Greenland autonomy vote boosts independence dream

3rd January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Roughly 75 percent voted "aap" (yes) to the plan that will give Greenland partial control over its natural resources.

Copenhagen -- Greenland's premier said he cried "tears of joy" as the results of a referendum in November showed the giant island is set to gain more autonomy within Denmark.

Roughly 75 percent voted "aap" or "yes" to the plan that will give Greenland partial control over its natural resources.

"Looking back over history, this is the first time we've been asked," Greenland Premier Hans Enoksen said after the results were declared. "I'm extremely moved because now, like other peoples, we will be recognized as a nation."

The Arctic island - where about 85 percent of the 57,000 inhabitants are ethnic Greenlanders - will also take greater charge of its own justice and legal affairs.

Greenlandic -- an Inuit language -- is set to become the official language on the world's largest island. Additionally, Greenlanders were to be recognized as a people.

Under the terms agreed upon between the parliaments of Denmark and Greenland, a Danish subsidy worth 3.2 billion kroner (542 million dollars), known as the block grant, will continue to flow into Greenland's coffers.

Greenland has been ruled by Denmark since the 18th century. The island later became a province of Denmark, before being granted home rule in 1979.

Some Greenlanders hope to achieve full independence in 2021 -- the 300-year anniversary of the arrival of Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede.

Living conditions in Greenland remain challenging. About four-fifths of the vast, sparsely populated island is covered by ice. Researchers have warned of the effects of global warming, including rising sea levels.

In recent years, researchers have been joined by visiting politicians wanting to study first-hand the impact of global warming. If trends continue, shipping lanes may open all year in the Arctic region, making it easier to drill for oil and gas off Greenland.

Denmark would continue to manage the island's foreign affairs and monetary policy, even though Greenland has become more active in the Arctic region and maintains its own special ties with the European Union.

A bill for enhanced home rule is to be drafted for approval early next year by the parliaments of Denmark and Greenland. Expanded home rule is foreseen as taking effect June 21, the 30th anniversary of the existing home rule bill.

The November referendum could serve as a model for other "indigenous peoples," Enoksen said.

The Greenland referendum was "unique," said Lars-Anders Baer, president of the Sami Parliament in Sweden which, despite its name, is not a legislative body.

Some 20,000 of the world's estimated 70,000 Sami people live in Sweden. Others live in northern Norway, Finland and Russia.

Basque separatists in Spain also welcomed the Greenland vote, saying it proved the right of peoples to self-determination within the European Union.

Potential oil revenues, should oil be found, would be divided between Denmark and Greenland and deducted from the block grant.

Greenland's resources include potential reserves of oil and gas, as well as hydropower, zinc and diamonds.

The island's current industry is based on shrimp and halibut fishing, although these sectors need to become more efficient, said Christen Sorensen of the University of Southern Denmark, an expert on Greenland's economy.

Lennart Simonsson/DPA/Expatica

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