25th Jun 2017

MEPs stranded in Greenland

  • The effects of global warming could lead to new shipping lanes linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (Photo: David Lundy)

Members of a European Parliament fact finding mission to Greenland have found themselves caught in the midst of a domestic airline strike, leaving the MEPs and staff stranded some 200 kilometres north of the polar circle at the foot of the Arctic island's biggest glacier.

Air Greenland, which has a monopoly on domestic flights across the world's biggest island, went out on a sudden strike only a day after the six MEPs from the parliament's leftist GUE/NGL group's arrival to the north-eastern village of Ilulissat- the Greenlandic word for "The Icebergs".

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"This place is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Even if we would find a flight out of Ilulissat, we do not know if we all fit into it, or if there is another plane to take us from the capital Nuuk to Copenhagen afterwards," Italian MEP Vittorio Agnoletto told EUobserver, adding that news updates on the situation were scarce.

A spokesperson for the political group, said that the party might charter an Icelandic airplane to transport the MEPs to the European continent. Another option is to lease two helicopters. A third alternative, to take a two-day boat trip along the island's eastern coast line to Nuuk, was dropped due to the cold nights and the fact that MEPs had not brought sleeping bags.

Experts stranded

The delegation, consisting of six MEPs and four party staff members, had travelled to Greenland to meet political representatives, NGOs and local experts to discuss a series of issues and challenges facing the people of Greenland, such as the impact of global warming.

"The consequences of melting glaciers and the failure of sea ice to form in certain areas in winter is devastating for the local Inuit population, especially as they depend on particular weather conditions for hunting and fishing," said Swedish MEP Jens Holm.

According to the MEP, one positive consequence of being stranded in Ilulissat is that the climate change experts are too - enabling in-depth conversations.

MEPs were also expected to discuss the geopolitical role of Greenland, which plays an essential role in the United States' missile shield system due to the location of a strategic American military base near Thule in the north of Greenland.

"With ice-free seas, an arctic arms race is a real threat. We are arguing for an Arctic region free of military activity and an end to attempts by major international powers to dominate the territory of indigenous peoples," Danish MEP Soren Sondergaard said.

Commission president Jose Manual Barroso and German chancellor Angela Merkel both visited Greenland this summer to study the effects of climate change in the Arctic regions.

However, signs that the recent interest in the Danish-owned island is not purely out of environmental concerns are becoming increasingly obvious.

The effects of global warming are thought to be shrinking the polar ice cap and could lead to new shipping lanes linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as new access to oil, causing an intense race between Russia, Denmark, Canada and the US for control over the arctic territory, above and below the water line.

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