Researcher: The EU isn’t good enough at drawing attention to its contribution to Greenland - Regional Programme Nordic Countries
(What follows is an English translation of Dr. Leander Nielsen's opinion piece in Altinget: Arktis, the Danish original can be found here).
Recently, lengthy negotiations were concluded regarding the two main tracks that Greenland-EU relations have as a focal point, namely fisheries and education policy. Negotiations have been particularly complicated due to Brexit, delays in the MFF (the EU's seven-year budget framework ), and most recently the corona crisis, where physical meetings between negotiators have been hampered.
With the most recently negotiated outcomes, Greenland has benefited more from the fisheries agreement while receiving a slightly less beneficial deal as part of the partnership agreement on educational support.
For Greenland, there still remains unnegotiated outstanding issues in relation to the UK's EU exit, to avoid a tariff wall on primarily shrimp and cod, and on the part of the EU, work is currently underway to switch the EU’s current “webinar signals” and approximate mentions of increased regional involvement in the Arctic for an actual and more practical EU Arctic policy.
In connection with the work on, and in particular with the implementation of, the EU's new Arctic strategy, which the Commission announced toward the end of the year , it is worth rethinking how Brussels could achieve greater value-for-money when considering the approximately 350 million DKK that the EU contributes each year to the Greenlandic national treasury.
Not to be understood in purely economic terms in the language of balance sheets and invoices, but to exchange mere ‘checkbook diplomacy’ for greater actual EU visibility amongst the Greenlandic public.
As the EU's special envoy to the Arctic, Michael Mann, has recently pointed out in several webinars, including at the Greenland conference of The Confederation of Danish Industry in December 2020, the EU may have been too modest in terms of making its commitment to the Arctic visible. This also applies to the EU’s relationship with Greenland.
The EU plays a major but overlooked role
Historically, the significance of the two EC referendums in Greenland in 1972 (concerning Greenland’s involuntary membership) and 1982 (concerning withdrawal from the EC) has been of great importance for Greenland’s domestic and foreign policy awakening. Currently, both parties describe Greenland-EU relations as a very special partnership, even though Greenland left the European Community in 1985 and subsequently gained so-called OCT status (overseas countries and territories).
Historically, skepticism towards the EC was a political rallying point in the period 1972-1985 and played a major role in the striving towards Greenlandic home rule in 1979, the formation of the first long-term Greenlandic parties and the Greenlandic political system. Presently, the EU still plays an important, but often overlooked, role in Greenlandic society.
Economically, roughly 350 million kroner of EU funds land annually in the Greenlandic national coffers from fisheries agreements and the education partnership agreement. The majority of Greenlandic diplomats have for a shorter or longer period of time worked at the Greenlandic Representation in Brussels, which was opened back in 1992.
A relatively narrow circle of Greenlandic officials (primarily in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education and Fisheries, as well as at the representations abroad) and the most directly affected professions recognize the economic benefits of cooperation with the EU, but in the wider Greenlandic population’s knowledge of and interest in Brussels and the EU is quite limited.
Moderate positivity towards the EU
In a new poll on Greenlanders' attitudes to a number of foreign and security policy issues that the author has carried out together with a colleague from Ilisimatusarfik, Maria Ackrén, in collaboration with a German think tank, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 40 percent of respondents say they would vote yes if there was a new referendum on EU membership against 60 percent of respondents answering no.
Only among the Cooperation Party's voters there is a majority who would vote yes – and according to the same poll, the Cooperation Party wouldn’t even be reelected at all if there were parliamentary elections tomorrow.
Although the difference between “yes” and ”no” votes is less than 10 percentage points on the hypothetical question among the electoral segments voting for Siumut, Atassut and the Democrats, a new Greenlandic EU membership is not currently on the agenda. It is not something that dominates the debate up here either, but increased cooperation under the OCT framework is desirable for both parties.
New joint statement affected by the coronavirus
Work on a new joint declaration, intended to supplement and build upon the ‘Joint Declaration’ between the EU, Greenland and Denmark from 2015, has been ongoing for a couple of years. A Danish-Greenlandic draft and negotiating proposal has been written, but the discussion has for the time being unfortunately become stranded due to the effects of the corona crisis.
When this work is resumed, new collaborative initiatives can thus be signaled, which, however, should also be backed up by more concrete implementation and greater benefit to Greenlandic daily life.
I have heard on several occasions that the EU will set up an information center in Nuuk similar to the one which can be found in Gothersgade in Copenhagen, among many other places in continental Europe. It will be good in terms of making the EU visible and could be accompanied by joint cultural, academic, and political events.
A representation or consulate in Nuuk similar to the one the Americans recently reopened is also an obvious opportunity, as has been pointed out here in Altinget before Christmas by the Danish Conservative member of the European Parliament, Pernille Weiss, and is also an idea that is floated among Greenlandic diplomats.
The United States is doing what the European Union should be doing
The two main tracks with fisheries policy and education policy as primary areas of cooperation generally works well, and it is not necessarily in the Greenlandic interest to significantly supplement the existing areas with a number of new initiatives, as it will require additional resources to implement or risks leading to funds being moved from the Greenlandic educational budget. But funds from, for example, Horizon Europe, or know-how can be added if it makes sense for both parties.
The aforementioned 2015 declaration, for example, referred to increased cooperation in the field of raw materials, which was based on a declaration of intent from 2012 (‘Letter of Intent between the European Union and Greenland on cooperation in the area of mineral resources’).
The EU's focus on Greenlandic raw materials has again recently gained interest, but not much actually came out of the now almost 10-year-old agreement apart from a longer report.
Considering the Chinese and American interest in mining in primarily Southern Greenland, EU involvement could be beneficial for all parties.
The Americans are currently embarking on an intensive 'winning hearts and minds'-campaign, whereas the EU, which for decades has actually contributed larger sums of money to Greenlandic society, is currently unable to draw attention to both the EU’s previous contributions as well as how the EU can continue to contribute to the development of Greenlandic society.