Monday May 29, 2017

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Greenland and the Faroe Islands

Independence thought

Greenlandic and Faroese independence is inevitable. It is the details of how and when it will happen that need to be sorted. All arguments are welcome, but dispassion must prevail
National day
Last stop before the point of no return

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Greenland’s centrist Partii Naleraq expects that independence from Denmark will happen, and that it will happen soon.

Søren Espersen, the vice chair of Dansk Folkeparti, a Danish populist party, on the other hand, predicts Greenland will never be an independent state.

Neither can be right, and this is why the people of Greenland should welcome the establishment of a constitutional commission, as Kim Kielsen, the premier, is expected to propose during the spring legislative assembly.

SEE RELATED: The case against a constitution

People’s opinions about independence are typically based on one of two positions; the more emotional would rather starve living in an independent country than continue living under Danish rule, while more calculating types see the annual 3.7 billion kroner ($580 million) subsidy from Copenhagen as a way to keep Greenland solvent.

Both arguments are welcome in the debate over the country’s future, but it will be through the work of the forthcoming commission that the people of Greenland will be able to make an informed decision. This is a process Greenlanders owe themselves and it is a process the owe their country.

Last week, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Danish PM, during a meeting with Mr Kielsen and Axel Johannesen, the Faroese premier, once again urged both countries to proceed with caution in the constitutional process.

His message was that the Kingdom of Denmark, to which all three countries belong, already has a constitution. Greenland or the Faroe Islands may adopt a constitution, but it may not supersede Danish law. Should this happen, it would be a de facto declaration of secession.

SEE RELATED: In the name of Nuuk

The problem with this either/or position is that it fails to take into account the dynamic nature of politics and law. Should Greenland or the Faroe Islands ever adopt a constitution, it will be a product of the willingness to negotiate that exists on both sides, and, in that respect, time is on the side of Nuuk and Tórshavn.

The Danish constitution, ratified in 1849, was last amended in 1953. In the meantime, the political reality, in the form of the self-rule agreements obtained by Greenland and the Faroe Islands, has long-since overtaken the legal reality.

Section 41, for example, states that a bill cannot become law in Denmark until it has been read three times in the Folketing, the Danish national assembly. The fact is that Inatsisartut, the Greenlandic national assembly, and the Løgting, the Faroese assembly, both have legislative power of their own.

Section 43, meanwhile, states that no tax will be levied unless approved by the Folketing. Here, too, reality tells a different story: Greenland and the Faroe Islands both have their own tax regimes. And even when it comes to foreign, defence and security policy, Nuuk and Tórshavn are operating increasingly independent, despite these areas still officially being administered from Copenhagen.

SEE RELATED: Turning left and away

Asking people to decide between the self-rule system they know and the full-on independence they can’t fathom the consequences of will only lead to a nation divided. A compromise could buy both time and experience.

Just as home rule was a precursor to self-rule, so too can self-rule be a precursor to the next step towards independence. It does not need to be the final step before independence. That next step could be a free-association agreement, along the same lines as the current relationship between the Cook Islands and New Zealand. This model has previously been suggested for Greenland.

Another suggestion would be to follow in the steps of Iceland, itself a former Danish colony. Between 1918 and 1944, Iceland and Denmark were joined in a personal union of two free countries under the Danish crown. (In Greenland, such a setup would also have the benefit of allowing the country to be free of Copenhagen, yet retain ties to the always popular royal family.)

Either solution would require the Danish constitution to be amended, but no matter what happens with Greenland and the Faroe Islands, it will likely need to be changed anyway. EU law is increasingly coming into conflict with Danish law, and the only solution might be a complete overhaul of the constitution. In such a situation, it would only be natural to redefine the kingdom according to modern standards.

SEE RELATED: Let my people trade

When it comes to the question of whether Greenland can or cannot become independent, Section 21 of the 2009 Self-Rule Act states it plainly: “A decision about Greenland’s independence must be made by the people of Greenland.”

Greenland need not ask anyone but itself whether it should be free. But, before Greenland gets that far, it must fully understand the political and economic consequences of such a decision, for the moment Denmark’s Dannebrog stops waving over a dependent country and Erfalsorport starts flying over an independent state there can be no turning back.

When this might happen is a matter of much speculation: “in my lifetime”, as suggested by Aleqa Hammond, a 50-something now-former premier, is one of the most infamous suggestions. Others have point to July 3, 2021 as a possible date: it is the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Hans Egede, a Norwegian missionary, which marked the beginning of modern European settlement. The problem with these and other proposals is that they subject a matter as weighty as secession to a timeline that is either based on personal ambition or historical convenience.

Mr Kielsen’s comments during his meeting in Copenhagen last week provided some necessary sobriety. His position on the matter was that Greenland’s aim is to become independent. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The author is the editor-in-chief and managing director of SermitsiaqAG, the parent company of this website.