Greenland became the first and only country to leave the European Communities (EC) after twelve years of membership, withdrawing in 1985 following a referendum. And now, it seems further anti-European Union sentiment has been stoked in the nation over a controversial mining project, which had a large impact in the recent election.
The EU plans to secure its supply of rare-earth metals, which will prove vital for its green agenda.
However, the bloc is coming across issues from Greenland amid its efforts.
According to the US Geological Survey, Greenland has the world’s largest undeveloped deposit of rare-earth minerals.
These minerals are believed to be essential components of green technology and therefore demand is on the rise.
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The mining project is called Kvanefjeld – also known as Kuannersuit.
Situated about four miles from Narsaq, the area is the site of mineral deposits in the south of Greenland and where the Australian-owned Greenland Minerals has been operating since 2007.
The company has said it wishes to export all potential outputs of the rare earths to Europe, rather than China, despite a Chinese firm holding 10.5 percent of shares in the firm.
And the announcement has made Kuannersuit a crucial political hotspot for Western powers.
The region is seen as an opportunity for Western global players to challenge China’s near-monopoly on rare-earth minerals.
But Greenland won’t give up without a fight. Prior to last month’s elections, party leader Múte B Egede promised a vote for IA would be a vote to halt mining activities in Kuannersuit.
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While they failed to win a majority, the IA negotiated a coalition agreement with fellow pro-independence party Naleraq – which combined held 16 seats – 12 from IA and four from Naleraq.
Now the pro-independence coalition Government has turned its attention to the mining project.
The Greenland parties believe the mining projects could damage the local environment due to fears of radioactive uranium, which is also present in the deposit.
The mine could be shut down as a result of the Government’s efforts, which would be a heavy blow for the EU’s long-term green plan.
Naaja Hjelholt Nathanielsen, Greenland’s new minister of mining, told POLITICO: “The new coalition does not support uranium mining.”
Ms Nathanielsen said she has not yet met with Greenland Minerals but expects the Government to make an announcement on the project “before summer”.
The proposal is currently subject to a public hearing which had been due to end on June 1.
The public consultation period has now extended until September 13 to enable an additional round of public meetings with key Government ministers.
The party previously in power, Siumut Party, which came second in April and lost power, has long-backed the mine.
However, party leader Erik Jensen said his party is now “neutral in this issue” because they wish to hear the outcome of the hearings and geologist analysis of the project.
The EU’s biggest known deposit of rare earth mineralss is located close to Sweden’s second-largest lake in a hamlet called Norra Kärr.
However, local concerns about the environmental impact of extracting these minerals and on the local water supply has meant any production of this supply is years away.
Last year the EU Commissioner for the internal market Thierry Breton said: “By diversifying the supply from third countries and developing the EU’s own capacity for extraction, processing, recycling, refining and separation of rare earths, we can become more resilient and sustainable.”
Relying upon one country, in the case of rare earths – China, for supply of crucial materials is not ideal and can incur additional expenses and pressure on relations.
As Greenland is outside the EU, bloc-member Denmark retains control over foreign, defence and security policy.
This means Copenhagen is expected to have a say on if Greenland will sell uranium and rare earth minerals.
The EU is not the only strategic global power interested in the region.
Former US president Donald Trump famously attempted to buy Greenland in 2019.
The US opened a consulate general in the Greenlandic capital Nuuk and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited the island last month.