Monday 23 April The Prime Minister presented a speech at the diplomatic reception hosted by the Missiion of the Faroes in Brussels.
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering here in Brussels. I would like to thank you all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us here today.
The occasion is Faroese Flag Day – which in fact is actually on the 25th of April, so we are starting a little early this year! Even so, we are highlighting here today what is in effect the Faroese national day. The name says it all. Flag Day commemorates the day in 1940 when the Faroese Flag was officially recognised as our national emblem. This was during the Second World War, when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany. It was the British Government and her wartime allies that took this step, which was a landmark in our modern history and identity as a European nation.
The Faroe Islands are an island nation in the middle of the Northeast Atlantic with an economy heavily dependent on fisheries, and a population just under 50,000. This makes us very vulnerable to dramatic changes in the global economy. But we have managed to avoid the most extreme effects of the global financial crisis in recent years. In fact, over the past few years the Faroes have experienced a 7 per cent growth in the GNP. This is one of the highest in Europe. Our aim is to continue working for economic growth in order to secure the future welfare of the Faroese people.
Our challenge as a Government is to find the best ways to maintain our modern welfare system and the high standard of living we enjoy, while also reducing the overall budget. Even with our positive growth figures, we are still battling with a large annual deficit. Our objective is to have a balanced budget by 2016, through a series of focussed policy measures and structural reforms.
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
The Faroe Islands have chosen not to be a part of Denmark’s membership of the European Union. Our relationship with the EU as a third country is based on three separate agreements, on free trade, fisheries and as an associated country to the Seventh Framework Programme on Research.
It can be frustrating to have to constantly define ourselves as what we are not. The Faroe Islands are not a part of the EU, we are not a part of the European Economic Area, we are not a member of EFTA nor Outermost Region in formal European terms and, unlike Greenland, we are not considered as an Overseas Country or Territory.
So what are we? For me the answer is obvious – the Faroe Islands are very much a part of Europe, let there be no doubt about that.
But the formal framework for our relationship with our EU neighbours lags behind the broader prospects we see for our future cooperation with the EU. I believe a more modern and comprehensive basis for our cooperation with the EU is long overdue. A new generation of agreement should extend beyond trade in goods to all other relevant areas of business and economic cooperation, as well as culture and education. We look forward to entering into a new dialogue with the EU on our future cooperation.
We are a small but valuable partner in Europe - a northern European nation at the crossroads of the North Atlantic and Arctic. The Faroe Islands have a lot more to offer our European neighbours than most people think is possible for such a small country.
In the private sector we have a high level of innovation inspired by cutting edge business and research expertise. This is of couse especially the case in the fisheries and maritime sectors, but also more and more in IT and other communication-based, service and creative industries.
Faroese researchers are making important contributions to international research in key areas, including the effects of climate change in the Faroese area and across the circumpolar North. This also includes participation by Faroese research institutions and experts in a wide range of projects under the Seventh Framework Programme.
Changes in the Artic are opening up new shipping routes across the circumpolar North. We are already seeing heavier shipping activities around the Faroes, both industrial cargo transport as well as a growth in the number and size of cruise ships. We have promising prospects for future offshore oil production in the Faroese area, and we have developed a strong framework for present and future activities with high environmental and safety standards at the forefront.
With these new and emerging opportunities, we need to take a closer look at how we can make the most of our strategic position in the region. We are now preparing a Strategic Assessment on the Faroe Islands and the Arctic. We will be looking at how the Faroe Islands can best use our position as a small island nation with a long and intimate relationship with the sea and a well-educated workforce with a globalised outlook.
I hope we can also draw on relevant EU expertise in this process. I know that the EU is giving high priority to developing forward-looking strategic policies on the North Atlantic and the Arctic. I believe there is great potential for a much closer collaboration between the Faroe Islands and the EU in a wide range of areas related to economic development in our parculiar area of the North Atlantic and Arctic.
Some people have advised me not the mention the “M-word” here today. But I cannot be in Brussels and not mention mackerel. I want to make it very clear that the Faroese Government takes its international responsibily for the joint management of shared fish stocks very seriously. Despite the offensive way the Faroe Islands have been described in some EU contexts, this has not affected my confidence that we can find a common solution to the long-term management of mackerel – a solution that respects the interests of all parties and recognises the new realities of the fisheries. We have had trouble reaching agreement on other fisheries issues before. But we are close neighbours with a long history of cooperation, and we always manage to get there in the end. The mackerel issue should be no exception.
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen
Personal contacts and interaction are the main point of events like this one. They are so important for strengthening bonds of friendship and understanding between our countries, businesses and organisations. I look forward to a much stronger relationship between the Faroe Islands and a wide range of European partners on all levels in the future.