The Relations Between Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. A Model with Future to Challenge Secessionism?

  • Matthias Major


Greenland and the Faroe Islands are usually marginalized and chronically underrated in researches and academic discussions on secessionism and methods dealing with secessionism. It seems that Greenland and the Faroe Islands supposedly cannot be regarded in these discussions and researches as players of the same league as the other cases dealing with secessionism such as Scotland or Catalonia, to name only two prominent examples. This is, however, untrue and leads to self-restriction regarding new methods of how secessionism has been handled by the Danish state compared to other nation states and colonial powers. One main difference, for instance, is that secession is legally possible for Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Denmark’s relationship with the Faroe Islands and Greenland nowadays is the result of a changing understanding of its own statehood, as it has de facto recognized its plurinational character and therefore tried to accommodate all nations within the state in order to prevent secession. This state model is also the outcome of lessons learned from its own history of failed attempts to ensure the unity of the state. The current state design, hence, was established for that purpose. It is not a federation like Germany or the United States of America, but rather a mix of unitary and decentralized, almost confederal structures.

The aim of this text is to examine, whether the current model of statehood has managed—and will continue to ensure—the prevention of full secession in the future by independence policy in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland, especially since the Nordic and the Arctic sphere is rising in its importance on the international level.

The examination of this case stresses that the question, whether unity or independence will triumph, is in the hands of Denmark, its model of statehood that it offers and the level of satisfaction within regarding the Faroese and the Greenlandic interests. Furthermore, it also includes the argument that the final issue will not be over ‘if’ or ‘when’ independence will succeed, but rather ‘in what shape’.


Greenland Faroe Islands Denmark Independence Arctic Secessionism Europe Autonomy 



I would like to thank, in particular, Igor Filibi (University of the Basque Country), Maria Ackrén (University of Greenland) and Ofelya Sargasyan (American University of Armenia/University of Flensburg) for the generous support, the valuable comments, and the constructive criticism on an earlier draft of this text.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias Major
    • 1
  1. 1.University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU)LeioaSpain

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