Greenland first

UPDATE | Denmark is seeking to keep its kingdom together by giving Greenland and the Faroe Islands a little elbow room

Politically distanced (📸 Statsministeriet)

Kevin McGwin

Meeting in Copenhagen on today, the leaders of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark agreed on something that is both obvious and groundbreaking: Denmark is not an Arctic country.

That it is often considered one is thanks to Greenland, a Danish colony until 1953. Today, Greenland is self-ruling member of what is known as the Kingdom of Denmark (which also includes the Faroe Islands).

Greenland’s current status stems from a 1989 devolution agreement with the Danes that allows Nuuk to assume responsibility for whichever domestic policy areas it feels it can manage (and afford). Crucially the agreement also leaves any decision about independence up to the people of Greenland.

SEE RELATED: Proof of intent

Copenhagen, though, still calls the shots when it comes to foreign policy and defence on behalf of all three countries. Greenland and the Faroe Islands conduct some foreign affairs, but where their authority ends and Denmark’s begins is clear: they can meet with representatives of foreign powers if the topic of discussion relates to an area that has been devolved to them. In Arctic affairs, Denmark accepts that Greenland is the Arctic part of the kingdom, and includes it when speaking with other countries about Arctic issues.

Indeed, in some cases, such as during the recent visit of Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, to Greenland earlier this month, Copenhagen’s representative steps into the background, figuratively and literally.

Similarly, at the Arctic Council, Denmark has sought to divide its speaking time equally with Greenland and the Faroe Islands. This typically involves Denmark handing the floor over to Greenlandic representative, and then to the Faroese. When it comes time to sign something, though, it is the Danish representative that still does so on behalf of all three countries.

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From now on, this will change. During today’s meeting, the three leaders agreed that Greenland will now speak first at the Arctic Council, Denmark last. Any signatures will be Greenlandic.

Another, less conspicuous, consequence of Denmark’s acceptance that it is not an Arctic country is that Greenland and the Faroe Islands will be allowed to pursue their own foreign-affairs interests.

Such matters will still be discussed amongst the three countries in a new bureaucratic construction, but, rather than reeling Greenland and the Faroe Islands in, the set-up, all three leaders agreed, will give them more leeway.

The change seeks to satisfy growing demands from both countries for more foreign-policy autonomy. It also, according to Mette Frederiksen, the Danish PM (pictured above, at centre), signals that Copenhagen considers the Kingdom of Denmark to a partnership amongst the three equal countries.

“This is a reflection of the fact that the world changes, and the kingdom must change and evolve with it,” she said.

The alternative to not placing Greenland first would have been a kingdom that did not last.

Published in collaboration with Polar Journal.

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