02.09.2014 · The Government

The Faroe Islands and the EU – time for a new partnership

Opinion piece by Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen - published in New Europe 31.08.2014.

In the long-standing relations between the Faroe Islands and the EU, the past year has been a challenging one.

This time last year, the EU imposed unilateral economic measures against the Faroe Islands due to disagreement on the allocation of the Atlanto-Scandian herring, a stock also shared by Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation. The EU measures included a ban on the import of herring and mackerel products from the Faroe Islands to the EU, and the use of EU ports by Faroese vessels fishing for these stocks.

For our small country, which is overwhelmingly dependent on fisheries, the EU measures, severe by any standard, had the potential to have a major impact on the Faroese national economy.

The Faroese industry was quick to adapt, with the establishment of more on-shore production capacity in the Faroes as well as new markets beyond the EU, helping to offset the effects of the EU measures. But as our closest and largest trading partner, we viewed the approach taken by the EU as an alarming and disappointing departure from a long tradition of close cooperation.

Fortunately, on 20 August this year, the EU measures were formally removed, after an understanding was reached in June between the Faroese Minister of Fisheries Jacob Vestergaard and the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki on how to resolve the deadlocked situation.

In turn, the arbitral and WTO proceedings initiated by the Faroe Islands against the EU under both the UN Convention on Law of the Sea and the WTO Agreement have now been terminated.

These dispute resolution mechanisms will continue to be an important available means for the Faroe Islands to protect our fundamental interests, should we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.

A disagreement on a single fisheries management issue should never have been allowed to escalate to the extent it did. The allocation of any shared fish stock can only be resolved through multilateral negotiations, not by the unilateral coercion by one party of other parties with a legitimate stake in the resource.

Building a stronger relationship

Now that the disagreement is behind us, we can turn to rebuilding meaningful cooperation and a forward-looking relationship between the Faroe Islands and the EU. This will require a concerted and focused effort on both sides. Not only should we get back to “business as usual” in our existing trade, fisheries and research cooperation. We should also use the lessons learned from the recent dispute to enhance our dialogue, strengthen mutual understanding of our respective views and interests as close neighbors, and promote a broader political framework for cooperation in all relevant areas.

With the EU’s own geo-political vision for the North Atlantic and Arctic, and its strong focus on Blue Growth, the Faroe Islands is an obvious strategic partner, situated at the crossroads of these regions, with a culture and society firmly rooted in the realities of life in the High North. We have strong and dynamic relations with our West Nordic neighbors: Greenland, Iceland and Norway, as well as with our North Atlantic partners, including Scotland, Canada and the Russian Federation.

We are seeking to develop new ways to benefit from increased economic activity in and around our seas, while at the same time ensuring that future growth and innovation can sustain and enhance the integrity and vitality of our society, in the face of new global security, energy and environmental challenges.

Engaging actively with the EU also means engaging actively with individual EU member states and other European partners, as well as with the institutions in Brussels that serve common EU policy areas. As a nation in Europe, the Faroe Islands looks forward to a new era of cooperation and joint development on all fronts, with all our European partners.