Wednesday

24th May 2017

Focus

Faroes look at self-determination and closer EU relations

  • Torshavn, the capital of Faroe Islands. Fishing and aquaculture accounts for around 95 percent of the archipelago's exports. (Photo: Arne List)

The Faroe Islands will vote on a new constitution next year that could overhaul its 70-year old status as an autonomous part of Denmark.

Faroese prime minister Aksel Johannesen announced on 12 February that the constitutional proposal will be submitted to the local parliament next summer and put to referendum on 25 April 2018.

The Faroe Islands - an archipelago of 50,000 people in the north Atlantic, situated between Iceland, Norway and Scotland - have been an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of Denmark since 1948.

They have their own parliament and government, but decisions on defence, police, justice, currency and foreign affairs are still made in Copenhagen.

They are not part of the same customs area as Denmark, which allows them to have their own trade policy and possibility to establish trade agreements with other countries.

The new constitution "will define our identity as a nation and our fundamental rights and duties as a people, including our right to self-determination", prime minister Johannesen said in a statement when announcing the referendum.

He added that the new constitution would include a clear statement saying that “the Faroese people must be consulted by referendum on questions related to further independence from, or further integration with, Denmark” as well as “in relation to membership in supranational organisations, such as the EU.”

Divergent views

Johannesen, a unionist Social-Democrat, leads a coalition government made up of both unionist and separatist parties from left and right.

He admitted that parties "have divergent views on certain aspects of the proposed constitution", which has been under discussion for several years.

Under independentist pressure, finalising the text was included in the government’s coalition agreement in 2015.

But unionist parties believe that the Faroe Islands can have a constitution without it being a preamble for independence from Denmark.

“We do believe in our current constitution - the constitution of the Danish Realm – and if people want a new ‘steering ship’ that is okay, but we do not find it necessary,” Bardur a Steig Nielsen, the leader of the opposition conservative Union party, told EUobserver.

He said his party "cannot accept the wording of the draft constitution as it is at the moment,” but that it was part of the negotiations because they "would rather be in than out".

'Not entirely happy'

The islands held an independence referendum in 1946 where a narrow majority of yes to secession won. But a split from Denmark was never carried out and the vote led to the current home government arrangement that entered into force in 1948.

Like Greenland, another Danish autonomous territory, the Faroes are not in the EU. But they have three separate bilateral agreements with the 28-member bloc: a fisheries agreement; a trade agreement; and a cooperation and research agreement that allow them to be an associated country in the EU Horizon 2020 science programme.

In parallel to the constitutional overhaul, the Faroes have been trying to "modernise" their relationship with the European Union.

“We’re not entirely happy with the trade agreement because we feel it is asymmetrical," Kate Sanderson, the head of the Faroese mission to the EU, told EUobserver.

"The EU pretty much has full access to the Faroese market, but we don’t have full access for all our products to the EU. So we would like to see a modernisation of [the trade agreement] based on the kind of resource base we have."

The warm waters of the Gulf Stream have helped the Islands with its main industry, fishing and aquaculture, which accounts for around 95 percent of its exports. Around 50 percent of the country’s total export goes to the European Union.

The Faroes would like to process more of their fish products before selling them to the EU market as it would create jobs on the isolated Atlantic islands, Sanderson said.

Strategic outlook

"We’re a provider of raw products to the EU, which provides the EU with opportunities to add value to that produce and to create jobs. There are restrictions on how much processed fish products we can sell without duty to the EU market," she pointed out.

The diplomat added that she would like the EU to look at the Faroes in a more strategic way.

"Regardless of our status, whether we are autonomous or fully independent, we desire to modernise our relationship with the EU and to create a discussion with the EU that is broader and more strategic in terms of the developments in the north Atlantic and the Arctic," she said.

The Faroe Islands is also keeping a close eye on the Brexit negotiations. The UK is its closest neighbour and currently the biggest country in the EU market regarding Faroese exports, receiving 21 percent of all Faroe exports to the EU.

Opinion

Faroese face illegal EU fishing sanctions

The battle over Atlantic fishing rights is to reach new levels this week, with EU expected to vote through economic sanctions against the Faroe Islands.

Faroe Islands seek closer EU relations

The Faroe Islands are seeking a stronger and more structured relationship with the European Union and membership of the European Free Trade Association - but full EU membership is not on the political agenda.

In cooperation with

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Cost of Speaking Out: Human Rights Violations Committed in Belarus
  2. ACCABanishing Bias? Audit, Objectivity and the Value of Professional Scepticism
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Oslo Climate Declaration Focuses on Rising Temperatures in the Arctic
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceAbdominal Obesity: A Causal Risk Factor for Cardiometabolic Diseases
  5. EU Green Week 2017Discuss EU Environmental Policies With Industry Experts and Thought Leaders
  6. GEN Summit 2017Join the World's Leading Media Summit for Thought-Provoking Talks and Experiences
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTogether for Human Rights: A Year in Review
  8. Malta EU 2017EU All Set for Free Roaming Starting 15 June
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersRefugee Unemployment Biggest Drain on Public Purse, Says New Nordic Studies
  10. Dialogue Platform17,000 Women, 515 Babies in Turkish Prisons, a Report Reveals
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  12. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey