Saturday, November 8, 2014

Corruption Scandal Set to Put Separatists in Charge of Greenland; Inuit Debate Independence and E.U. Relations as Energy-Rich Arctic Ocean Warms

An unexpected chain of events over the past several weeks has put independence for the Danish possession of Greenland back on the table and may determine the future of energy politics in the Arctic, and in the European Union (E.U.)

Aleqa Hammond, the accommodationist prime minister of Greenland, who is cold (pardon the expression) to the idea of independence, saw her political career implode in the last days of September after a financial scandal uncovered over 100,000 Danish krone spent on her and her family’s travel expenses and hotel mini-bar tabs.  Hammond’s socialist pro-independence party Siumut (Inuktitut for “Forward”) had up to that point been sitting at the top of the heap.  It garnered 43% of votes in the 2013 parliamentary elections and formed a coalition with the far-left separatist Inuit Party and with the premier unionist party, Attasut (“Solidarity,” also translatable as “Union”), each of those having pulled in just over 6%.

Aleqa Hammond
All eyes are now on the elections scheduled for November 28th.  But in the wake of the Hammond scandal, Siumut’s popularity has dropped.  The lastest polls of Greenland’s tiny electorate (about 40,000 people, mostly Inuit (Eskiimo), scattered over an area the size of half the E.U.) show a healthy but still lower 36.5% support, with the far more boldly pro-independence Inuit Ataqatigiit party surging at 44.4%.  That close to a majority, it would need to make deals with anti-independence parties to form a government.  Meanwhile, Attasut, which is a Liberal party in the big-L, European sense, is registering only 6.8% in the polls, down from more than 8% in 2013.  So Hammond has now pushed Siumut, a socialist party which has sat precariously on the fence on the independence question, out of the running, and a firmly pro-independence coalition is set to take office.

Together for the time being: the flags of Greenland and Denmark
Hammond is Greenland’s first female prime minister, and her likely successor, Sara Olsvig, would be the second.  (As a point of interest to anthropologists, she would become the second world leader to take office this year who has a background in anthropology, with degrees from the Universities of Greenland and Copenhagen.  The other is Ashraf Ghani, a Columbia University alumnus who is now president of Afghanistan.  What with Barack Obama’s mother having been an anthropologist as well, is this now a trend?)

Sara Olsvig—Greenland’s next prime minister?
Not only is Greenlandic independence now likely to be back on the table, but the corruption scandal also represents a close call for separatists alarmed by Hammond’s plans to bring Greenland into the E.U.  Greenland is not in the trade bloc, though its parent country, the Kingdom of Denmark, is.

A remaining questions is whether the current crisis will seem like a deep enough financial or corruption scandal that foreign investment will be affected.  This is what many in the E.U. would like Greenlandic voters to think.  This matters because the promise of foreign investment is one of the key planks in Inuit Ataqatigiit’s pro-independence platform.  So how financial markets on the European continent react and how E.U. leaders react may determine how confident Greenlanders feel when they go to the polls on the 28th, and what kind of a mandate the new government will feel it has to push for separation.

There is quite a bit at stake.  As northern latitudes warm and the Arctic Ocean becomes more and more of an open sea, the oil and, especially, natural-gas resources under the water will increasingly be the focus of a mad geopolitical scramble over the next century.  Without energy, Greenland—currently dependent on fishing (hardly reliable), Danish aid (slightly humiliating), and tourism (really?)—would be a much less viable state.  Russia controls by far the greatest part of the Arctic (see map above), owning nearly half of its circular coastline.  Canada, the world’s second-largest country, has the next biggest piece, while the United States (by virtue of Alaska), Norway, and Denmark (by virtue of Greenland) have smaller pie slices of roughly equal size.

E.U. member-states are shown in blue.  Blue and blue-circled territories overseas
are in the E.U.  Overseas territories of E.U. member-states which lie outside the E.U. are in green.
The E.U. would like to be a major player in the development of the Arctic, naturally, but, inconveniently, Norway is not in the Union (Norwegians have always had too much North Sea oil to feel that they needed to be) and Greenlanders, as they eye independence, go back and forth as to whether they want to join.  Greenland is one of a small number of dependent territories of E.U. member states which are not in the E.U.  Others (see map above) include the Isle of Man and Jersey and Guernsey, which are technically independent but in free association with the United Kingdom; Denmark’s Faroe Islands (which also have an independence movement); France’s Pacific possessions New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna; the Netherlands’ Caribbean possessions such as Aruba and Curaçao; and most of the U.K.’s island territories abroad.  Other overseas possessions are in the E.U., however, such as the U.K.’s Gibraltar and Falkland Islands, Spain’s Canary Islands and its African-mainland enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and French possessions like Réunion and the large and valuable French Guiana, where the European space program is based.  Greenland has always debated whether it should stay in the former group or join the latter one—and, indeed, whether an independent Greenland would benefit from E.U. membership on its own.

Russia has planted a flag under the sea at the North Pole ...
Would it be granted it?  Surely.  That it is in fact in North America will be no problem, since Brussels already kindly overlooks the fact that one of its member states, Cyprus, is (sshhh) in Asia.  And the huge expenses involved in running Greenland’s infrastructure would be more than made up for by the energy potential, which would strengthen western Europe’s hand mightily in what everyone agrees is a looming and burgeoning geopolitical struggle with Russia for energy resources.  With Greenland and a warming Arctic, the E.U. hopes it would not be dependent on an increasingly anti-Western Russia to keep its houses and businesses warm through the winter.

... but under international law, the reality is slightly more complicated.
But there is an irony here.  As many European colonial powers shed their overseas territories in the 1960s and ’70s, many of them were careful not to pull up stakes until they had put governments and agreements in place to guarantee parent-countries’ corporations’ access to the former colonies’ resources.  The pro-British governments installed in Iraq and Libya as the British withdrew are examples of this, and their inequities and abuses led directly to the rise of the dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Moammar al-Qaddafi, respectively.  Likewise, the Dutch tolerated a pro–Shell Oil dictatorship in newly independent Indonesia, while Spain’s attempt to leave the former Spanish Sahara’s oil open to Spanish corporate exploitation, which set the stage for the ongoing dispute over that territory between the semi-recognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (S.A.D.R.) and the new colonial master there, Morocco.  (Portugal, by contrast, tended to take its ball and go straight home, leaving colonies like Angola, Mozambique, and East Timor ravaged by decades of civil war.)  So E.U. shakers and movers in Paris, London, Madrid, and Amsterdam would very much like to see Denmark extract some concessions of this sort from Greenland as part of negotiations for independence, so that Greenland’s future energy supply can be moved into, and moved around in, the E.U. free-trade area without tariff or political disruption.  And here’s the irony: Denmark, a far more progressive, egalitarian-minded state which has never depended on colonies for its considerable prosperity, is much more likely to be a benevolent version of Portugal and let a newly independent Greenland do whatever it likes with its resources, including handing them over to non-E.U. contractors—like, say, the Chinese, who are all over Greenland right now like mud on a pig, waiting for the gold rush to start.

Greenlanders say: we may want your investment, but don’t plant your flag just yet.
Greenland must decide whether it is ready to bank on an energy still in its infancy as a guarantor of viability as an independent state.  If it does go it alone, Greenland will not need either Denmark or the E.U.  Russians, Chinese, and Americans will also be lining up to set up business there.  Economists and analysts on the Continent are already warning Greenland not to be too rash and hoping that the recent political troubles will make voters fret about investment.  No fretting is necessary.  Greenland’s voters should plug their ears, look at the facts, and make up their own minds.

Eventually, Greenlanders will sort it all out.

[You can read more about Greenland and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

1 comment:

  1. WE would benefit by familiarizing our minds, with Vienna Law School, Social scientist, Ludwig von Mises', "Economic & Sociological Analysis of Socialism"! It would help explain the whole individual social,rooted concentric rings of microcosms, at the root of all state's imperial ambitions! It shows the Laissez Faire Liberal social unions of old school social individuals', consent rooted economic social progress! But we need to set aside "Progressive" brand clichés, we were all taught in our Prussian Kaiser idolizing , state centred insiders' cartel schools, the world over! Prof. Mises explains the principles of the state monopoly of force, getting abused in the name of "the people", the world over, across the whole human race!


Subscribe Now: Feed Icon