High North News met Poul Michelsen, Faroe Islands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, for a exclusive interview during the 10-year anniversary of the Ilulissat Declaration. Here, he told about how the Faroe Islands is balancing on the edge between Europe and the Arctic, how the Arctic attention benefits the Faroese, and how the Government of Denmark recently made him very upset. Something which, however, did not restrain the festivities in Ilulissat.
HNN: What do you think about the celebration of the Ilulissat Declaration’s 10-year anniversary?
Michelsen: It has been a great event in wonderful surroundings, but I think there could have been a more prominent representation of each country. Of the guests, it is only Sweden and Russia which have been represented by a minister here. That could have been better. On the other hand, it looks like the Arctic cooperation in this forum works fine. There are no conflicts and it seems like everyone are doing an extra effort to maintain peace in the region.
HNN: Why do you think that the anniversary is not attended by representatives from a higher level like in 2008, when Sergei Lavrov and John Negroponte (then Deputy Secretary of State of the United States) signed the declaration?
Michelsen: We expected representatives from a higher level, but the US of course just got a new Secretary of State. If Rex Tillerson had still been in office, I believe he would have attended the anniversary like he did in Fairbanks last year (red.: the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting). The same goes for Lavrov; there has just been election in Russia. Ilya Shestakov came instead, and he’s a guy which the Faroe Islands often are in contact with due to his position as Minister for Fisheries. That is a great gesture by Russia.
HNN: In what way can the Faroe Islands use this significant Arctic attention?
Michelsen: We hosted the Arctic Circle Forum a couple of weeks ago where a lot of people attended. That forum is of course less official than this, but it seems like people are taking it very seriously. Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the event but as I experienced how serious the people who attended were, and met a lot of people who were interested in talking with me then I realized that the Arctic is getting more important. One may ask what that means for the Faroe Islands which are located on the edge of the region. Honestly, there was made a reconstruction of the map so the Faroe Islands were included on the regional map, like the doors in an architectural drawing of a house. We are of course using this to promote the Faroe Islands as a maritime hub for the ships using the new transportation routes in the north. It seems like we can actually use this to promote and use our maritime experiences and capabilities. To be honest, I also think that the Faroese researchers of environmental changes gains a lot from the attention via, for instance, Horizon 2020. We definitely benefit from the Arctic attention, although we are not as Arctic as Greenland, which is the only reason why Denmark and the Faroe Islands have a say in the Arctic. With that in mind, I think Greenland gets too little attention. It seems like they are guests in their own house. That is wrong, I feel. I don’t like it.
HNN: What about the Faroe Islands in the Arctic? Do they get sufficient attention or is it all about the two other parts of the Danish Realm; Denmark and Greenland?
Michelsen: I am not so worried about that, it is more about Denmark’s role. Where do the Faroe Islands belong? Not in Europe, not in the Arctic. We have to place ourselves somewhere, and the Arctic is more natural as we are part of the West Nordic Council together with Iceland and Greenland which is a cooperation that is not easily repressed. According to my opinion, the West Nordic Council is getting more important. What it lacks is the ministerial cooperation which other countries have. It is sometimes difficult to implement what has been decided in the West Nordic Council. Thus, the ministers participated in the last meeting in Reykjavik which added a greater perspective on how this cooperation can develop in the future – in addition to other engagements elsewhere where Denmark is not present.
HNN: Last year there was a case where Anders Samuelsen (Denmark’s MFA) intervened in the West Nordic Council. What happened exactly? And what happened afterwards?
Michelsen: I got very upset about it and therefore I did not participate in the later conference in Copenhagen about ‘SDGs in the Arctic’. Deep down, I know I should not have done so.
The case was that we in the West Nordic Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which the title was ‘Deal’, though the subsequent text was merely a Memorandum of Understanding. It says nothing about a specific deal. But the word ‘deal’ was not accepted by the Danish government, which made me furious. I told them to get lost, and Greenland said that they could adjust to it, but that it was nonsense.
HNN: Has this incident had an influence on the anniversary during the past two days?
Michelsen: Not at all. We have laughed about it because Denmark has ‘dropped a brick’. They have made fool of themselves, which was unnecessary. That’s my opinion.