Greenland turns its back on austerity

While other European governments are tightening their belts, Greenland’s new leaders are trying to spend their way out of recession

For the first time in five years, Greenland’s new government, led by recently elected Aleqa Hammond’s Siumut party, has presented the country a budget awash in red ink. By presenting a 6.5 billion kroner 2014 budget that runs a 76 million kroner deficit, the social-democratic party hopes to spend Greenland back to prosperity by building port facilities, colleges and investing in education.

But that move has been met with intense criticism from the country’s main opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA).

While serving as premier of the self-governing Danish territory from 2009 until 2013, IA leader Kuupik Kleist practised tight-fisted, budget-balancing fiscal policies. The leftist party maintains that the country’s economic footing is still far too shaky to start a spending spree.

IA leaders said the fishing industry, the backbone of Greenland’s economy, is ailing and that the country’s much ballyhooed future as an oil and mineral Klondike remains cloudy at best.

"They have fallen in love with their own campaign rhetoric instead of making efforts to improve the economy,” finance committee member Naaja Nathanielsen (IA) told Politiken newspaper. “We need to find one billion kroner each year until 2030 to fund our welfare system and there is no guarantee that those funds will come from mining or oil.”

Finance minister Vittus Qujaukitsoq (Siumut) disagreed and said the country was strong enough to withstand a little red ink.

"This is a conscious choice to pursue an employment policy," he told Poliiken.

But even though he said the new government intends to pursue “less rigid” fiscal policies than the previous one, he agreed Greenland needed to find new revenue sources.

"The best opportunities are undoubtedly in the raw materials," Qujaukitsoq said.

The Greenland government has in recent months pinned much of its financial hopes on a major iron mine near the capital city of Nuuk, but Qujaukitsoq stressed that the venture remained uncertain because the funding is not in place.