Greenland: On its way back towards the European Union?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Greenland [Damien Degeorges]

After having invested in the East and the South, the European Union should turn its attention towards the North. Greenland, says MP André Gattolin and Dr. Damien Degeorges, should be a priority through a stronger financial investment of the European Union in its Partnership Agreement with this strategic Arctic territory.

MP André Gattolin is Vice-Chair of the French Senate’s Finance and European Affairs Committees. He recently authored a report on the Arctic and is completing another one on Greenland. Dr. Damien Degeorges is a Reykjavík-based international consultant and the author of a doctoral thesis on ‘The Role of Greenland in the Arctic’.
In May this year, in its conclusion on developing a European Union Policy towards the Arctic region, “the Council (supported) strengthening the partnership between the European Union on the one hand, and Greenland and the Kingdom of Denmark on the other which aims at promoting the sustainable development of Greenland and the diversification of the economy.”
Greenland, which was part of the European Communities from 1973 to 1985, is facing political and economic difficulties. Even though the Self Rule Act, which entered into force in 2009, made Greenland’s independence legally possible, such a perspective remains far away. One thing is to declare independence, another is to have built a solid economy and a well-educated society. These two challenges are precisely ones where the European Union is assisting Greenland through its Partnership Agreement, for which €217.8 million. have been allocated for the 2014-2020 period.
Unexpected elections, less than two years after the last ones, are to be held in Greenland on November 28th. The internal campaign of Greenland’s current largest party, Siumut, which in the 1980s led the campaign to leave the European Communities, brought an unexpected topic back in the political debate: the eventuality for Greenland to rejoin the European Union.
The interesting part is that the question was brought back in the debate by a former Education Minister. Education is a central “soft power” instrument of the EU in its relationship with Greenland. During the 2007-2013 period, the European Union allocated no less than €25 million annually for the Greenland Education Programme, as part of its Partnership Agreement with Greenland.
Revenues in the raw materials sector would, after reaching a certain amount, lead to a reduction of the annual block grant from the Danish state to Greenland, which is currently of about €500 million. An amount which could appear as a drop in the Arctic Ocean compared to the EU’s annual budget. If incomes from the raw materials sector were not as promising as expected or took much longer time to be realised, could this reduction of the annual block grant from the Danish state take place with a higher contribution from the EU in the budget of its Partnership Agreement with Greenland?
A stronger financial involvement of the European Union in Greenland, in a context where major powers such as China have demonstrated a pragmatic approach in their interest for the Arctic island, would be more than welcome to secure a healthy Greenlandic economy on the long term. The joint political declaration between the Commission, Greenland and Denmark, which is to be renewed, is in that context, of great importance. Sectors such as tourism have an immediate and long-term growth potential. Infrastructures remain however, once again, a key if Greenland is to succeed.
Greenland has throughout the past few years increased its political and economic ties with its neighbour Iceland. These two strategic territories are getting more and more interconnected. Therefore, the European Union should look further at the whole West Nordic region, which also includes the Faroe Islands, in terms of strengthened partnership, notably on the Arctic.
The recent ASEM Summit in Milano reminds also of the potential that Asia-Europe Meetings could offer to Iceland, seen to become one day a “hub” between Europe and Asia through the Arctic, in terms of external relations and economic growth. The fact that the Arctic has become a topic of exchange among ASEM members and that Norway joined ASEM in 2012 makes the idea of an Icelandic membership to ASEM even more relevant. This would offer another valuable platform of exchange between Iceland and the European Union.
Greenland, as Iceland, has become a meeting place of American, European and Asian interests in the Arctic. It is therefore essential that the European Union doesn’t “lose the North” and keeps strengthening its relationship with two strategic countries that are more or less linked to the EU, Greenland as one of the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) and Iceland as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). After having focused its attention on the East and the South, it is highly time that the European Union looks further at the North, notably through a more ambitious “Arctic Window” in its Northern Dimension, and learns to know better the specificities of Nordic countries which are all part of a now globalised Arctic region.
As the Commission and the High Representative are due “to present (to the Council) proposals for the further development of an integrated and coherent Arctic Policy by December 2015”, we strongly encourage the coming President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the coming High Representative, Federica Mogherini, to visit Greenland during their first year in office in order to engage in a strategic dialogue with the coming government of Greenland.

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