Eyes north to Greenland

Today is the day of Greenland’s referendum on wresting more powers from Denmark, in a move that is seen as a precursor to full independence for the Arctic island.

Greenland flag

A yes vote would see key economic powers move from Copenhagen to the Greenland Parliament and decrease Greenland’s dependence on the annual block grant of 472 million euros it receives from Denmark.

Greenland would also take control of its oil resources and mineral wealth, although the current referendum deal leaves the possibility of a Danish share when annual oil revenue exceeds $12.6 million. Estimates say north east Greenland might have around 30 billion barrels of oil and gas. Climate change is making access to those resources much easier and cheaper. One report quotes a Greenlander looking forward to having a wine industry in the near future!

Greenlandic would be recognised as the country’s official language. It is spoken by the vast majority (around 50 000) of the population.

There are only around 57 000 people in Greenland. Around 39 000 are eligible to vote in the referendum.

A ‘yes vote’ is widely expected. It is said that about three quarters of the voters are already decided on voting for more autonomy.

The expected change in autonomy will then be implemented on the 21st June 2009; the day instigated a few years after devolution in 1983 as the National Day of the country. It also voted that same year to leave the EU in a referendum, having previously joined as part of Denmark.

The First Minister of Greenland, Hans Enoksen, supports the ‘Yes vote’.

He expects that with more fiscal autonomy the demand for full independence will increase.

“Agreeing on self-rule is the only road forward,” he said, pointing out that “the Greenlandic people have wished for many years to be more independent.”

He set out his timetable for full independence:

“Greenland will be independent in 12 years … for my 65th birthday.”

Other politicans share this broad timescale. Lars Emil Johansen, one of two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, says he dreams the day will come by 2021, in time for the 300th anniversary of Denmark’s colonisation of Greenland.

“Of course we can be the masters of our own destiny and fly on our own wings”

His advisor Hans Jakob Helms agrees:

“Home rule was a compromise,” Helms said. “It’s a simple fact that home rule has reached its limit and there’s a need for more room for self-government.”

Around 300 years of a political union? The parallels with Scotland and the rest of the UK are striking. And similarly to the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland, the Greenland referendum is also non-binding. However the Danish Government will respect the wishes of the Greenlanders.

And like Scotland, Greenland has its own Unionist doubters of independence.

The Greenland Democratic Party are against further devolution – they are campaigning for a ‘No vote’ – and against full independence:

Palle Christiansen, the political spokesperson of the Democrats, who are part of Greenland’s opposition, warned against hurrying the process, noting that ‘self-rule brings with it more than just oil revenues.’

Christiansen cited the administration of judicial affairs as just one area which would incur major costs on the Greenlandic government.

And a minority of members of the Siumut Party have openly dismissed talk of independence, much to their party’s disgust:

“Greenland will never be an independent state,” Finn Lynge recently stated, much to the dismay of his Siumut party, which is part of the government coalition and strongly in favour of a “yes” vote in the referendum.

Its not great times for the government coalition. It may be falling apart under scrutiny from the Greenland Audit Commission, which might result in the referendum result becoming a springboard for a subsequent snap General Election in the country.

“There are only between 50,000 and 60,000 of us living here in geographically and climatically extreme conditions. With such a tiny population it is impossible to provide the human contributions needed to turn Greenland into a modern and independent state,” Finn Lynge said.

Greenland has many social problems like alcoholism and a high suicide rate.

“No one can build an independent state on heavy drinking”, Finn Lynge has stated.

So will the Unionists win the day?

Will the credit crunch and the example of their neighbour Iceland’s financial troubles persuade the Greenlanders to vote against further powers for their Parliament?

We’ll all need to wait and see.

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