Greenland’s opposition calls for national assembly to return to business

The spring session was due to start last week, but has been postponed until at least mid-May.

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Members of Greenland’s parliament, Inatsisartut, debate a measure in October 2019. The opening of the legislature’s spring session has been postponed by the coronavirus outbreak. (Krestia DeGeorge)

As Greenland begins to shift its focus from preventing a coronavirus outbreak to dealing with the economic effects of the social-distancing measures that, for now, have resulted in the country being clear of COVID-19, lawmakers have begun bickering over the appropriate time to hold the spring session of the national assembly.

Due to open on April 17, the spring session is postponed until at least May 18. Opposition lawmakers, however, say that with the economic impact of closing the country’s borders and banning all domestic travel expected to cause the economy to contract this year, the 31 members of Inatsisartut must be allowed to gather to discuss what steps to take to keep the decline to a minimum.

“We are going through tough times,” a statement issued by the leaders of the four opposition parties said. “Fortunately, the health effects of COVID-19 have been less than expected, but it’s had a big impact on our daily lives and our economy.”

[Greenland is well-placed to weather COVID-19’s economic storm, economists say]

The parties argue that only the legislature has the authority to approve the funding that the country’s sagging economy needs.

In addition to the travel bans, Nuuk — where all 11 cases of COVID-19 in Greenland have been recorded so far — is subject to a number of other restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Official travel is permitted, however, and the opposition believes lawmakers should be granted a partial exemption from the restrictions in order to be able to meet.

The call to hold the spring session as soon as possible comes after Kim Kielsen, the premier, found himself at odds with the speaker of the national assembly — a member of his own party — when he declared on April 2 that Inatsisartut would not meet again until the autumn session.

[A tough strategy of isolation has protected Greenland from coronavirus — so far]

Vivian Motzfeldt, the speaker, has left open the possibility of cancelling the spring session if the situation worsens, but she underscored that it was the responsibility of the leadership of Inatsisartut to determine when it met.

“Inatsisartut should not be prevented from performing its parliamentary duties, no matter what the COVID-19 situation is,” Motzfeldt said on April 6.

Motzfeldt is one of Kielsen’s rivals for leadership of the Siumut party, and the opposition is worried that their power struggle is distracting from efforts to address the impact of COVID-19.