Greenland: Towards internal market inclusion?

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

Greenland [Damien Degeorges]

After the signing of a new joint declaration further deepening ties between the EU and the self-governed Arctic territory, the inclusion of Greenland in the internal market should be the goal to achieve, write André Gattolin and Damien Degeorges.

MP André Gattolin is Vice-Chair of the French Senates Finance and European Affairs Committees and author of a report on Greenland: a crossroads between Europe and the Arctic? Dr. Damien Degeorges is a Reykjavík-based international consultant and author of a doctoral thesis on The Role of Greenland in the Arctic.

Greenland and the European Union have a special relationship. Not only because Greenland is the only territory to have ever left the European Communities, but also because it is one of the most strategic Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) as well as a key territory in a region, the Arctic, of increasing importance for the Northern Hemisphere.

Ice has melted between Greenland and the EU since the withdrawal from the European Communities in 1985 of what was then a home-ruled territory, which in 2009 gained the status of Self Rule within the Kingdom of Denmark. The 2007-2013 EU-Greenland Partnership Agreement deepened ties between the two partners and the budget for the 2014-2020 EU-Greenland Partnership Agreement was fortunately not diminished, as had been feared by some in Greenland. The new joint declaration, signed in March 2015 by the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Premier of Greenland Kim Kielsen and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, comprises a number of new areas on the agenda of the EU-Greenland relationship, including two that can be seen as a “taste of the internal market” for Greenland: “mobility of workforce” and “social protection systems”.

Greenland, a territory as large as about half the EU for approximately the population of a city like Chambéry in the French Alps, is home to a number of strategic resources. Its potential has attracted the interest of a large number of countries, but the challenges of developing the Greenlandic economy remain huge. Apart from infrastructure, the primary focus for investments has to be directed towards the education sector. In that field, the EU has been taking a leading role for years, notably through the Greenland Education Programme, with no less than €25 million a year during the last programming period (2007-2013) and more for the current one (2014-2020).

A higher level of education among the Greenlandic population, particularly among the next generation of elites, is changing perceptions within Greenland on the territory’s future, the prospect of independence and the island’s relations with Denmark, the EU and the outer world. Education should therefore remain the primary focus for investment in the future of Greenland. This can lead to a complete change in the outlook for Greenland’s future in the longer term.

While massive incomes were supposed, sooner than later, to bring Greenland towards a legally possible independence, the realities of today and tomorrow are taking the opposite turn with the expected need for a higher annual subsidy from the Danish government. This is currently made impossible by the 2009 Self Rule Act. “The amount is indicated in 2009 price and wage levels”, according to this Act. The subsidy is however adjusted every year with regards to inflation. At the same time, the new Greenlandic leadership’s aspiration towards independence appears more realistic: it is now seen to be a task for the next generation of Greenlanders. Given Greenland’s characteristics, the changing minds among an important part of the territory’s younger generation, and the more obvious security implications, Greenland’s chances of becoming an independent state appear slim, but it has good prospects for a future as an economically independent territory. The task is hard, but not impossible in the long term.

We consider that the lack of knowledge about access to EU funding and programmes in Greenland should be faced by an information campaign in Greenland, mainly directed towards the younger generation and led by either the Government of Greenland or the EU, and with strong EU support. Focusing on all levels of education is important, including lifelong learning, so that changes of career can be made easier, especially towards the tourism sector which represents a sustainable growth potential for Greenland. A less externalised fishing industry and the development of sustainable agriculture in South Greenland would not only benefit the Greenlandic economy but also give the territory a greater self-sufficiency in food production.

We believe that the changing views of the new generation in Greenlandic politics, born after Greenland’s withdrawal from the EC or too young at that time to remember it, will be, together with obvious economic challenges, what will put the EU debate back on the agenda in Greenland. Clear indications appeared prior to last year’s parliamentary elections in Greenland.

In less than ten years, relations between Greenland and the EU have improved, as demonstrated by the signing of two joint declarations (2006 and 2015). That is why the outcome of a new version of the 2009 EU regulation on trade in seal products needs to be satisfactory for all parties concerned by the issue, including Greenland. Now looking ten years ahead, the EU should have achieved further steps towards the (re)integration of Greenland into the internal market.

Last but not least, the European Union should work towards regaining a higher level of attractiveness and credibility in a broader European Arctic (Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland) which appears largely eurosceptic, except when it comes to the economic dimension and the internal market. Making a “success story” of its assistance to the sustainable development of Greenland would undoubtedly help the European Union to demonstrate that it has a constructive role to play in the Arctic region. Political initiatives such as the joint declaration signed by the French, Danish and Greenlandic Ministers in charge of Foreign Affairs in March 2015 in Ilulissat, Greenland, where a commitment “to explore how to further increase European investments in economically viable industry projects in Greenland, while respecting the environmental integrity” was expressed, are an encouragement for further action.

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