Greenland’s growing appeal to key global powers

EU, Ursula von der Leyen, European Union, Greenland, Low-carbon future
Image: Rand Corporation

The once-remote and sparsely populated island of Greenland is increasingly capturing the attention of global powers, marking a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape of the Arctic region. As melting ice caps unveil untapped resources and strategic opportunities, Greenland’s allure has intensified, drawing interest from key players across the globe.

Covering approximately 2.1 million square kilometers, Greenland holds immense potential, both economically and strategically. Its proximity to the North Pole and its vast natural resources make it a coveted prize in the race for Arctic dominance. With its population of under 60,000, Greenland has transitioned from direct Danish rule to greater autonomy, emerging as a prominent player on the international stage.

The island’s newfound prominence was underscored in 2019 when then-US President Donald Trump floated the idea of purchasing Greenland—an offer swiftly rejected by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Despite this, the United States established a consulate on the island in 2020, signaling its strategic interest in the region. Additionally, the presence of US military assets, including the Thule Air Base, highlights the island’s significance in defense and security matters.

China, too, has cast its gaze toward Greenland, proposing infrastructure projects and mining ventures in the region. Beijing’s interest in the Arctic is driven by its strategic vision of accessing new shipping lanes and exploiting the region’s natural resources. As the Arctic ice melts, new trade routes are opening up, offering shorter transit times and economic opportunities for countries seeking to capitalize on the changing geopolitical dynamics.

The European Union (EU) has also recognized Greenland’s potential, particularly its vast reserves of critical raw materials essential for the transition to a low-carbon future. A memorandum of understanding signed between the EU and Greenland aims to foster cooperation in developing sustainable raw materials value chains. With more than two-thirds of critical raw materials identified by the European Commission located in Greenland, the island plays a crucial role in Europe’s quest for resource security and environmental sustainability.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s upcoming visit to Greenland underscores the EU’s commitment to deepening its ties with the island. The establishment of the first EU office in Greenland marks a significant milestone in bilateral relations, paving the way for enhanced cooperation in economic development, environmental protection, and sustainable resource management.

The memorandum of understanding between the EU and Greenland outlines key areas of collaboration, including economic integration, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility. By leveraging high international standards in environmental, social, and governance practices, both parties aim to ensure that Greenland’s mineral sector contributes to sustainable and inclusive growth while respecting local communities and the environment.

As the world grapples with the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, securing a diversified and sustainable supply of raw materials has become a top priority for Europe. The EU’s partnership with Greenland aligns with its strategic objectives of enhancing resource security and promoting green and digital transitions. By investing in sustainable projects and fostering economic diversification, the EU aims to strengthen its foothold in the Arctic region while advancing its broader geopolitical agenda.

As Greenland emerges as a focal point of global competition, the EU’s engagement with the island underscores the importance of Arctic cooperation in shaping the future of the region. With its vast natural resources and strategic location, Greenland holds the key to unlocking new economic opportunities and addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing world.


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