Monday May 29, 2017

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Politics in Greenland

No direction

Foregrounder | The autumn session of Greenland’s national assembly began yesterday. Housekeeping – and possibly house-building – will be the main order of business
In 40 years, I’ll be there (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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In Nuuk, yesterday marked the first day of the autumn session of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s national assembly.

In keeping with tradition, the day began with members attending a church service. After walking the short distance from the cathedral to the parliament building in a semi-formal procession (pictured above), the 31 legislators then listened to the premier’s opening address. When he was done, members of committees were selected. The day’s meeting was then adjourned.

It is an uneventful start to what, by all accounts, will be an undramatic political season.

“Generally speaking, there isn’t much new that will be discussed,” Lars-Emil Johanesen (pictured, front right), the speaker of Inatsisartut, said in an interview this week with Sermitsiaq, a newspaper published by this website’s parent company.

SEE RELATED: Editor’s Briefing | Inatsisartut

Most political observers agree that discussions of the 2017 budget will top the political agenda, in part because running a surplus will put the government in a good light during the next election, which must be called before the autumn of 2018.

Other big issues include minor changes to the way the fishing and mining industries are regulated and whether to impose restrictions on alcohol sales.

“It’s like anywhere else,” says Sten Lund, a political analyst. “they’ll start with the issues that are right outside their own door. How much money do we have to spend on services? How do we make people feel the decision-making process concerns them?”

Palle Christiansen, a former finance minister and now a columnist for AG, also a newspaper published by this website’s parent company, agrees the focus on short-term issues is necessary, but also worries that legislators are avoiding discussions of the country’s economic future.

“What we’re missing is someone standing up and saying this is where we need to be in 30 or 40 years if we want to be financially independent of Denmark. We agree that’s the goal, but no-one is pointing the direction we need to take to get there.”

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Still, even with the “here and now” focus of this session, Mr Christiansen says there are two proposals – the establishment of a privatisation commission, which would set guidelines for greater liberalisation of the economy, and a productivity commission, which would seek to find ways to make firms more profitable – that could play a role in laying the foundation for Greenland’s economic independence.

“Especially the discussion about privatisation will be important, since it can go a long way to improving competition.”

The benefit of having a commission look at it, he says, is that it will be able to come up with the guidelines for which types of activity can benefit from liberalisation, and which ones are best kept as nationally controlled monopolies.

Such discussions are likely to appeal to those who follow politics closest. For those who simply savour a good political controversy, this session also has something to offer.

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In both the Sermitsiaq interview, as well as in an another with AG, Mr Johanesen was cited at length for his defence of why Inatsisartut needs a new assembly building. (The current one, built in 1975, is worn down, undersized and expensive to maintain. It is also prone to attacks of black mould.)

A decision to build a replacement was made in 2013, when Inatsisartut gave its approval to spend 250 million kroner ($38 million) for a new building. To Mr Johanesen’s disapointment, the plan had to be put on hold in 2015 in response to mounting public disapproval about the cost and placement.

Inatsisartut will take the matter up again this autumn. Though nothing new, it will be an issue that involves what happens inside lawmakers’ own door.