their predecessor’s policy has been, but nothing they have done so far seems to indicate this will be the case."