Beyond the EU

BERLIN/NUUK/REYKJAVÍK/TÓRSHAVN | | daenemark

BERLIN/NUUK/REYKJAVÍK/TÓRSHAVN (Own report) - Whereas the Brexit has been met with wholesale rejection by the German and other EU member states' establishments, it was positively assessed in the little noticed countries of Northwest Europe, growing in strategic importance. Iceland's president recently invited Great Britain to enhance its cooperation with the "triangle of non-EU countries," meaning Iceland, and the autonomous regions Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland left the European Community (EC) in 1982; the Faroe Islands have never been members and Iceland officially withdrew its application for EU membership in 2015. All three countries refuse nuclear weapons and NATO's missile defense shield on their territories, while showing a greater openness towards Russia than most other western countries. Iceland and particularly Greenland have been growing in their strategic importance with the impending opening of Arctic sea routes and exploitation of Arctic natural resources. German experts have already suggested inciting Greenland to secede from Denmark. This would offer Germany greater influence on Greenland and consequently on the Arctic's political, economic and military affairs.

The Triangle of Non-EU Countries

Whereas, the Brexit was met with wholesale rejection by the establishments of EU member states, positive assessments can be heard, for example in Iceland. Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson invited Great Britain to join the "triangle of non-EU countries" in the northern Atlantic, comprised of Iceland Greenland and the Faroe Islands.[1] Grimsson's offer comes from a region, where German influence has been dwindling over the past few years, also due to the fact that the countries concerned are not integrated into the EU.

First EC Exit

Greenland is the largest country in the "Triangle of Non-EU Countries." Experts of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) call it "Europe's gateway to the Arctic."[2] It is an autonomous region of the Kingdom of Denmark, however, it is no longer a member of the EU, because of the aggressiveness of German fishermen.[3] In February 1980, the illegal fishing off Greenland's coast by fishermen from Bremerhaven ended in an international scandal. The fishermen were tried und sentenced.[4] In view of the fishing industry's prime importance for the country's economy, this incident prompted the debate on Greenland leaving the European Community (EC). In a referendum held in February 1982, 53 percent of Greenland's voters opted for the EC-exit. Since then, the German government relies on its good relations with Denmark's government to gain influence in Greenland, for example for activities in the Arctic. Copenhagen is still responsible for Greenland's foreign and defense policies.[5]

No Nuclear Weapons

Subsequent to withdrawal from the EC and its newly gained independence, Greenland's parliament and government were looking for new forms of international cooperation. In 1985, parliamentary representatives from Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands founded the "West Nordic Parliamentarian Council of Cooperation" - since 1997 under the shortened name "West Nordic Council" (WNC). With the WNC, the three countries established a common forum for their international relations. At the 1986 WNC meeting, the parliamentarians decided to declare the West Nordic Region a nuclear free zone.[6] They have therefore been in opposition to NATO's nuclear arms policy, which has been -and still is - supported by the Federal Republic of Germany. Just recently, German think tanks called for expanding the west's nuclear arsenal.[7]

No NATO Missile Defense Shield

The German-supported NATO nuclear policy is not the only issue being challenged by the members of the triangle. In 1999, Greenland's Prime Minister at the time, Jonathan Motzfeld,[8] rejected US plans to install a missile defense shield in his country. Greenland's government declared its intention to refuse authorization for the necessary constructions on the US base in Thule, in Northwest Greenland. At the time, Motzfeld was quoted with the assessment, "a Cold War atmosphere will be created," and he did not want "Greenland to become the focal point in a Cold War."[9] Toward the end of the 90s, Greenland turned its back on German-instigated confrontation measures against Russia. In 1998, German foundations in Slovakia supported the replacement of a government that was cooperative with Russia, and in 1999, Germany played an essential role in NATO's war on Yugoslavia, one of Russia's allies. Whereas Germany's government favored the expansion of the US missile defense shield all the way to it becoming a NATO missile defense shield in 2007, the war alliance still must do without a shield on its Arctic Ocean northern flank.

Better Relations with Russia

Greenland is not the only northern country refusing to join the aggressive policy toward Russia. In spite of its NATO membership, Iceland is also keeping the door open to Moscow. During the 2007 financial crisis, when NATO countries refused to grant Iceland a loan, Iceland's Prime Minister, Geir Haarde [10] asked Russia for a credit of US $5.4 billion, which, due to the slump in energy prices and the economic crisis that had now reached Russia, did not materialize. Nevertheless, Icelandic diplomats, at the time, came under a barrage of harsh criticism from their NATO allies.[11]

EU Precedent

Greenland is also not the only northern country rejecting EU membership. Alongside Norway, whose population declined to join the EC and the EU in two referendums,[12] Iceland, as well, is not a member of this international confederation. March 12, 2015, the Icelandic government officially withdrew its application for EU membership, that it had to submit during its struggle to overcome the banking crisis. Iceland's Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that his country's interests are better served outside the EU. Iceland became the first country to withdraw its membership application - a novelty for the expansion-oriented confederation, under German domination.

Dispute over Fishing Quotas

The smallest country of the Northern European "triangle of non-EU members" has undergone a similar development in its criticism of the EU. On the Faroe Islands, an autonomous region of the Kingdom of Denmark, which - like Greenland - is not a member of the EU, there are only 50,000 inhabitants. Already in 1983, the islands' parliament declared the region a nuclear free zone, however the decision was overturned by Denmark.[13] Nevertheless, over the past decade, the political elite of the Faroe Islands have developed a certain affinity to the EU. In 2009, the country's two main parties agreed to apply for membership to the Euro zone - independently of Denmark.[14] However their application has remained unanswered. In the meantime, the tide has turned. In the summer of 2013, because Faroe fishermen were overfishing, the EU imposed sanctions on the island. This measure has significantly contributed to the EU's loss of prestige among the population on the islands. Already in 2012, an expert of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation wrote that, in the question of setting fishing quotas, the Faroe Islands were pursuing a strategy that was "incompatible with sustainable exploitation," which constitutes "a violation of international obligations ... by the Faroe side to cooperate with other instances."[15] Because of the prime importance the fishing industry has for the population of the islands, this conflict has taken on special significance.

Representative Office in Russia

Not only have relations chilled between the EU and the Faroe Islands, the autonomous region has also enhanced its relations with Moscow. Following EU sanctions against Russia and the subsequent Russian counter sanctions, agricultural exports from western countries to the Russian Federation have been drastically reduced. The Faroe Islands have not been affected, because - as mentioned above - they are not members of the EU. In September 2014, Faroe Prime Minister, Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen travelled to Moscow and concluded a trade agreement with Russia. Since then, exports to Russia from the Faroe Islands have drastically increased and the country is experiencing an economic boom.[16] The Faroe Islands are also maintaining a representative office in Russia, their only liaison office outside the EU and NATO.

Carrot and Stick

Over the past two decades, German politicians and think tanks have been toying with the idea of motivating Greenland and the Faroe Islands to secede from Denmark, to clear the way for their entry or re-entry into the EU. According to experts at the SWP, since Greenland's withdrawal, the EU has become "a vehicle for international recognition." The EU should "include Greenland as a 'privileged partner'," for "each new investment ... in the Arctic region,", and "not only respect, but actively support," the "country's legitimate aspiration to independence."[17] If Germany would help Greenland to secede from Denmark, Germany would win new influence in the country and, therefore, also in the strategically increasingly important Arctic.[18] There is, however, currently no indication that this would be successful.

[1] Jess Staufenberg: Brexit: Iceland president says UK can join 'triangle' of non-EU countries, independent.co.uk 28.06.2016.
[2] Carsten Schymik: Grönland in Selbstregierung - Die EU als Chance für den Weg in die staatliche Unabhängigkeit. SWP-Aktuell 49, August 2009.
[3] Ove Johansen/Carsten Lehmann Sørensen: Greenland's Way out of the European Community, in: The World Today, Jg. 39 (1983), Nr. 7/8, S. 270-277 (hier: S. 272).
[4] Ebenda, S. 274.
[5] See Eiskalter Krieg and Eismeer statt Wüstensand.
[6] Hans Jacob Debes: Reflections on the Position, Participation and Co-Operation of Small Nations in International Politics Case: The Faroe Islands, in: Nordic Journal of International Law, Jg. 57 (1988), Nr. 573, S. 365-368 (hier: S. 368).
[7] See Fundamental Readjustment.
[8] Motzfeld held office from 1979 - 1991 and from 1997 - 2002.
[9] China and Greenland back Russia on ABM Issue, Jamestown Foundation Monitor, Jg. 5, Nr. 206, 05.11.1999.
[10] Haarde was in office from 2006 - 2009.
[11] Valur Ingimundarson: Iceland's Post-American Security Policy, Russian Geopolitics And The Arctic Question, in: The RUSI Journal, Jg. 154 (2009), Nr. 4, S. 74-80 (hier: S. 76).
[12] The Referendums were held in September 1972 and in November 1994.
[13] Debes: Reflections on the Position, Participation and Co-Operation of Small Nations in International Politics Case: The Faroe Islands, S. 367.
[14] Jarrett Iovine: Euro wanted as currency in Faroe Islands, icenews.is 06.08.2009.
[15] Björn Bjarnason: Island - ein widerspenstiger EU-Beitrittskandidat, KAS-Auslandsinformationen 5/2012.
[16] Anton Troianovski: Faeroe Islands Boom by Selling Salmon to Russia, wsj.com 20.02.2015.
[17] Carsten Schymik: Grönland in Selbstregierung - Die EU als Chance für den Weg in die staatliche Unabhängigkeit. SWP-Aktuell 49, August 2009.
[18] See Arctic Oil, Ice-Cold Geopolitics (I) and Ice-Cold Geopolitics (II).