Nuuk and Copenhagen in stand-off over Nordic Council membership | Polarjournal
Greenland's prime minister Mute B. Egede (left), Denmark's prime minister Mette Frederiksen (center), and Finland's then prime minister Sanna Marin (right) during a Nordic Council press conference in November 2021. Photo: News Øresund - Erik Ottosson
Greenland’s prime minister Mute B. Egede (left), Denmark’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen (center), and Finland’s then prime minister Sanna Marin (right) during a Nordic Council press conference in November of 2021. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: News Øresund – Erik Ottosson

Greenland threatens to leave the Nordic Council if they are not accepted as a full member. But the Scandinavian countries are afraid of the precedent it would set, professor explains to Polar Journal.

For some time, Greenland has tried, unsuccessfully, to become a full and equal member of the Nordic Council, an inter-parliamentary cooperation between Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. But now, it seems, Greenland’s prime minister Muté B. Egede has become tired of waiting.

“There are forces in the Nordic Council that do not consider us equal partners; they are actively working to keep us out,” he told Sermitsiaq in March without specifying which forces he was talking about.

“We are now in a situation where we must consider our future in a forum where we are unwanted, and we have made this clear to the Nordic Council,” Muté B Egede said.

Greenland, along with the Faroe Islands and Åland, enjoy a partial membership of the Nordic Council. This means that while they are each represented with two out of the 87 members of the council, they are only included under the delegation of the country they are a part of: Denmark for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, Finland for Åland.

It is this arrangement that Muté B. Egede wants to change, and that Denmark and the other full members want to maintain.

Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen is Danish but grew up in Iceland. Because of this he views independence from Denmark, fiscal and political, as a fundamentally good thing. Today, he is a professor of Northern Studies at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. Photo: Stina Guldbrandsen/ UiT
Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen is Danish but grew up in Iceland. Because of this, he views independence from Denmark, fiscally and politically, as a fundamentally good thing. Today, he is a professor of Northern Studies at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. Photo: Stina Guldbrandsen/ UiT

A tug of war

The dispute may seem straightforward and easy to solve, but according to Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, Professor of Northern Studies at the Arctic University of Norway, there are deeper forces at play.

“It is part of a general tug of war between Denmark and Greenland. In several different arenas, Greenland is trying to push the boundaries of what they can do in terms of foreign policy within the Danish Realm. The Nordic Council is just one example of this,” he told Polar Journal.

This tug of war concerning Nordic cooperation has been going on for a while now. According to a report from the Åland Peace Council, Greenland has continually raised concerns about the option to use Kalaallisut language (Greenlandic) in the Nordic Council.

And according to the same report, the question of full membership in the adjacent organization the Nordic Council of Ministers can be traced all the way back to 1997.

“From Greenland’s perspective, there is no longer any reason to maintain the formal distinction between the participation of the states and the self-governing areas in the Nordic Council of Ministers,” then prime minister Jonathan Motzfeldt said in 1997.

Jonathan Motzfeldt, Photo: Lennart Perlenhem, Wikimedia Commons
Already in 1997, Jonathan Motzfeldt (pictured) complained about Greenland’s standing in the Nordic Council of Ministers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Lennart Perlenhem

Afraid of the precedent

The Nordic Council is mainly concerned with relatively benign matters such as culture and language; its most famous activity being a literature prize. As such, it may seem like a strange hill for either party to die on; why not just allow Greenland to become a full member?

According to Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, there are two reasons that a battle is being waged.

“First of all, it is a matter of precedent. If Greenland or the Faroe Islands are allowed to become full members, they may seek to use this in other international arenas and bodies too. This could push the boundaries of the Danish Realm as a unitary state,” he said.

“Secondly, as all the Nordic countries have now become members of NATO, the Nordic cooperation is becoming more concerned with ‘hard’ foreign and security policy, whereas in the past it was more concerned with ‘softer’ policy areas, since not all Nordic countries belonged to the same military alliance.”

“From the point of view of Copenhagen, both of these things speak against allowing Greenland to become a full member,” he said. 

Muté B. Egede (center with blue anorak) said that he would look for partnerships where he felt Greenland was more wanted. On the photo, he is giving US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken a covid-influenced welcome to Greenland in May of 2021. Photo: State Department / Ron Przysucha

The cynical side of the Nordics

This firm stance from Denmark may seem to oppose the friendly image that the country has garnered internationally. It certainly goes against the self-image of the Danes who see themselves as granting Greenland the possibility of independence out of a moral obligation. 

But according to Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, Denmark is subject to the same cynical forces of international relations as everyone else.

“States will go far to ensure their territorial integrity. Look at China and Taiwan, look at Spain and Catalonia, or look at the American Civil War. Denmark is no different and will go to great lengths to keep the realm together,” he said.

Perhaps it is these invisible forces that are working against Muté B. Egede and Greenland’s ambitions of a full Nordic Council membership. Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, at least, points to the same forces of international politics when explaining why other Nordic countries would be against it.

“The Nordic countries may appear like ‘nice and soft’ countries in international politics, but even between these countries there is a sort of solidarity among states. They probably won’t contribute to the undermining of another sovereign, Nordic state,” he said.  

Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen did not believe, however, that the resistance from other Nordic countries could be out of a fear of similar demands from their Sámi populations. He argued that the Sámi are a people without territorial demands and therefore a different case; they are not questioning Norwegian, Swedish or Finnish national sovereignty or territorial integrity.

With the Sámi, fellow Nordic Council members Finland, Norway, and Sweden also have indigenous populations within their territory. But, as they make no claims for territorial independence, they are different relationships are different than the one between Denmark and Greenland, Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen argued. Photo: saamiblog / Htm via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

A diplomatic war of centimeters

In his March interview with Sermitsiaq, Muté B. Egede also mentioned that Greenland should “rather spend time and effort on collaborative relationships where we are wanted and considered equal partners.”

Greenland’s new foreign policy strategy, published earlier this year, makes it very clear where he would find these new relationships: among other Inuit peoples in the Arctic. In spite of this, Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen still believes that his comments about the Nordic Council were aimed east towards Denmark.

“There are strong bonds between Inuits, and for Greenland those bonds point west towards Canada, the USA, and parts of North-Eastern Russia. But I still believe that the comments should also be viewed in the context of the game between Copenhagen and Nuuk,” Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen said.

“It’s a game where Greenland maintains that Denmark cannot talk about the Arctic without their presence. This gives them bargaining power, as they can refuse to be present, if they disagree with their status, embarrassing Denmark,” he said.

Whether Greenland will eventually be accepted as a full member of the Nordic Council is something Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen cannot predict. But in the grand scheme of things, it is less important; the Nordic Council is just one battleground in a larger political struggle being waged.

“I expect that Denmark and Greenland will continue to find new compromises. But it is always compromises that move in the direction of Greenland. They will continue to win one centimeter after another.” 

“Greenland will become more and more politically independent but remains deeply economically dependent on Denmark, which I believe is highly unfortunate for both. They should both put much more effort into the fiscal and human capital independence of Greenland,” he said. 

Ole Ellekrog, Polar Journal AG

More on the topic:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
error: Content is protected !!
Share This