Neighborhood diplomacy: Nuuk eyes Reykjavik as site for its next ’embassy’

By Niels Ole Qvist, The Arctic Journal - April 19, 2017
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, on Sept. 9, 2013. (Hazel Thompson/The New York Times)
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, on Sept. 9, 2013. (Hazel Thompson/The New York Times)

Greenland’s national assembly is set to vote during its spring session next month on a measure that would see Nuuk open a representative office in Reykjavík.

Nuuk already has such offices, which function in a similar capacity to embassies, in Copenhagen, Brussels and Washington. Iceland opened its own consulate in Nuuk in 2013, making it the first country to do so since the Second World War.

Beijing had been seen by many as the leading candidate as the site for the next office. However, a recent incident involving the arrest of crewmembers of a Greenlandic fishing vessel in connection with the death of an Icelandic woman underscored the need for Nuuk to have a representative in Reykjavík, Vittus Qujaukitsoq, the foreign minister, wrote in his proposal.

“Neither the (Danish foreign ministry) nor the Danish embassy in Reykjavík were able to provide adequate assistance for Greenlandic residents, be it interpreting services or contacting the family members in Greenland of those involved,” he said.

The foreign ministry estimates the 10-year cost of running an office in the Icelandic capital would be 25 million kroner ($3.5 million). Qujaukitsoq defended the expense, arguing that Nuuk stands to benefit in the form of improved commercial and political relations with its neighbor, particularly in Nordic and Arctic issues.

Even though opening a representative office in Iceland is also a matter of diplomatic courtesy, Qujaukitsoq pointed out it would augment the annual meetings the two countries hold to identify areas of common interest in areas such as tourism, trade, fisheries, transport and health care.

In the past, these meetings have led to an agreement that makes it possible for Greenlandic residents to be treated at an Icelandic hospital. An expansion of the number of illnesses covered by the arrangement is in the works.

Likewise, the two countries have, in recent years, expanded their transport links, in part to allow Greenland to benefit from the rapid increase in the number of travelers visiting Iceland.

But it is fisheries that Greenland’s foreign ministry expects will benefit most from having a permanent representative in Reykjavík.

“Iceland has valuable experience developing its fishing industry, including exporting unprocessed and producing finished products, which have much higher returns. That is something Greenland can learn from,” Qujaukitsoq said.

A final vote on the proposal is due to be held on May 23. The government holds a 24-7 seat majority in the national assembly.