The European Union sets up in Nuuk | Polarjournal
The President of the European Commission and Greenland’s Minister of Housing, Infrastructure, Justice, Minerals and Gender Equality seek economic and diplomatic common ground. Photomontage: Christophe Licoppe / Xavier Lejeune / Patano / Wikimedia Commons / PolarJournal

On a trip to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the European Commission’s highest representative puts the Arctic back on the political agenda. Greenland has become an essential ally in the EU’s drive for reindustrialization and energy autonomy. Both sides seek common ground, mutual benefit: critical materials versus concrete investment, new EU office opens in Nuuk.

On Friday March 15, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, will visit Nuuk for the inauguration of the European Union’s first office in Greenland. Mads Qvist Frederiksen, Director of the Arctic Economic Council, comments: “It’s good that the EU has decided to set up an office a little closer to the Arctic Circle. The EU is already involved in education, fisheries and ecological transition in Greenland. With this office, it could take a greater interest in raw materials and the opportunities that lie ahead.”

This rapprochement follows the recent signing of strategic agreements between the two parties, in which they agreed to set up a sustainable value chain for the exploitation of critical minerals to which European countries have little access. The EU has already pledged to invest 500 million in Greenland by 2027.

Broadening the dialogue

However, the purpose of opening the office is to broaden the dialogue. “It’s good that the EU can now follow the situation more closely from the ground, and hopefully this will trickle down to Brussels. We’ve been hearing for years that Greenland needs to diversify its economy, but this requires investment in renewable energy and mining; some of the support for this could come from EU partners,” says Mads Qvist Frederiksen.


“From a pragmatic point of view, tourism is a sector that is already developing on the island, so it’s not such a distant prospect.”

Florian Vidal


For critical minerals, as for other issues that may emerge, Europe is committed to promoting long-term development. “It’s all about the EU positioning itself. It remains to be seen how it intends to contribute and provide concrete answers to the structural obstacles to the development of the mining sector on the island”, says Florian Vidal, a political science researcher with the strategic materials group.

Attracting investors

To differentiate itself from other countries like “China”, the EU is not promoting an “extract and run” economic model, as Tomas Baert, trade advisor to President von der Leyen, described it at a press conference on Wednesday. “We come with the investment and know-how […] to establish part of the value chain in the partner country”, he adds, announcing the forthcoming arrival of private players.

On Greenland’s side, the agreement would bring much-needed investors. “We’ve found a clear-sighted partner in the EU,” says Naaja Nathanielsen, Greenland’s Minister of Housing, Infrastructure, Justice, Minerals and Gender Equality.

“The manufacture of electric vehicles requires six times more minerals than a thermal vehicle, […] wind turbines require 15 times more minerals than a gas power plant”, she reminds us. Greenland possesses 25 of the 44 critical energy transition minerals needed for the European energy market.

The Maranchon wind farm is located in the province of Guadalajara in the autonomous community of Castilla la Mancha. Image : Jfga / Wikimedia Common

Renewable energy is to be developed in Greenland – even though 66% of local consumption already comes from hydroelectric power stations – with the ambition of being able to export it in the form of hydrogen. “We don’t have the backbone to develop this technology ourselves, so we depend on the countries conducting this research, but we do have potential in this sector,” explains the Minister.

With this office and the support of the European Investment Bank, European economic players in the energy sector, for example, will be able to sit down at the negotiating table to discuss infrastructure and investment.

“A virtuous mining model remains to be built”.

This energy production would become necessary for the construction of low-carbon mining sites. And in either case, Nuuk has no great ambitions. “We already have a low unemployment rate”, “we have a small workforce”, she gives as examples. Greenland wants to offer its own people the responsibility for post-construction management and maintenance, before attracting outside labor.

Two of Greenland’s key concerns are respect for the environment and local communities. “We’re not a low-cost mining country,” explains Naaja Nathanielsen, referring to the standards of Greenland’s Mining Code and Labor Code. This is where Europe feels it has a card to play in aligning European and Greenlandic standards.


“Even if Greenland is not part of the Union, it is part of Europe, part of the same family”.

Tomas Baert


However, “a virtuous mining model remains to be built,” reminds Forian Vidal. For the moment, we’re at the vision stage. “Exporting such a model requires setting standards and developing technologies that meet the demands of environmental, social and ethical issues, etc.”

In Sweden, Norway and Finland, the Saami Council is demanding a seat in the European Parliament so that it can debate wind power and mining projects affecting their territory at a high level. The lithium mine project in central France is still at the public consultation stage, to assess the impact on air quality, water quality and water requirements in a context of summer drought marked by climate change.

The former Echassières kaolin quarry is a site that could be reopened to lithium mining. Image: TomTooM03 / Wikimedia Commons

The first step in building this ethical model is reflection, even though the current French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, announced in his general policy speech that he wanted to simplify the process. “In this way, the management of future mining projects in Europe will set the tone for what the European mining model could look like,” notes Florian Vidal.

Strengthening ties

The opening of the Greenland office is the first step in setting up a constructive long-term discussion. Accessibility to the country’s main cities will soon be facilitated by new airports, which could initially benefit the tourism sector. “From a pragmatic point of view, tourism is a sector that is already developing on the island, so it’s not such a distant prospect,” notes the political science researcher.

The EU President’s visit comes at a time of particular geopolitical instability, and is also intended to strengthen ties: “Even if Greenland is not part of the Union, it is part of Europe, part of the same family”, said Tomas Baert.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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