GREENLAND : The current stakes

Greenland is at a crossroads in its history. After being ignored and isolated for a long time, it is now coveted by all.

It is estimated that the Arctic holds a quarter of the world’s (as yet undiscovered) oil and gas reserves, one third of this being located in Greenland. The country is believed to have 12 to 25% of the world’s rare-earth deposits and 23% of its uranium. The melting of the ice, accelerated by climate change, is in fact facilitating access to these highly-coveted resources. For around a decade now the Arctic has therefore been the target of speculation turning it into a major geopolitical issue. (See Chapter on Geopolitics of the Arctic).


However, today the brakes have been applied to development of what the decision makers did not hesitate to call "the new Eldorado" and the Greenland government is being forced to review its strategies. It is in fact facing a new dilemma: the potential for economic independence from Denmark, as a result of the exploitation of its natural resources which have now become accessible, weighed against the environmental threat that this entails. There is also the mixed message this could create for its image of "victim" of climate change, maintained and promoted to the public. In the end, the independence that Greenland would win from Copenhagen could make it dependent on the great powers battling for the upper hand in the geopolitics of the Pole and on the big multinationals eyeing up its resources. How could this young State, still in the process of being constructed, resist this?


Greenland - Denmark :

The interdepedence

This dilemma involves not just considering strictly economic and political points of view. It affects Greenland society deeply, in terms of its identity and its relationship with Denmark, and its situation in terms of Danish tutelage. Greenland’s national character has gradually gained the upper hand during the course of the country’s history, notably at the time when it achieved the statutes of autonomy of 1979 and 2009.

 Despite a certain populism promoted by some political parties, a majority of Greenlanders currently seem to be in favour of retaining a privileged relationship with Denmark and not seeking full independence too rapidly. Greenlanders are generally quite well aware that today half of the national budget still comes from Denmark (the annual contribution of 500 million euros represents around 1% of the Danish national budget) and that this is not a matter of philanthropy but is a long-term political and economic strategy.


For Denmark, Greenland in fact represents a major strategic issue, even though it gains little direct economic revenue from the Greenlandic territory today. Copenhagen exports a not-inconsiderable part of its manufactured products and human resources there – helping to maintain a low rate of unemployment at home in Denmark, while at the same time gaining tax income from this process – but its interest is above all geopolitical. Its ties with Greenland in fact give it a seat on the Arctic Council and enable it to have considerable international influence in matters relating to the exploitation of fishing, mineral and hydrocarbon resources and the new shipping routes, which could be very beneficial over the long term, but also military and defence questions between Russia and the United States (with which Denmark makes common cause) in the region. See Chapters on the Economy and Geopolitics of the Arctic.

These bonds between the two peoples go beyond the purely economic aspect, however. They are also cultural and societal. The interaction that has been forged between the two peoples is undeniable and is not being called into question today. For example, the new family model produced by the mix of the two cultures is very widespread. On the other hand, the Greenlanders remain deeply rooted in their traditions and their history. Being aware of their limited numbers, they fight to preserve their cultural identity, while combining it with modern lifestyles. This sometimes leads to a real identity crisis, similar to that in all colonised countries: the "forced" adoption of the colonising country’s culture, then the need to reconnect with its original culture.


The era of consumerism is gradually taking hold of Greenland society and the westernisation of the way of life is spreading through the big towns. Money has become a desirable commodity, which has led to the appearance of greater inequalities. Young Greenlanders are strongly influenced by the culture and lifestyle of the Danes and Americans, with the three countries maintaining privileged relations from a political and military point of view. The use of social networks has opened up a completely new perspective for the younger generation, who are emerging from what can be a very difficult geographic isolation, allowing them to remain in contact with networks of friends and family when, from the age of 14, they leave for the capital, Nuuk, the second university town, Aasiaat, or Denmark, to study.

Between modernism and traditions

The rate of unemployment in Greenland is 9.4%. This figure may vary depending on the season and the weather conditions, which dictate much of the seasonal activity. It may, for example, be as much as three times higher in winter, in certain places where it is difficult to fish (it is a sector with a marked trend towards seasonal employment).

 Even though there is not any real poverty, the economic situation is far from flourishing, as is borne out by the level of export income, which only amounts to about half that of import costs. The population is gradually dividing into two distinct parts. On one side, the increasingly numerous inhabitants of the capital and the biggest towns, and on the other, the population of the villages, subject to increasing pressure from the rural exodus - as people leave seeking an easier life and new economic opportunities, through family reunification - and the progressive disappearance of basic services (education, health).

A strong bond nevertheless persists, linking together all of the Greenlanders, notably through shared family origins, but also the traditions everyone shares. Greenland society is still closely linked through a network of solidarity inherited from the Inuit families who, historically, had to be united in order to survive. The banding together of several families as a hunting party was the second level of social organisation. The groups practised a distribution of resources, in terms of food, knowledge and the always very limited living space. Today, the increasingly common individualism is overturning all of these ideas of mutual assistance, with, in particular, the appearance of more marked social differences.

One tragic consequence is that the country is recording the highest rate of suicide in the world (82.8 per 100,000). 20% of young people admit they have thought about it. The big differences between the traditional culture and the new cultures are causing a serious identity crisis. The young people feel cut off from the other generations, without having a strong enough cultural identity to be able to deal with strong feelings of isolation. Family cohesion is also being damaged. The authorities have stepped up efforts considerably during the past few years to promote awareness of the effects of alcohol and ill-treatment that have been introduced into homes.