Thursday May 25, 2017

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The View from Copenhagen
Michael Keldsen
The View from Copenhagen

A state of the union

How would a Greenlandic version of the annual American presidential address sound? Here’s how our columnist sees it
(File photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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According to America’s constitution, the president must inform Congress each year of the state of the union. The point is to inform the legislature about not just how things currently are, but also what the administration plans for the coming year. The first state of the union was delivered in writing by George Washington in 1790 and continues to this day, thoush now as an address delivered in person in Congress.

Denmark and Greenland could be said to have their own similar tradition in the form of annual televised New Year’s addresses delivered by the prime minister in Copenhagen and the premier in Nuuk. The American address, however, differs in one key aspect in that the president must talk about the negative, as well as the positive, aspects of the current state of affairs. The address is neither a campaign speech nor an opportunity for the president to get a boost in popularity ratings. The president must discuss the problems facing the country and present the administration’s plans for fixing them.

Were Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s current premier (pictured above), to adopt a similar tradition, it might sound something like this:

Dear Inatsisartut. My fellow Greenlanders.

1. Greenland is faced with serious economic challenges. So serious, in fact, that next year’s budget can be expected to run 140 million kroner ($20 million) in the red. We can also expect this year’s budget to end up in deficit.

2. Our fishing industry faces falling quotas. Fortunately, the price for prawn and halibut has risen. Likewise, we can expect mackerel fishing to make a significant economic contribution. That said, we have yet to put forward a policy for the future (or even the present) of our fishing industry.

3. Unfortunately, none of the projected large-scale mining projects have begun. Oil exploration has stalled out, and mining activity has all but come to a halt.

4. We have yet to address the questions relating to uranium, neither the environmental consequences (as the people of Narsaq, who will be some of the first people affected, have expressed concern about) nor the problems related to export.

5. Tourism has been a disappointment. There are fewer people travelling to Greenland than in the past, and far fewer than we would like.

6. Even though Arctic Council member states have previously been in agreement about peaceful co-existence, we must admit that Russia and Vladimir Putin are revising their approach to the Arctic. It appears that Russia is in the midst of a military build-up. In response, we support the proposal put forward by Aleqa Hammond, our newly elected representative in the Danish legislature, that Greenland should have a seat on that body’s Foreign Policy Committee, and in so doing have a say in the military and foreign policy decisions the country takes, and which resources Danish taxpayers commit to carrying out these decisions.

7. Our school system, despite the good things it does, has become the target of criticism. Pupils don’t learn enough. School days are too short. And young people are left unprepared for post-secondary education. The situation is especially bad in the language arts; pupils fail to master Danish or English. How can we right this situation?

8. Far too many of our children do not have the childhood they deserve. Many are abused. Unfortunately, we haven’t the resources to do much in this area.

9. It was a proud moment when we, in 2009, were granted greater autonomy from Copenhagen. But it has also meant that there has been a real decline in the value of our annual subsidy. Since 2009, the the value has declined by 250 million kroner annually in real terms (out of a nominal total of 3.6 billion kroner). That has meant that we have not assumed any of the 32 administrative functions that Copenhagen is currently responsible for – nor will we be able to for many years to come. Taking over all administrative functions – as the Self-Rule Agreement gives us the right to – would cost us an additional 800 million kroner annually. That is money we just do not have.

10. Our relationship with Denmark has, over the past two or three years, suffered under the antagonistic tone set by the previous government in Nuuk. We are concerned that the results of the recent election to the Danish legislature, and in particular the growing influence of Dansk Folkeparti, which is sceptical of devolution, will harm relations further. Ms Hammond stood for Siumut in the race for Greenland’s two seats in Copenhagen. She is sure to attract the attention of her fellow legislators. After the election, she was quoted in Sermitasiq newspaper as saying: “It is important that Denmark’s power over Greenland continues to decline as we assume responsibility for an increasing number of administrative areas. We are extremely important for Denmark in the areas of defence, regional co-operation and trade. As we start administering more of our own affairs, they will also find that their power over us shrinks. That’s not something they want to see happen. We’ve seen this in the form of their foot-dragging in order to delay this process. We must work together to force them to abide by the terms of the Self-Rule Agreement, which they signed, and to which they have committed themselves. This won’t happen on its own, though. We must fight for it, and we must do so together.” Comments like that ought to do wonders for the dialogue between Denmark and Greenland.

11. We Greenlanders stand together. However, it has not escaped my notice that local governments are growing concerned that Nuuk is being favoritised. (While in Nuuk, they feel that they are getting the short end of the stick.) At the same time, Nuuk resembles the rest of Greenland less and less. This must be addressed, as must the situation that sees Nuuk (population of 17,000) far outweighing other places in Greenland (total population 56,000) demographically. Furhter, we face a situation in which many people already leave Greenland for Denmark in search of better opportunities. We can only expect this trend to accelerate after the new government in Copenhagen has pledged to ensure better integration of Greenlanders who relocate to Denmark.

12. The number of Greenlanders completing post-secondary education (primarily in Denmark) is on the rise. This is good news. The bad news, however, is that few return to Greenland. This is a particular problem among women. We must ensure that we in Greenland can offer them a standard of living they have become accustomed to abroad.

13. We are on the path towards independence, and it is my ambition that we reach this goal before long. Just how this will be achieved will be detailed further in future state of the union addresses. But when we do obtain our independence, everything is going to be just fine.

Thank you for your attention.

The author is a Danish barrister and a columnist for Sermtisiaq newspaper, which is owned by this website’s parent company.