27th Sep 2023

EU accused of 'cultural imperialism' on whaling

  • Denmark has excused itself from the EU's common position on whaling (Photo: © Greenpeace/Jean-Paul Ferrero)

European environment ministers agreed Thursday (5 June) on a common position to support the maintenance of the moratorium on whaling. Denmark however has excused itself from the consensus.

The move by ministers means that EU countries will present a united front at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) later this month in Santiago, Chile.

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"With this decision the European Union can now take a strong role at the International Whaling Commission and use all its political, moral and economic weight to ensure a more effective protection of whales worldwide," said environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.

Denmark however, is calling the move "cultural imperialism".

Although the Nordic country does not openly support commercial whaling, it supports the right of indigenous communities in the Faroe Islands and Greenland – which, while part of the Danish Kingdom are not part of the European Union – to maintain what they call their traditional whale hunts.

"For 20 years, Denmark has held the same position in support of these other parts of the kingdom," said Ole Samsing, a Danish diplomat to the European Union who is also the country's IWC commissioner, speaking to the EUobserver.

"It is cultural imperialism trying to decide on behalf of these people who are not in the European Community," he said.

Last month, the European Commission asked EU environment ministers to reach such a decision in the wake of the launch of Iceland's annual whale hunt.

At the time, the commission called on the country, which remains outside the EU, to prove that it is not engaged in commercial whaling.

Since 2006, when the north Atlantic nation restarted its whale hunt, it has claimed the hunt is only for scientific or purposes or part of indigenous traditions. Last year, whalers killed 35 whales, 39 of which were to aid an Iceland Marine Research Institute project and the remaining six for commercial benefit.

While the European Commission is sceptical that the Icelandic hunt is not just a commercial hunt in indigenous drag, Denmark supports the Icelandic position.

"I don't see why DG Environment should impose its opinions on Greenland and the Faroe Islands," said Mr Samsing.

Copenhagen announced in mid-May that it would invoke a rarely used measure, 'Declaration 25', an annex to the Maastricht Treaty. The declaration refers to member states who have territories outside the EU – as is the case with the Faroe Islands and Greenland – and will allow Denmark not to be bound by the common position.

Mr Samsing pointed out that the common position actually masks what is more of a mosaic of positions amongst EU member states.

Viewing the animals, as with great apes, elephants and dolphins, to be more intelligent and socially complex than other mammals, "there are those member states that do not want any whales to be killed ever – no matter what," said the Danish diplomat.

"But then there are other member states who want to protect whale species from extinction, but once they are not endangered, the would have no problem with a resumption of the whale hunt," he added, "so long as it was done under strict conditions."

As a result, he said, the common position is agreed only for the purposes of this one IWC meeting, and no further.

"But of course, the commission will come up with something similar next year, and then we have to go through the whole rigmarole again."

For its part, the commission dismissed suggestions of imposing its will on anyone: "The common position was made by the highest body [in the EU], and was supported by most member states," said the commission's environment spokesperson, Barbara Heflfferich.

"It was a decision entirely taken democratically."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the leading NGO opposed to whaling, said that even if Denmark has invoked Declaration 25, it still means they are obliged to align with EU positions on non-indigenous forms of whaling.

"Greenland and the Faroe Islands cannot rely on Denmark invoking this annex to line up alongside Japan or other whaling nations in supporting commercial whaling in international fora," said Veronica Frank, a campaigner with the group.


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