A constitution of their own

Greenland wants to prepare for its future independence by drawing up a constitution, but Copenhagen isn't so keen on the idea

The time is right for Greenland to begin looking into the practicalities of drawing up its own constitution, lawmakers in the self-governing member of the Kingdom of Denmark agree.

“We could be seeing the establishment of a number of major industrial projects, and it is important that we have had the chance to speak with each other about how we want our society and our country to look like,” Premier Aleqa Hammond, said during celebrations of Greenland’s national day on June 21.

The idea of a separate constitution for Greenland was first put forward in 2011. At that time, the previous government began the process of establishing constitutional commission.

An election in 2013 put the work on hold, but now Hammond says the work will resume and expects to seat a committee before the next general election is scheduled to be held, in 2017.

Hammond admitted that the consititution’s eventual goal was to form the basis of an independent Greenland. She has previously stated that she hopes Greenland will break away from Denmark in her lifetime, but she made it clear that preparing the groundwork for that would take time.

“Right now, it’s important that we take stock of ourselves and improve our legal, economic, cultural and social competencies and capacities so that we can allow them to harmonise with our values.”

The most recent agreement defining Greenland’s relationship to the Kingdom of Denmark was adopted in 2009. That document permits the country to declare its independence at any time it sees fit.

Two years after the agreement took effect – in the fall of 2011 – Siumut, Hammond’s party, then in opposition, became the first to suggest a constitutional committee, whose work, it said, would help the country define itself as a single nation.

A nearly identical proposal was eventually put forward by the government at the time and approved by a parliament.

Given the broad agreement about drawing up a constitution, the most difficult task a constitutional committee will face will be to convince Copenhagen that a Greenlandic constitution may exist side by side with the existing Danish constitution.

Mixed messages
According to the letter of the law, says Ole Spiermann, a legal expert familiar with Nuuk-Copenhagen relations, that might not be possible. But, he pointed out that there were multiple examples in the current relationship between Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the third member of the Kingdom of Denmark, of the constitution being violated.

Copenhagen has sent mixed messages about constitutions for the two countries. In 2010, the previous government told the Faroes that it could not adopt a constitution without leaving the kingdom. The current government, however, has softened its stance; in its most recent statement about the matter, it said constitutions, if passed, would be seen as supplementary to existing legal frameworks.

“The government respects Greenlandic and Faroese wishes to draw up their own constitutions, but it is important that they do not cast doubt” on the two countries’ relationship to Denmark.

When Greenland’s parliament approved the constitutional committee in 2011, it stated that it would be compatible with the Danish constitution and the Self-Rule Act – perhaps not wishing to give Copenhagen reason to dispel the legal grey zone.

According to Spiermann, the actual document that Greenland ended up with would be less important than the debates they had during the process of drawing it up.

“Independence isn’t just a status,” he said. “It is also the process of coming to a decision. A part of Greenland’s independence lies in the fact that it is the people of Greenland themselves who decide whether Greenland is to be independent.” M


By Kevin McGwin

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