Greenland's dreams of independence: Reality or illusion?

Greenland's dreams of independence: Reality or illusion?

30th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Many in the Danish territory want Greenland to achieve full independence but is the Arctic island really big enough to be entirely self-sustaining?

Greenland, which gained broader powers with its new self-rule status on June 21, dreams of full independence from Denmark one day but observers question whether an Arctic nation of just 57,000 people is really viable.

"Independence will come, I'm convinced of that, but it's not on my government's agenda for the next four years," Greenland's Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist, head of the leftist pro-independence Inuit Ataqatigiit party, said.

A pragmatist, he acknowledged that "it will take time" -- unlike his predecessor Hans Enoksen who had lobbied hard for independence in 2021, exactly three centuries after Denmark colonised the island of 2.2 million square kilometres (849,424 square miles).

For Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, it all depends on what Greenland’s citizens want. "Greenland's future is in the hands of Greenlanders,” he said. “Independence depends on them."

Harsh realities

But in the Danish territory, which relies heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen that account for more half of its budget, aspirations of independence run up against "harsh realities," said Marianne Krogh Andersen, the Danish author of the book Greenland, Powerful and Powerless.

"It's impossible right now for Greenland to make it on its own without (financial) aid from the Danish capital,” she said. It would be "extremely difficult" for the small population -- whose only resource at present is fishing -- to maintain its standard of living and its costly welfare system if Denmark were to put an end to its subsidies.

In the Danish government's entourage in Copenhagen, there are also doubts about whether the island could survive on its own, even if its economy were to receive a major boost from the potential oil and mineral riches believed to be buried under its icecap.

Some observers, including Nuuk University lecturer Pia Vedel Ankersen, claim Greenland's population is too small to meet the challenges posed by independence and its necessary economic growth.

"Greenland could be independent tomorrow if it could do without the 4.0 billion kroner it receives from Denmark (537 million euros, 756 million dollars in annual subsidies plus costs for defence, police and judiciary covered by Copenhagen), which represented about a third" of Greenland's gross domestic product of some 12 billion kroner in 2008, said Ankersen. "To deprive themselves of that today would mean society would collapse, and even the most vehement advocates of independence would not accept a throwback to the misery of the past.”

Only an independent economy based on oil and mineral revenues could realise this dream of independence without too many sacrifices, she added.

But even at that, independence could only be a reality "in 50 years," according to Ankersen, unless Greenland chose "other more rapid routes, such as joining the European Union which it withdrew from in 1985 to protect its fishermen or by forming an alliance with the United States. A choice like that could speed up the process and the EU option is the most appropriate, since Greenland could benefit from the EU's structural funds.”

However, said Ankersen, a "completely independent Greenland is an illusion."

Even Denmark with its 5.5 million inhabitants is "dependent on the European Union and its cooperation with other countries," she said.

Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist echoes that view.

Greenland by jtstewart

Greenland's new self-rule status "does not mean isolating ourselves and living alone in a corner of the Arctic but rather opening ourselves to the outside world and being an actor on the international stage," he said.

As proof, Kleist said in June that Greenland would soon resume negotiations with the United States to expand a 2004 cooperation agreement on modernising the US Thule radar base on the territory, which is a key part of US plans for a future anti-missile shield.

Slim Allagui/AFP/Expatica


Photos credit: jtstewart

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