Draft constitution provides prelude to independent Greenland | Polarjournal
Greenland’s premier, Múte B Egede (left), receives the constitutional commission’s draft on 31 March from its chair, Ineqi Kielsen (Photo: Naalakkersuisut)

Greenland’s first crack at a constitution suggests that its lawmakers do not envision a future that is vastly different from its present as a democratic, Inuit-run country that must rely on a larger power if it is to get by

Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and, as such, the law of its land is the Danish constitution of 1953. That version altered Greenland’s politcal status from colony to county, paving the path for it, in 1979, to be granted home rule, and then, in 2009, self-rule, bringing with it the right to declare its independence. Should that happen, as many in Greenland hope someday, a new constitution — this one of Greenland’s own making — will be necessary.

To prepare for that day, Greenland’s lawmakers decided, in 2016, to seat a commission tasked with coming up with a proposal for how a constitution could look. The document it delivered to the premier in on 31 March and revealed to the public on 28 April was, in many ways, a furthering of the status quo. 

First and foremost, this is because it cleaves to the democratic system of government and protections for human rights and the environment that are enshrined in the Danish constitution. Its recognition of the rights of Inuit furthers the terms of the self-rule agreement between Nuuk and Copenhagen that made Kalaallisut the official language, but it does not represent a significant departure from something that has become generally accepted.

Nor will Denmark automatically get the shove. In recognising that Greenland will still be reliant on a larger power for aspects like defence, it leaves the door open for a continued relationship with Copenhagen, though any agreement with the Danes or anyone else would be between equal partners. 

The proposal was never meant to be all things to all Greenlanders, and indeed, for some, it does not go far enough, fast enough, while others worry that it would create too much distance between Greenland and Denmark, to the detriment of its identity and its economy.

For those favouring quick independence the focus now will be on moving the proposal from draft to done deal, warts and all. Polls, though, have shown that most in Greenland believe that political independence should follow economic independence, and, by all measures, that is quite far off: tourism and exploitation of natural resources could realistically add significantly to an economy that today is almost exclusively reliant on fishing, but it will take many decades before Copenhagen’s annual 4 billion kroner (€540 million) subsidy — amounting to 20% of the value of Greenland’s economy — is no longer necessary. Until then, a constitution will be a document whose time has yet to come.

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal

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