Greenland: Yes We Can

November 26, 2008

Greenland has overwhelming voted for more autonomy from Denmark in yesterday’s referendum.

Over 75% of Greenlanders backed the plan.
Just over 23% said no.
The turnout was around 72%.

I reckon that’s an impressive turnout given the dark Arctic winter days. Those in the north of the country must be coping with little or no daylight at this time.

Its a clear sign that the island is heading towards independence.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, the First Minister Hans Enoksen has a timescale of independence in 12 years time.

Others prefer a shorter timescale.

The former foreign minister Aleqa Hammond sees independence in 8 years.

And the head of the Greenland union SIK, Jess Berthelsen, sees it happen in 4 years.

The defeated unionists like the Democrats leader Jens Frederiksen and rebel Siumut politican Finn Lynge are now left arguing over the timescale and the feasibilty of independence.

Lynge in particular thinks that with only 57 000 people, Greenland cannot be independent. He said it was ‘impossible for an island with 50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants to become an independent state.’

‘There are simply too few of us to provide the personnel necessary to develop a viable state’.

The ex-First Minister Lars-Emil Johansen rejects that criticism. Echoing the slogan of Barack Obama he simply says ‘Yes We Can’.

Greenland is rich in oil, gas, gold, diamond and other minerals.

Scottish companies like Cairn Energy are keen to develop the Greenland oil and gas potential. It is now the largest oil company investing in Greenland with a total of 8 licences around the island. Greenland’s oil company Nunaoil has a 8% stake in those licenses.

Its part of the Greenland Government’s plan to diversify its economy which is currently largely based on the fishing industry.

And speed the path to independence.

The world’s current smallest states by population:

1 Vatican City 920
2 Tuvalu 11,640
3 Nauru 13,050
4 Palau 20,300
5 San Marino 28,880
6 Monaco 32,410
7 Liechtenstein 33,720
8 Saint Kitts & Nevis 38,960
9 Marshall Islands 59,070

Currently the population of Greenland would put it at no. 9 in the world.

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Eyes north to Greenland

November 25, 2008

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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Iceland and Russia

October 14, 2008

In 1972, Iceland was the stage for one of the more dramatic encounters of the Cold War.

This time it was over a chessboard.

The tempermental American genius Bobby Fischer was up against the reigning World Chess Champion Boris Spassky, a Russian.

Both players felt the pressure and accusations flowed from Russia to America and back again that the other side were trying to subvert their opposing player.

Spassky and Fischer in Iceland, 1972

Finally, once Fischer settled his fee and actually made his mind up to play chess, the American triumphed over the Russian.

Then the reclusive American declined to defend his trophy and the Russians under Anatoly Karpov once again assumed the title in 1975.

Fischer, once the beloved darling of America, was a troubled soul. He praised the September 11th attacks on America saying the U.S. should be ‘wiped out’. Apart from a 1992 rematch against Spassky – which he won, although both players were well past their best – he had retired from Chess. He died early this year.

Iceland, situated at the edge of Europe, has often been the site of such American – Russian meetings. It has often acted as a bridge between the two nations.

It is, however, a founder member of NATO.

So it must cause America some alarm when Iceland has now turned to Russia for a 4 billion euro loan.

It cites lack of help from its NATO allies when dealing with its banking problems in the global credit crunch. I have cited before the help that Norway gave Iceland; it seems its other NATO allies weren’t quite as generous.

“We have not received the kind of support that we were requesting from our friends,” said prime minister Geir Haarde. “So in a situation like that, one has to look for new friends.”

Although Iceland has said that they have not made any military concessions yet to the Russians, it must be a concern to NATO. Iceland’s position in the North Atlantic is vital for allowing movement between the U.S. and Europe, the so-called GIUK gap (Greenland-Iceland-UK). If Iceland was to allow any Russian bases on its soil, that would seriously compromise NATO.

Its the makings of another political chess match.

Coincidentally, today was the start of the 2008 World Chess Championship between Viswanathan Anand, the current World Champion from India, and Vladimir Kramnik, the previous champion from Russia and the man who took the title from Garry Kasparov. (Kramnik had also beaten Bulgarian Veselin Topalov, the FIDE champion and his win unified the chess crown and brought FIDE to prominence again.)

Today’s game was drawn, something that favours Anand as Black.

Kramnik,V (2772) – Anand,V (2783) [D14]
WCh Bonn GER (1), 14.10.2008
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.Bf4 Nc6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Nf3 e6 8.Qb3 Bb4 9.Bb5 0-0 10.Bxc6 Bxc3+ 11.Qxc3 Rc8 12.Ne5 Ng4 13.Nxg4 Bxg4 14.Qb4 Rxc6 15.Qxb7 Qc8 16.Qxc8 Rfxc8 17.0-0 a5 18.f3 Bf5 19.Rfe1 Bg6 20.b3 f6 21.e4 dxe4 22.fxe4 Rd8 23.Rad1 Rc2 24.e5 fxe5 25.Bxe5 Rxa2 26.Ra1 Rxa1 27.Rxa1 Rd5 28.Rc1 Rd7 29.Rc5 Ra7 30.Rc7 Rxc7 31.Bxc7 Bc2 32.Bxa5 Bxb3 draw.

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Advisory Precedents

May 28, 2008

There has been a lot of talk recently about the upcoming Referendum on Independence scheduled for 2010. Former Labour stalwart Brian Wilson has said that Holyrood has no power to hold such a referendum. That view frankly is tosh.

The proposed Referendum Question issued by the SNP in their manifesto has been carefully worded so that it meets the legal requirements of the current devolution settlement. Whilst Westminster legally retains ultimate control on Scottish independence within the devolution settlement, any Yes vote for independence by the Scottish people would surely force the matter. Not only would United Nations International Law be on the side of the Holyrood referendum result but the International precedents of the Kosovo and East Timor referenda Pro Independence results are strenously backed by the UK Westminster Government. If its good enough for Kosovo and East Timor it must be good enough for Scotland!

In practice, any Pro Independence result must be observed by Westminster. If they refuse to acknowledge the result then they not only would face International derision and sanctions but the democratic will of the people of Scotland would create such political tension to force its hand. In a such situation I would imagine the Holyrood Government would just declare unilateral independence anyway.

It won’t go that far, obviously. Westminster must observe the result. Better that and enter into negotiations with Holyrood regarding oil and gas revenues and Scotland’s share of the national debt. Under UN International Law, Scotland holds 95 % of the oil and gas of the UK. A unilateral declaration of Independence would see Scotland take at least that, perhaps 100 % and leave the UK to face a lengthy battle to get its 5% back. Also Scotland may just ignore the UK’s national debt entirely in such a situation.

Scotland and the UK don’t need to look very far for a precedent on Advisory Referendums. Denmark granted Greenland its own government in 1978, the law coming into effect from May 1 1979. Denmark retains matters of foreign policy in this arrangement.

Greenland remained part of the EU (then EEC) but it formally withdrew in 1985 after an earlier Advisory Referendum voted Against staying in the EEC. Although Denmark had retained foreign policy as part of the Greenland government arrangement, it recognised the Advisory mandate of the Greenland people. As argued with a Pro Independence vote for Scotland, it had little other choice.

This is also the precedent on Scotland remaining a member of the EU after independence. Like Greenland we would need to have a referendum on the matter if we wanted to withdraw.

Similarly, like Greenland, if such a referendum produced a No vote we would need a similar treaty like the Greenland treaty of 1984 to settle any pre-existing commitments Scotland had to the EU before any withdrawal. The EU does not lose it nations easily. There are reports that Greenland is now considering rejoining the EU again.

It may be that Brian Wilson will need persuaded of the Greenland precedent.  He has landed a job as chairman of Flying Matters; an organisation setup to promote the Aviation industry’s views on climate change. In reality, its partisan views are regularly criticised by various climate change groups. Ironically Mr. Wilson was a former Energy minister at Westminster.

It was in July 2007 that he became embroiled in a row with Greenlanders complaining that their views were ”apocalyptic green spin” when an Inuit representative, Aqqaluk Lynge, arrived to give evidence on the Stansted Airport expansion claiming the ice floes of the Arctic were being harmed by global warming, and that holiday aviation flights were one of the causes.

If Mr. Wilson wants to disdain Greenland or its precedents then his views deserve to be ignored.

Frozen out!

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