Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am particularly pleased to be here with you today and address a seminar dedicated to Iceland and Greenland – close neighbours and friends in the North.
This is, indeed, what we are – who we are. We are island nations. We are Arctic nations. We understand and respect the forces of nature. And we know that our livelihood largely depends on what our immediate environment has to offer. We understand each other – as friends do. Greenland is also the closest neighbour to Iceland. From coast to coast less than 300 kilometres and only two hours flight from the nearest destinations – from Reykjavík to Kulusuk.
My government is committed to foster and further strengthen the relations between Iceland and Greenland. The opening of the Consulate General of Iceland in Nuuk last November represented a milestone in the bilateral relations between our two countries. On that occasion a joint declaration on increased co-operation was signed, which provides for a sound platform to work together on issues of mutual interest such as resource utilisation, transportation, fisheries, tourism, trade, energy, culture and education. It is a long list, yes, but only because the opportunities are so many and for us to seize.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Developments in the Arctic are of fundamental importance to both Iceland and Greenland. We are sitting in the front row of witnessing how climate change is not only changing geography but also various dynamics in the region.
The Arctic is attracting ever more international attention and human and economic activities are increasing in this environmentally and ecologically complex region. Oil and gas extraction is a real potential, there are also minerals in the region and mining possibilities, shipping is on the rise and services related to these sectors are gradually taking shape and form. Arctic tourism is a growing industry and even the mackerel is travelling (or rather eating its way) to the region - with some minor ramifications!
This evolution entails opportunities and challenges alike and Iceland and Greenland, the neighbours and friends in the North, are natural partners in co-operating and countering the risks and, hopefully, reaping some benefits.
We, as Arctic nations, recognise the stakes at play and understand the delicate balances that need to be struck between exploitation and preservation with long-term sustainability of the region as our guiding light and objective.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite obvious similarities and shared interests there is still much we do not know about each other - about each other´s culture, traditions, language and future desires.
This is why the people´s connection, the daily life encounters are no less important than the broader policy lines and issues that I have just outlined. To have school children from Greenland paying visits to their Icelandic school mates; or youngsters from our respective nations playing chess – to name just two examples of the outstanding work that KALAK and Hrókurinn have campaigned for.
Similarly, on-the-job training is an initiative that Icelandic authorities, in co-operation with the private sector, are working towards – allowing Greenlandic youth to temporarily work in Iceland and learning to know our country and our corporate and institutional culture.
This is why Greenland days here in Reykjavík are also so important – to give us a flavour of Greenlandic music, dance and food, and further insights into our neighbour´s culture. To return the favour an Icelandic film festival will be showcased in Nuuk in May.
This is why the Greenland-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, established two years ago, is important not only to encourage trade between the countries, which is rapidly on the rise, but also to establish connections. In October, the fourth Icelandic business forum will be held in Nuuk where some 30-50 Icelandic companies will present themselves and sit down with their Greenlandic counterparts.
And this is why a seminar like this is so important; to explore opportunities and identify fields of co-operation – on land, in the air or at sea – and contribute to increased knowledge and understanding between the closest neighbours and, indeed, true friends in the North.
Thank you again for inviting me and I hope you will have an interesting and productive session this afternoon.