In 2009, Greenland got Self Rule within the Kingdom of Denmark. This upgraded status from Home Rule is seen as the last stage before a possible independence from Denmark. Time shows however that there is still a long way to go before thinking about independence: amongst other challenges, Greenland's economic situation is not going well, unemployment is high and expected large scale projects take time to be concretised.
In the most optimistic forecast, it would require several decades before Greenland can seriously think about becoming a state. That said, the longer Greenland will wait to develop and make necessary reforms such as an important reduction of public expenses, which in a report from 2010 accounted for about 75% of Greenland's GDP (NIRAS, 2010), the more difficult it will be for Greenland to 'safely' take the Arctic 'motorway' (where things go fast) alone [without the Danish 'driving instructor' or 'co-driver' as the Self Rule Act talks about 'equal partners' (Lov om Grønlands Selvstyre, 2009)], as an independent state. Simply because the Arctic will have become too important to take the risk of being a weak, or at least a too vulnerable state, by going faster in the state-building process.
As self-ruled territory, Greenland has a unique chance to experience sovereignty in some key areas and feel some realities experienced by states, without being a state. Being a state requires not only incomes, something Greenland would have to think about on a long term perspective and not just to become independent, but also a significant number of highly educated persons.
Putting defence aside, as it is clear that an independent Greenland would not be able to have its own defence forces if a country such as Iceland doesn't, capabilities regarding foreign affairs is and will be one of Greenland's key challenges. The Greenlandic Department of Foreign Affairs, made of a main office in Nuuk and two representations (Copenhagen and Brussels), counted in 2013 about 15 persons, including the minister and interns. In comparison, a micro-state such as Monaco, less inhabited than Greenland and with much fewer issues to deal with, had at the same period about 36 persons, including the minister, at the main office of its Department of External Relations.
Looking at the case of Iceland, formerly part of the Danish Kingdom, is more than interesting with regards to some dimensions of Greenland's future and its challenges. Iceland manages to run a foreign service which counts 25 diplomatic representations (including Consulates General), with most of the time two or three diplomats in each of them to deal with all issues, from consular affairs to politics, economics and culture, while being in a key country with a number of side-accredited countries and sometimes international organisations to follow. With some acknowledging that in the case of Iceland it can appear under-staffed to properly deal with foreign affairs, Greenland's capabilities would then seem particularly challenging, if not symbolic, at a time where the territory is experiencing a new reality. Greenland has talents, but too few to handle the growing international interest it is experiencing.
Education and a greater internationalization of Greenlanders' minds, notably through the media, are therefore absolute key challenges that Greenland needs to face with regards to its state-building process.
In a few years' time, Greenland, an island of 2,166,086 km² inhabited by less than 57,000 persons, has experienced rapid changes when it comes to its external relations. It has been and still is receiving an unprecedented amount of international interest due to the territory's strategic assets, notably in terms of natural resources; and due to the growing importance of the Arctic region. When global powers such as China meet Greenland, things get further intensified.
In the context of a global raw material sector, and because Greenland's development takes place in a rapidly changing Arctic region, it is also critical for Greenland to have more global-oriented politicians, especially when it comes to the lobbying related to foreign investments, which are at the core of Greenland's development. It takes only 28 persons, including ministers, mayors and the majority of the Parliament, to politically run the territory.
A single project such as the Kvanefjeld one in South Greenland (one of the largest deposit of rare earth elements and uranium in the world) could make Greenland's GDP rise by more than 20% (Søren Duran Duus, 2013). In the case of an iron ore mining project outside Nuuk (Isua project), the potential offered could simply double (Krarup, 2013) Greenland's GDP. It gives one an idea of the weight such projects could have on Greenland, its economy and its few decision-makers.
As the financing for major projects in Greenland will probably come from Asia, and given Greenland's characteristics, the self-ruled territory needs to strengthen its political ties with its direct neighborhood and historical partners: the Nordic region, an area to which it belongs, the European Union and the United States.
Following the 2013 parliamentary elections in Greenland, a major challenge appeared for Greenland's development: ensuring stability during changes of government. Stability is needed in terms of regulatory framework, which is critical for attracting the foreign investments that Greenland needs; but also with regards to Greenland's dialogue with Denmark and the Arctic Council. In other words, domestic politics is one thing, but credibility is needed for Greenland's image on the international stage. Disregarding realities, the main one being that Denmark is in charge of the Kingdom's foreign and security policy, may be counter-productive for Greenland in its relationship with Denmark.
2014 will continue to be interesting to follow when it comes to the relationship between Greenland (in charge of managing its natural resources) and Denmark (in charge of the Kingdom's foreign and security policy), particularly on the outcome of the Greenlandic Government's willingness to remove a zero-tolerance policy on extracting radioactive elements, which includes uranium, in Greenland.
- Krarup, Poul (September 2013). « London Mining vil betyde en fordobling af BNP », Sermitsiaq 6(36): 10. Lov om Grønlands Selvstyre, (12 June 2009), Gazette A no. 473. Retrieved September 29, 2013 from [http://www.stm.dk/multimedia/selvstyreloven.pdf ].
- NIRAS Greenland A/S (2010), for Sulisitsisut, « Økonomisk selvstændighed: En enorm opgave, men ikke håbløs ». Retrieved September 29, 2013 from [http://www.ga.gl/Portals/0/Nyhed%202010/%C3%98konomisk%20selvst%C3%A6ndighed.pdf]
- Søren Duran Duus (25 March 2013). « GME-direktør går ind for royalty». Retrieved September 29, 2013 from [http://sermitsiaq.ag/node/150691].
Damien Degeorges is Head of International Business Diplomacy Chair, Paris School of Business, France.