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Greenlandic constitution

To have and hold on to

Greenland does not need a constitution of its own. Its lawmakers are in a hurry to have one drawn up anyway
Ready when you are (Photo: Leiff Josefsen)

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Having a constitution, as most Britons can tell you, is not a requirement for being an independent country. The reverse, according to Suka Frederiksen, Greenland’s newly appointed independence minister, can also be true: having a constitution does not amount to being independent.

Submitting a proposal to Inatsisartut, the national assembly, on Friday that calls for the establishment of a constitutional commission, Ms Frederiksen made this last point clear.

“If Inatsisartut decides to begin the work of drawing up a constitution […] it is not certain that there, at any point in the future, will be made a decision about establishing Greenland as an independent and sovereign state,” she wrote.

SEE RELATED: One country, two constitutions

Her caveat did not scare any members of Inatsisartut off: the measure handily passed its first reading, on Saturday, and will likely sail through its final reading, today, the last day of the legislature’s autumn session. If the bill passes, it will be possible for the commission to begin its three-year assignment starting in 2017.

Ms Frederiksen describes the process of establishing a commission a “first step” down one of serveral possible paths.

The most obvious would be a constitution that applies to Greenland as a fully independent state. Another, less momentous, though decidedly more complicated, option would be to come up with a document that served as a basic law for Greenland while still a member of the Kingdom of Denmark, yet did not conflict with the laws set out by the Danish constitution. Such a document could eventually serve as the framework for a constitution for an independent Greenland.

A third option would be to draw up guidelines for ‘free association’, a situation that would see Denmark administer some areas of government that an independent Greenland, for capacity reasons, remained unable to handle on its own.

SEE RELATED: An independence day waiting to happen

This last status is similar to Greenland’s current system of self-government, but varies on several key points: firstly, Nuuk currently receives a 3.7 billion kroner ($530 million) annual subsidy from Copenhagen to run the country. An independent Greenland would need to survive without this.

Secondly, Greenland would be in the position of requesting Denmark (or, theoretically, another country) to help it out. In the current situation, it must ask Copenhagen to devolve powers to it.

Another benefit: being an independent state would open up membership in a number of international organisations (ranging from the UN to the International Olympic Committee) that Greenland may now only take part in under a Danish flag.

Those raising concerns about the process argue lawmakers could not possibly have adequately reviewed the bill (about 100 pages in its Greenlandic version and, according to the parliamentary committee responsible for reviewing it, containing many grammatical errors) in the 24 hours between being presented with it and the first reading.

SEE RELATED: A constitution of their own

Another worry, raised by the members of Demokraatit, an opposition party that is the only party not in favour of the measure, is that the work of writing a constitution does nothing to bring Greenland any closer to independence.

“Until we deal with our big problems like child welfare end education, independence is just a pipe dream,” Nivi Olsen, a Demokraatit member of Inatsisartut, told the assembly on Saturday.

Ms Frederiksen aruges that the process, regardless of the outcome, makes sense for an “emerging state” such as Greenland.